Mar 1, 2021

Fall Season Virtual Tournaments a Success

On November 13-15 2020, BEST Foundation hosted its first regional tournament of the academic year, and its first large-scale virtual tournament ever! Just around 150 students from all over the west half of Bulgaria participated in the tournament. Professionals and university students from Bulgaria, the UK, the Netherlands and the U.S. acted as judges. We used Discord to run our main competition events and a few other team management tools to help with operations.  119th School in Sofia was kind enough to host BEST volunteers to work from its premises to run the “back staging” of the event. This was our first virtual event and so no external audience, partners or spectators were invited to ensure we have full security and a manageable troubleshooting system. The event went smoothly and paved the way for future tournaments. Sixteen teams attended the event, with students competing in each of BEST’s five events: Original Oratory, Duo Interpretation, Prose Interpretation, Poetry Interpretation, and World Schools Debate. 

Just a week after our Fall West tournament, we had our Fall East tournaments for students from the Eastern region of Bulgaria. We took note of all the necessary technical changes in our systems and were able to keep the team’s momentum, especially that our ETAs were in the states and at this point were not officially part of our team, but kept volunteering with us to ensure the tournaments they planned for were carried out smoothly, at least for this one last time. We had 150 student participants and around 60 volunteer judges including a famous Bulgarian journalist. Our team of volunteers rented an airbnb and turned it into a working space to ensure we can run the event smoothly and can easily communicate with each other to schedule rounds and handle reports.

During the Fall 2020 semester, BEST’s Management Team (MT) consisted of a group of motivated and dedicated Bulgarians and Americans, all volunteers, who are responsible for all on-the-ground operations in Bulgaria. The MT included one full-time Executive Director, one Fulbright Fellow who served as Assistant Director, one Bulgarian volunteer who serves as Assistant Director, American English Teachers and Bulgarian BEST alumni volunteer coordinators, and student interns. Due to the pandemic, the Americans on the team had to move back to the U.S. thus our team has been reduced by half in the current Spring 2021 semester.

We still managed to hold a successful first tournament of the Spring 2021 season, which took place on Feb 19-21 (Spring West Regional) attended by 140 student competitors and 35 judges. Our opening ceremony had a guest speaker from the U.S. Embassy, our main sponsor for the event, and also a professor from American University in Blagoevgrad who who holds a PHD from Harvard in literature and has interest in poetry, one of the categories our students compete in.

Your support has made it possible for our team to continue its operations and planning during and in between events, and if you would like to continue to support us GlobalGiving is having a 50% matching campaign from March 9-14 for donations between $10-$50. Every little help counts and enables us to carry forward.

Thank you!

Opening Ceremony
Opening Ceremony
our volunteer joining from the Netherlands
our volunteer joining from the Netherlands

Links:

Dec 16, 2020

Fall 2020 Season a Success!!

Community project discussion
Community project discussion

Dear Friends,

We hope that this message finds you safe, healthy and strong!

As we wrap up the Fall semester, we are happy to update you with some of the activities that we have achieved thus far in relation to this project "Empowering students through Leadership Training". 

The start of the semester was very busy, in September and October we held training sessions for: the management team volunteers who will run the events this year, coach volunteers who will be coaching students on speech & debate and preparing for competitions, and Student Leaders who in addition to helping the coaches with training & tournament registration logistics, also learned about project management and developing a community project. 

This year for the management team training we incorporated mental wellness and meditation sessions which focused on how long-term volunteers can care for themselves while offering service to others, a first of it's kind initiative and very timely for these difficult times we live in. The staff members who were not able to attend physically in Sofia, joined us by Zoom or were sent recorded sessions.

Our main coach training was held in 51st School in Sofia, with two more sessions conducted virtually for coaches from far away cities.

The Student Leader training seminars were divided into two regions also for the first time of the history of BEST, in order to limit travel time for students and thus limit exposure to unhealthy situations. We did receive parental consent for each student to attend the weekend-long seminars which were held in Sofia and Varna. Even though the situation was very stable Covid-wise back in September and there were not many regulations imposed, we took our own measures by doing periodic disinfection, temperature measurement, distancing, and imposed a mask rule indoor and outdoor. Our students were amazing by complying with the rules and enjoyed all the lectures and workshops we had planned for them like an improv theater workshop, project management foundations, and a guest singer performance. The students were tasked with coming up with mock community projects and presented them to their peers for feedback.

