In the weeks following the end of the lockdown things are slowly starting to go back to normal. Children are going back to daycare, restaurants are busy with excited customers, employees are returning to their offices.
While for most of us what remains of the lockdown are the masked people in the supermarket and the extensive use of hand sanitizer, the disadvantaged groups in our society are faced with a different reality.
Children and youth with disabilities deprived of parental care are the among the most vulnerable groups due to their complex diagnoses. The social workers are also in greater risk since most of them are close to or in retirement age.Lockdown has not ended for the ones who live and work in our Small Group Homes as the prеventive measures are still being strictly followed. Thorough daily sanitizing of the premises, social distancing and online therapies whenever possible are continued throughout social services both in Bulgaria, as well as in other European countries as we have come to recognise those services as most susceptible to the virus spread.
This is why, even though we are exhausted from the endless scrubbing with sanitising products, the constant explaining why we should wear masks and cannot go out and play with the other kids and the tiresome communication with pixelated colleagues, we should continue our efforts to stay healthy and avoid any risk of being close to the disease.
Our employees are still being transported to and from work, the expenses for hygienic materials are substantial, the social interactions of the children are limited to a minimum.
We are proud of what we have achieved in the past months. We have managed to keep our children safe and healthy and to train our social workers how to provide online care.
But there are more challenges ahead of us. Because we are not only responsible for providing primary care to those in need. We are also responsible for the emotional health and well being of both children and personnel and for updating and adapting our work systematically so that it answers the requirements of the everchanging reality we live in.
We are living and working in a different modality today. One which requires time and effort. One which we wouldn’t survive without dedication and support.
Our fundraising campaign for Support children at risk during the state of emergency is active here.
Significant progress has been achieved over the last few years to strengthen child protection and care systems across Europe.
It is critical to ensure that the pandemic does not become a stumbling block, and that countries do not revert to the harmful practice of placing children in institutions or separating children from their families when it’s against their best interests. European governments should use this crisis to further accelerate reform and build more resilient families and communities.
Cedar together with 14 other NGOs called on European governments and the European Union institutions to reinforce actions to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable children and families.
Every year we get together with our donors, partners, and friends to present our annual report and to extend our thankfulness to all of them.
The year of 2020 has been incredibly challenging, and we had to adapt quickly to the new realities. We had to postpone our Donor Appreciation Day, despite our desire to share our achievements with the people who support us. We replaced the live event with an electronically send digital report and letter written by our children and our team.
“Everybody experiences difficult moments in life and needs support to go forward. However, there are people who face those difficult moments too early in life, people for whom these difficult moments continue for too long and they have nobody to lean on. The Cedar Foundation exists for these people…. Thank you for being continually with us in 2019. We wish we will be together in 2020 again. Because together we could change lives.” – this is the message of Alexandrina Dimitrova, CEO of The Cedar Foundation sent to companies and individual donors who continue to support us even in a difficult year as 2020.
The Cedar Foundation reports the following achievements in 2019: The largest Non-Government Organization (NGO) in Bulgaria, provider of the social service ““Family-type centers for accommodation of children in need” with a team of 93 employees directly involved in taking care for the children and youngsters; Securing 11000 hours of specialized therapy for the needed ones; Successfully ending a project funded by the European Union, and many other successful initiatives.
For more on the Cedar Foundation’s achievements in 2019, follow the link.
Frequent handwashing is the one method that we know helps protect against the coronavirus. Scrubbing your hands vigorously with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinsing off under clean, running water will remove most germs and viruses. Both warm and cold water would normally do, but in cold weather, contact with unheated water for long stretches is far from an inviting prospect.
A leaky roof this winter caused the water-heating system at one of the Cedar Foundation’s family-type centers for children without parental care to malfunction and eventually to stop working. In the absence of warm water, handwashing for both residents and caregivers at the center, located in the western Bulgarian town of Kyustendil, became a stressful experience. Showering was impossible.
Routine and calm, orderly activities are essential to the well-being of the center’s residents, who have both physical and intellectual impairments, so many found it difficult to understand and adapt to the disruptions wreaked by the Covid-19 outbreak. Predictably, the ban on extracurricular activities and trips outside, confinement within the facility grounds, the ubiquitous smell of disinfectant, and the mandatory wearing of face masks caused anxiety and fear. Having to wash in cold water was one distressing change too many.
“In the beginning, it was particularly difficult,” says Alexandrina Dimitrova, Cedar’s executive director. “They’d ask, ‘Why can’t we go out? Why can’t we see friends?’ We had to explain things to everyone, to calm them down. They have a harder time dealing with change.”
