At the end of April 2016 a group of students from the International School of Zug and Luzern, Switzerland visited the children and youth that Тhe Cedar Foundation supports in Kazanlak. Several days before we welcome the Swiss volunteers again, we share with you an interview with the Middle School Assistant Principle at the International School – Stuart Byfield, which we did last year.
In 2016 the volunteers organized charity events in their school and took part in various volunteer initiatives, which improved the lives of the kids and young people, who live in our family-type houses and protected home.
Stuart Byfield supports The Cedar Foundation since 2009, and as a representative of the school – since 2011. He is also part of the Board of Directors of the foundation. In the interview you can read more about the whole project – its ideas, goals and achievements. Check it out:
Tell me more about the project. What are you doing with the students in Bulgaria?
Our students have worked since the end of August 2015 and they’ve been selling hot chocolate. The whole school also brought euro coins and the kids created a piece of artwork together. The idea is that they will raise 20 000 BGN to pay for the work that they’ve done here – for the trip, the landscaping, the planting and painting. They have more projects coming up over the next 2 months before they break for the summer. When we go back to school we don’t finish the project. We continue to raise funds, but then we also do a feedback session not only for the positive side of the trip, but also how we can improve it for the future. We share what we took, what we learned. I think that the human brain needs time to remember the specific moment that was not important at the time, but is more valuable later.
How was the idea born?
We’ve done this for 4 years. Every year we bring a group of students here and we make a group that works back in Switzerland. Not all students want necessarily to come in Bulgaria, but they want to support The Cedar Foundation’s cause. I don’t think this experience is for everyone, but I think that everyone could contribute to the change. We’ve supported The Cedar Foundation as a school for 4-5 years and the relationship is very strong.
What is your aim?
I think that are two things actually. The key aim is to improve the lives of the kids and young adults, with whom we work in Bulgaria. But then second to that, comes the understanding for our students. They now have a greater understanding of the wider world and what life is like outside of the bubble, outside of their comfort zone. Switzerland is one very comfortable place to live and you don’t see poverty, you don’t see children and young adults with disabilities. So for the volunteers to come here is a very different situation and for some of them is a real test.
What motivates the volunteers to help the disabled kids and youths?
I think that our students understand that they are in a privileged position. They have parents that guide them and support them, they are doing fine financially. They believe that we, as human beings, have the responsibility to help the other, who are not in a good position.
How are they feeling now?
Tired (he laughs). I think that it takes time to process the things you see and the things you feel. It takes time to understand. I believe some of them made a really strong connection with some of the residents, they showed deeper understanding on what’s going on. The students are very pleased with what they’ve done, they’ve had their eyes open about the situation in a different country and different atmosphere.
What is their attitude towards the children and young adults?
There is a great sense of compassion, this is the big thing that comes through. They talk passionately about the kids, about making a difference in their lives, which I think, is our highest purpose.
Do you think that they’ve had enough time to build relationship between each other?
What is interesting is that our students don’t speak Bulgarian, but you can see the relationship that they’ve built quickly. The communication is not only with words. I saw a lot of non-verbal communication and this makes me happy. At the dance class they’ve connected very well with the children and youths and this experience is very special for both of them.
How do you think this relationship will affect the life both of the students and the residents?
The relationship between our school and The Cedar Foundation is very strong. It is true that we give our time, compassion, love and money to the kids and young adults in the family homes, but this is a two way relationship and we should not forget it. Our students get so much back. We forget sometimes that they are too young, they’re only 13 and 14 years old and in this position they learn so much about themselves. The project changes lives here in Bulgaria, but it changes lives in Switzerland too, because the volunteers go away with a different mindset. They may never work with The Cedar Foundation again, but maybe a small part of them will stay here and they will change their ideas about who they want to support and what they want to do in the future.
Tell us which the most exciting moments were for the kids and the volunteers.
I think the dance class was really eye-opening, because even the most shy and reserved students were up and they were dancing with the residents. Also that very first morning when we walk into that very first home was the greatest experience, then we saw kids and young adults that can’t speak or act, or move, or respond in the way that the social norms expect. That was huge and very powerful! We’ve learned how to feel the kids, how to cope with them. Because is not a comfortable and easy situation, is not an exciting moment, but is very, very powerful.
What makes you proud about the whole project?
The volunteers are not adults, they’re kids themselves and the way they interacted, the way they communicated, and the way they worked with the disabled kids – that is the key thing for me.
With what feeling are you leaving this place?
This place always makes me smile, Bulgaria makes me smile. It’s a fantastic country with great people and very different culture, because it is important to keep that cultural identity. And what makes me smile is that I see hope here, I see hope for other places, where the children still need help. I see hope that they will also have the chance to feel the love, the embrace and the dedication.