The summer is over, and we’re getting ready for another exciting year for our re-vamped full-year educational program teaching life skills to Bulgarian orphans. In the meantime, we wanted to share what we’ve been busy over the past couple of months.
On July 3, 2011, more than 30 orphaned youth from the cities of Plovdiv, Berkovitsa and Sofia came together to present to each other and to our special guests the products of their group work during the Professional Skills module. Each of the three groups had a unique product to present as they had been working with different volunteers in their respective cities to design, plan and execute their own group projects.
As mentioned in our previous report, the Sofia group set a very high bar by creating a book about children living in orphanages. After weeks of hard work and logistical challenges, our Sofia students succeeded in creating the book original (which looks and feels like a real book) – printed in color, with pages stuck and sewn together, and a nice colorful cover. Each group participant presented a different aspect of the process of the book’s creation and engaged their peers from other cities in a discussion about provoking topics in the lives of these underprivileged youth.
The group from Berkovitsa presented a beautifully hand-drawn play script. The play, written by the group, told a beautiful story about the battle between good and evil through metaphoric literary heroes. The youth identified each of the characters in the play with one of the actual students who worked on the play.
Finally, the group from Plovdiv presented their Tourist guide to Plovdiv consisting of a colorful powerpoint presentation and a neat word document, listing all the key sites, historical facts and popular entertainment venues in the city. All of our volunteers and special guests certainly learned a lot about Plovdiv’s history and sights thanks to this presentation.
Due to the financial crisis effect and time and resource constraints, after the end of the training sessions during the school year, we were able to identify internship opportunities for only two of our students (rather than 5 as initially planned). Nevertheless, this was a great learning opportunity as we realized how many legal, administrative and logistical details are involved in providing a meaningful internship opportunity for the underprivileged youth. The challenges we overcame this summer have provided invaluable learning opportunities for helping more youth obtain practical professional experiences next year.
Finally, we’ve been shaping our plans for the new year. We’re currently in the process of identifying new participants for our full-year educational program and recruiting seasoned ones to take a more leading role in the various sessions. We look forward to implementing our upgraded training program which includes sessions with a professional career planning consultant, psychologist and after-school tutoring in Bulgarian language and math. Thanks to the significant amount of grant money we obtained last spring, we’ll be able to provide all of these different resources to 50 orphaned children this year.
Please stay tuned for our next report with more news about the progress of our 2011-2012 life skills training program. Thank you for your continuous support!
Step for Bulgaria management team
Over the past 3 months, we’ve seen some exciting developments at Step for Bulgaria that we wanted to update you on.
1. We have completed our Human Rights training project, funded with the help of the CEE Trust for Civil Society, which covered about 70 teenagers living in orphanages in 6 Bulgarian cities (Sofia, Plovdiv, Berkovitsa, Gabrovo, Silistra and Varna). At the closing events, the participating youth and volunteers presented artwork, computer presentations and public debates demonstrating the new knowledge and experiences they have developed thanks to the 2-month training. Each of you can see some of those in the video produced about the project here. Please spread around the word about it so more people can recognize the importance of supporting underprivileged youth in understanding and knowing how to defend their human rights.
2. We have continued the year-long life skills education program with the last theme for this year: professional skills. On this topic some of our most experienced volunteer trainers are engaging their students from orphanages in Sofia, Berkovitsa and Plovdiv on designing and implementing group projects. Each project has been conceived by the students at each location. The main purpose of the project is to deliver a final product/service and to help the participants develop and practice key professional skills each of them has identified as important for their career orientation and first professional experiences. Given these directions, our students in Sofia have decided to write and publish a book that reveals true facts and experiences of children living without parental care in social institutions. The Plovdiv group has decided to create a tourist guide about Plovdiv. The students in Berkovitsa have been working on a magazine publication. The final products of each group will be presented at a special celebratory event in early July, where we hope to have as a honorary guest the vice-minister of Social Affairs.
The Sofia group has already presented a preview of the book to external audience in early June and has received some very useful feedback. In addition, this helped us connect to a professional publishing house which might be interested in publishing the book. The organizers of the TEDxBG conference have expressed their interest in purchasing several hundred copies of the book to distribute to conference participants next January.
3. As the summer is quickly approaching, we’ve been looking to identify internship opportunities for the most serious and devoted participants in the life-skills program. We’ll aim to finalize internship schedule and plans within the next two weeks, so we can have at least 5 children guaranteed with professional training and exposure this summer. We have already found a placement for one of them, who has started work as an assistant –cook at a seaside hotel thanks to our partners at Trivia Tour.
4. Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers and board members, we have applied for and won a grant from the Bulgarian Foundation: Workshop for Civil Initiatives which will cover 80% of our program costs for next year (~15,000 EUR). We hope we can raise the other 20% with your great help and continuous support.
Thank you all for maintaining your contributions and providing spiritual support when we need them the most! Without you, our work and our students’ personal growth and development as responsible and successful adults would be impossible! Thank you!
We are halfway through our full year program with the Summer Academy approaching fast. We just completed our Human Rights and Discrimination module. We were supported by 15 volunteers who were trained by the Helsinki Committee in Bulgaria. We were fortunate enough to reach out to over 70 children in 6 cities. In each orphanage we discussed the universal human rights, why it is important to know them, how to identify and handle discrimination and also the responsibilities each of us has in society. The participating students from all orphanages come together in two final events on March 12th and 27th where they’ll debate the importance of human rights and discrimination. The children responded beautifully to the discussions and we all feel that this module helped raise awareness and made them more self confident.