Existential emergencies like a broken water heater have the power to disrupt life like few other events do, so fixing the problem became top priority, even as the center’s staff continued to provide nurturing care to its residents. Cedar identified a fair-priced replacement heater and negotiated a good rate with a local firm for its installation. All they had to do now was find the money to pay for the equipment and service.
A social services provider, the Cedar Foundation draws nearly 60% of its budget from state subsidies. State support, however, allows it to offer only basic care: a roof, meals, and enough staff to tend to the essential needs of residents at the nine centers in two cities run by the foundation. But Cedar aims higher: it strives to give the best possible care so that every child can achieve his or her full potential. To be able to hire sufficient caregivers, therapists, and educators, provide staff with ongoing training and support, and ensure its services address every child’s needs, Cedar relies on donations. It is private support they turn to in emergencies like the broken water heater as well.
Cedar raised a third of the necessary amount to repair the heater thanks to individual donations through Bulgarian fundraising site Platformata.bg. A grant from the StandingTogether program of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and US Embassy Sofia covered the difference. The new heater was soon in place, and handwashing at the Kyustendil center became a more agreeable experience.
That particular hurdle was overcome, but other challenges remain.
Nearly one hundred children and young adults rely on Cedar’s services at eight residential centers and one daytime facility in Kyustendil and Kazanlak; since Cedar’s founding in 2005, nearly 3,000 individuals have benefited from its work. Many of the children and young adults in Cedar’s care have moderate to severe disabilities demanding 24/7 support and specialized therapy. Most residents are capable of some form of learning and take special classes. For Cedar’s staff, no child is beyond help and every child deserves love, care, and the opportunity to learn and grow to the full extent of his or her abilities.
Getting there requires long-term commitment—“very small steps over time,” as Ms. Dimitrova puts it, adding that it is humbling to see “how impactful good care is and how much you change the life of each one of these kids.” All individuals in the foundation’s care experience noticeable improvement in their behavior and skills over time, while a handful of them have even gone on to lead independent lives.
“Every child or young adult requires an individual approach, which may change with the changes they experience in their lives. The important thing is that they feel secure that they are not alone. We give them this security,” Ms. Dimitrova says.
Individual work with speech, physical, and art therapists, regular counseling, around-the-clock care, and specialized skills training involve considerable investment. The Covid-19 outbreak has put additional pressure on the foundation’s already overstretched budget and removed an importance source of fundraising income: events. Cedar was among the first NGOs to pioneer charity balls in Bulgaria and, before the outbreak, organized regular quizzes and donor get-togethers, which over the years helped it cultivate many repeat supporters. “Our donors feel like they are part of a community, and they are proud to belong to it,” Ms. Dimitrova says. The crisis, however, has made it more difficult for them to give.
She is optimistic, however, saying: “Little by little we are adapting.” She is particularly proud that although many of the caregivers at Cedar’s centers are in the high-risk group for infection, and employees with small children have to arrange for alternative childcare, all of them keep going to work and even put in longer hours.
And amid all the havoc the virus wrought for millions, the lockdown hasn’t been all bad for Cedar residents. “The positive thing is that they grew closer together and closer to the people caring for them. The family feeling is stronger.”
Source: America for Bulgaria Foundation
It all began with the personal initiative of one of our long-term volunteers. She often spoke to her coworkers at VMware about the Cedar Foundation, but she knew that in order to be drawn to the cause, they needed to meet our team and learn about the positive change we make ‘first-hand’. So, she decided to invite us to VMware’s Charity Christmas Bazaar. And we gladly accepted the invitation.
As early as during the organization of the event, we were impressed by the support we received. Our volunteer baked delicious pastries and one of her coworkers stayed up until 4 in the morning to knit the scarves which the two of them would sell with us at the Christmas bazaar. Many of the company’s friendly employees stopped by our stand, talked to us about the cause and happily bought Christmas presents and pastries in support of the children and youths at risk. Everything was completely sold out!
The winter holidays passed by quickly but VMware’s employees who became engaged with our cause decided not to wait until next Christmas. Those who were already supporting us shared their experiences with their colleagues and suggested that they donate the bonuses that they receive from the company. Thus, more and more people started giving to our cause, while the company gave them the opportunity to do so in an easy and accessible way, including by doubling their donations.
Sometimes you simply have to share the cause that you support with others, and your support will multiply. We thank VMware and all their employees who chose to change lives with us.
Due to the state of emergency in the country, for 2 months now, the children and young people without parental care have not been allowed to leave the family-type centers that are their home. In these centers, they live in groups of 8 to 14 children, many of whom are vulnerable because of disabilities or illnesses.
The coronavirus poses new challenges to the children and young people’s care in these centers. Much more attention is required to secure their physical and mental well-being, including through the organisation and implementation of new interesting activities, to help them with the online studying, as well as to ensure constant disinfection and security in the centers. At the same time, many of the people who provide 24/7 care to the children, are at the Covid-19 risk group because of their age, and also need support.
We are raising funds to provide for the emergency needs of 70 children and young people in 8 family-type centers. The funds will be used to purchase protective equipment, food, educational and art materials for leisure, equipment for online studying, transportation for the staff, and online psychological support sessions.
Support our work, donate here.
Since the beginning of the state of emergency, we have been trying to find ways to support the Small Group Homes which are more than 280 in the whole country. Approximately 3000 children and youngsters live in these centers. They are deprived of parental care and many of them have various disabilities. The Coronavirus crisis placed these children in high risk in view of their vulnerability.
Over the last week, we participated in several media activities and discussion with the authorities on how we can partner to help these centers solve their problems. We are happy that some of the problems we alarmed about are already being solved.
We were informed that as of today, extensive virus testing begins of the employees of the Small Group Homes. We are confident that this testing will provide a clear picture about the real situation and the employees at the centers will feel more comfortable.
Among other problems of which we have been trying to find solutions is the additional financial compensation for the employees at these centers. They are not equally treated compared to their colleagues from the Agency for Social Assistance who already received additional financial compensation. The amount of work as well as the operating expenses at these centers have increased substantially.
We continue working actively to overcome the challenges we face as well as to support our employees who are at all times devoted to taking care of the children and youths.
An interview with Alexandrina Dimitrova – Executive Director of the Cedar Foundation on how the social services managed by the organization cope with the state of emergency and the physical isolation.
How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your work and what is happening to the children and young people living in your centers?
In the family-type centers, we had to put in place serious measures to maintain hygiene, ensure continuous disinfection, and secure protective masks and gloves. We took these measures even before the state of emergency was introduced in the country.
Many of the children and young people we care for have intellectual and physical disabilities, which puts them in danger. A large number of the staff at the centers is also in the high risk group. That is why we have limited the contacts with people outside the social services, and the children and young people can only go out in the yard of the respective center.
We face difficulties explaining to the children and young adults why they do not go to school or a day-care center, and why they cannot go for a walk or to the grocery store. Staying home often leads to behavioral crises. But our social workers and social therapists are constantly planning and implementing interesting activities, so for now, we keep the situation under control.
The specialists from our Social Rehabilitation and Integration Center work remotely with young people with intellectual disabilities and their families. All services and materials have been adapted so that the work can be done online. The feedback from the youth and their close ones is positive. Some of them say that their progress is even greater as they are excited about the opportunity to use new technologies.
What are the difficulties that the teams face and how is the work in your centers organized?
For our employees the main challenge is explaining to the children and young people why they cannot go outside the center and the yard, as well as coping with the crises that some of the children have because of the isolation. We are also concerned about their own safety, especially since some of them are at risk. For this reason, we have reorganized the shifts at the centers to make it easier for the teams, and to give them peace of mind as much as possible in the current situation. We provide them with additional incentives to the best of our ability, as well as continuous methodological and psychological support.
The costs for our residential social services are increasing as we need more food (the children and young people generally have lunch at school or at the day-care center Monday to Friday, while now they are home throughout the day), disinfectants, protective equipment, and thermometers.
The teams at the family-type centers cannot work from home because they take care of 70 children and young people around the clock. They are professionals who deal with severe crises on a daily basis even besides the situation with COVID-19. Currently, all the difficulties have multiplied and now, more than ever, we need to find a way to support the people who work directly with the children. They are our heroes.
Are there measures that the state can take to ease your work and address specific problems?
The main problem we face is the lack of guidance on what to do in case of an infected child/youth or employee, in any of the residential services. The way the services are organized and operated, and the number of rooms do not allow for isolation and quarantine.
We believe that quarantining the whole family-type center would be inappropriate because of the vulnerability of the children and youth accommodated there, and the inability of an employee to care for them around the clock during the 14 to 28-day quarantine.