After the wrap-up of the Human Rights and Discrimination module we will move to the Economic module. It is a program which prepares our students with the professional skills they will need to get jobs. We will discuss topics such as time management, communication, teamwork and personal budgeting. These are all very basic skills that they are not taught in their orphanages.
We are looking into our Summer Academy and what we want to achieve with it. We’ve noticed that there is a gap between their on-the-job and the classroom experience. This is why we will move from an academic to a more practical approach in this edition of the program. We would like to work with our most active and devoted students and place them in internships with real businesses of their choice. Along with this, we will enroll them in vocational training in order to help them get the job they want after leaving the orphanage. Of course we will continue to provide English and leadership training in order to enhance their professional skills.
Thank you all for you support. We are looking forward to hearing your comments or proposals. Please do not hesitate to contact us.
Back in November last year, we began our full year program once more. It was great to see all the children after the summer break. They, as well as us, were ready to begin academic year again.
This year we are covering five homes in four cities in Bulgaria. We are currently working with 35 dedicated students and 7 enthusiastic volunteers. We hope to start working with a new home in Panagiurishte with some 15 children living in it who could definitely use the contact and attention.
This year we started our academic program with the psychological awareness and development module where we talk about assertiveness, self-esteem, conflict resolution and feedback. We have been fortunate enough to have support from psychology professionals as part of our volunteer corps. During the past few months, our students have been involved in discussions around what it means to be responsible, how do we communicate and set rules of interaction in difficult situations, how do we self-reflect and learn from others' feedback. We've seen out students both enrich their vocabulary with words related to resolving formal disputes and self-cognition and share with others real-life stories that help demonstrate the importance of psychological and emotional intelligence.
For Christmas, we had a special event for the students we work with in Plovdiv and in Berkovitsa. The first group spent a day with some of their regular volunteer trainers and an American guest, whom they took on a tour through the old city. We all visited one of the most beautiful galleries around and ended the day with a hefty traditional meal - anticipating Christmas with full bellies and a sincere conversation. The second group had arts and crafts workshop, producing Christmas cards and souvenirs that were sold off to raise additional resources for the teenagers' educational activities.
Following the wrap up of the psychology awareness module we will move on to another crucial topic - human rights and discrimination. The teenagers we work with encounter every day discriminatory practices against them - at school, in the local community, in public venues. The reason for that is that children living without parental care, in social care institutions in Bulgaria, are typically seen as impolite, unkempt, irresponsible and in general, doomed to failure in life. On top of that, a majority of them are born to ethnic minority parents and are racially discriminated against. That is why it is crucial to prepare our students to understand the reasons for the discriminative and anti-humanistic practices they endure and to teach them how to counteract such behaviors. We have recruited a group of volunteers who were trained in late November by experts from the Helsinki Committee in Bulgaria. These 15 volunteer trainers are now going off to work with underprivileged teenagers in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Berkovitsa, Gabrovo, Silistra and Varna to work with more than 70 students. In each city, we'll hold three consecutive interactive training sessions where the participating teenagers will learn: what are their universal human rights and why they exist; what responsibilities these human rights employ for each of us; what are the causes of discrimination and how to recognize the act of it; how to address discriminatory practices in our everyday life. The training will end with two final events where we'll have children from the different cities come together, have a public debate and demonstrate artwork and creative activities related to the topic of human rights and discrimination. We hope to thus raise the awareness about the everyday human rights breaches these youth encounter and to encourage the general public to respect their rights.
Wish us luck with what's coming! We will of course keep you updated on the way things are going!
Thank you all for the kind support! We have received many donations over the Christmas season which is extremely helpful to keep us going! We would love to hear your feedback or in case you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!
We're soon starting a new season of our life-skills training program for youth, living without parents in social care institutions. We'll be working in Sofia, Berkovitsa, Plovdiv and Varna this year - with about 40 teenagers, to teach them skills related to psychological awareness and development, effective communication, conflict resolution, defending one's human rights, taking care of one's body and health, and practicing essential professional skills that are needed for anyone planning to work with others successfully.
Last year - the 2009/2010 edition of the program finished on May 30 - we observed great results in the increased motivation of the students that we work with to master the skills taught, to work with each other, and most importantly - to demonstrate and apply what they have learned. At the closing ceremony of the event, we had all 35 participants both present pre-prepared projects, works and presentations to a big audience and improvise on the spot in order to successfully design and deliver a creative presentation on a challenging topic as part of a team that they've never worked with before. During the event, we had a contest with mixed teams of students from different cities, who had to convince the audience that the conventional plastic straw can be useful in many ways - ranging from serving as a fashion accessory to being used in constructing buildings. A jury of 5 professionals from various fields assessed the different presentations and selected a winner.
The most motivated and dedicated students, who never missed a class and consistently demonstrated their desire to learn in the training sessions, were invited to participate in the STEP 2010 Summer Academy which took place in the end of August.
This year, starting in just a few weeks, we have prepared diligently the various topics that we'll be working with our students on. We have a sample trainer's manual, ready to be shared with volunteers and representatives of other organizations who would like to teach life skills to the youth they work with. As a completely volunteer-run organization, we recognize that we cannot serve all youth that need our support, so we've decided to use innovative ways to share our know-how and experience. Apart from having the trainer's manual, we have also set-up a new train-the-trainer program, called Trainer's Pact "Step in the Future", in order to meet other enthusiastic people working with underprivileged youth and learn together how to be more effective in preparing this youth for their independent life.
We'll keep you posted on how the start of this year's Step in the Future life skills training program goes. Thank you all for the amazing support you offer and for following our progress! If you have any questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to get in touch!
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