We believe that in such a doubt, the child/youth or employee concerned should have the right to immediate testing. In case of a positive test, the employee should be quarantined at home and the child/youth at a hospital or at a non-working social building in the community. Guidance from the Agency for Social Assistance is needed in this regard.
Another problem of which we have been giving a warning for years, and is now coming back with particular urgency, is the obligation for a companion from our team when a child/young adult is admitted to hospital. We already had a case during the state of emergency, and a member of our staff had to accompany a young person to the infectious ward. This is extremely risky and does not fall within the responsibilities of our employees. Besides, government funding is not covering the costs of such overtime.
What external support do the teams receive and are there any problems that hinder your work?
We have received help from some community based social services. Their staff supports the work of our teams at the centers. Our teams are in contact with the doctors of our children and young people who provide telephone assistance. We also have support from our long-term donors.
We are experiencing difficulties with some new donors, so we urge anyone who wishes to help to first contact the charity they have chosen. The givers need to understand what the organization needs the most right now, and how to best organize the delivery of the donation so that everyone is safe.
What are the worrying trends arising from the current state of emergency?
The care we provide in our centers is directly linked to our ability to raise at least BGN 600,000 a year. Unfortunately, despite the great efforts we are currently making, many fundraising projects and events have been cancelled.
We hope that everything will quickly go back to normal because the needs of the young people and children at risk are daily and continuous. We are aware of the difficulties that most sectors are experiencing, and that everyone is currently mobilized to invest in the fight against coronavirus. We are concerned that donations will be affected in the long run because people and businesses will be unstable or will suffer financial losses.
For years, we have been paying attention to the low salaries in the social sphere, especially given the workload of the professionals in this field and the responsibility they carry. In the current situation, they face even greater difficulties and still do not receive the salaries they deserve.
Despite the complicated situation in Bulgaria related to the state of emergency, we succeeded to fundraise 3 300 BGN and replace the steam generator with a new one. It was achieved within the framework of the campaign: “The roof leaks, can anybody help fix it?” All this was possible thanks to donors who supported us in this so difficult moment.
Few weeks ago, the roof of one of our residential homes for children in the town of Kyustendil leaked and as a result the boiler was destroyed completely. The accident left 8 youths without heating and hot water.
We thank all donors who helped secure the funds quickly and supported the cause.
The Cedar Foundation’s Executive Director Alexandrina Dimitrova gave a presentation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the HR Industry 2020 event that focused on the newest trends in HR. The participation was secured pro bono by Job Tiger.
The main focus of Mrs. Dimitrova’s presentation was on how CSR can be effectively applied while benefiting everyone involved— businesses and their employees, as well as the cause and society as a whole. By showcasing real-life examples, she pointed out different aspects of the topic which include both negative and positive tendencies.
“Quite often Corporate Social Responsibility is seen as yet another PR instrument, something trendy and therefore necessary. But in fact, the public image should be a byproduct, not an aim in and of itself.”
According to Alexandrina, the goal is for the company to positively change the environment in which it makes business and to make this happen in partnership with its employees:
“There have been many studies, showing that employees are more satisfied when they see that their company contributes to societal change. One such study shows that 88% of the so-called ‘millennials’ have higher work satisfaction if their job gives them the opportunity to contribute to positive change in the society they live in”, she added.
Among the other highlighted negative tendencies were the lack of focus of donations as well as the poor communication with people who stand behind the cause.
“Many companies get into the trap of wanting to support many and various causes or they tend to change the cause they contribute to on a yearly basis. However, this approach wastes and scatters the already limited resources and the overall impact that can be achieved becomes negligible. It is much more effective for companies and employees to focus their efforts on one cause. With time they will see how their support provides sustainability and can address a problem in the long run. Another problem we often see is that sometimes in their desire to help, donors decide on their own how to do so as well as what to donate without contacting us and asking about the actual needs of the children and youths we care for.”
According to the latest data from the Bulgarian Donor’s Forum from 2018, Bulgaria has seen a 4% decrease in corporate donations despite the good economic environment. Just 36% of all donations have come from companies. In addition, the country ranks 126th in the World Giving Index 2018 out of a total of 146 countries.
“There are many companies who have shared with us that they don’t want to brag about their donations because they are not doing it for the PR it brings. But actually good practices need to be shared so that their example can inspire other companies. This is the only way in which we can change this unpleasant statistic.”, Mrs. Dimitrova said. She shared the good examples of The Cedar Foundation’s long-term corporate partners all of whom have united the efforts of the company, its management and employees in service to the cause.
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