After training the staff volunteers, coaches, and Student Leaders, we held our first ever VIRTUAL regional tournaments resulting in the participation of 300 student competitors and 100 volunteer judges. The number is 50% of our usual attendance in face-to-face tournaments, which is mainly due to students not having access to good equipment and/or internet connection. The several surveys we have done since the last one in the summer, indicate that 30% of our students don't have access to a laptop or PC at home, and we are hoping that by collecting more donations or collaborating with local companies that we can bridge this gap and increase the participation rate in virtual events.

The night before the tournament our student leaders had a special social event over zoom before the start of the tournament, they shared poster designs they created with their teams and gave each other pep talks before the big tournament day. They are now in the process of submitting their project proposals for their Community Projects and we are very excited to learn what ideas they have for helping their immediate communities in the Spring Semester.

Despite all the positive results, we did face an unpleasant situation and lost half of our volunteer staff who had to return home to the U.S. due to the pandemic. Lucky for us their love to our organization enabled them to continue help with tournament operations until December, but unfortunately, we will need to recruit and train new long-term volunteers to replace them for the second semester. 

Thanks to your generous donations, we were able to cover many of this semester's training costs (without being able to offer technology scholarships that we had hoped to provide). We encourage you to share our cause with family and friends so we can continue our events and offer more support to these amazing young people who are resilient, positive and adding such important value to their schools and cities. We also realized that our volunteer staff has also limited access to various technology and digital tools that have proven to be necessary for business and so we are hoping to be fully equipped by the end of this academic year to have smoother operations and peace of mind to our staff and coaches/SLs.

Thank you very much for being part of our community, for reading this long report, and we wish you and your families a safe and healthy holiday season.

 

best regards,

Lina Jarad

Impactful project-lecturer
Impactful project-lecturer
Lecture Varna - finding your passion project
Lecture Varna - finding your passion project
SLs Varna
SLs Varna
Coach training
Coach training
Staff training
Staff training
Nov 2, 2020

Beginning of Tournament Season

Volunteer Management Team
Volunteer Management Team

Dear Friends,

We hope you are keeping safe and healthy.

We have been very busy since the last report, and with the start of our tournament season, we are even busier.

In August 2020 we organized our first-ever live show where five of our brilliant students performed various pieces including original oratory, poetry, and prose. The event was streamed on Facebook and Youtube and was presented by our Executive Director Lina Jarad as well as our board member Chris Totten. The event engaged 500 community members online on the day, with a reach of more than 4k overall on social media afterward. It was a great opportunity for parents and friends of our youth to have a glance at what takes place in a face-to-face tournament and also a creative way to collect donations.

In September we conducted various training seminars necessary for the operations of the foundation, including a training to all new volunteers part of our management team which took place in Sofia, as well as training for coaches who will be working with high school students across Bulgaria. The coaches' training was held in person in Sofia as well as two additional sessions online for coaches from various regions in Bulgaria. 

This year in order to enhance our alumni relations as well as taking steps into running tournaments online, we organized a friendly online tournament that was open to Alumni and current competitors. Twenty-five competitors and 10 judges participated in the event which utilized Zoom, Discord, and Speechwire as platforms and it was held on Saturday, Oct 17. We collected feedback in order to learn from the experience and better prepare for future larger live online tournaments. 

In order to show appreciation to our student leaders, volunteer judges & coaches, and our Alumni, this year we have designed a new "BEST Speaker Series" initiative and we held our first event on Oct 27 with guest speaker journalist Dimiter Kenarov. The event was held by 18 community members online and it was a very engaging and informative evening for all. As a valued member of our community, we would love to invite YOU to our future speaker series so please sign up for our newsletter.

Finally, an update for the elephant in the room: our regional tournaments. We are very excited to host our regional tournaments this coming November, though online. Our team worked hard to research and test various platforms so our large tournaments are not canceled similar to what happened in the Spring and we are happy to have our first West Regional tournament on Nov 14, online, as well as our East Regional on Nov 21-22. Registration is open and taking place at this exact moment, competitors and judges have started filling out forms and our team is hard at work to make it a smooth transition. You can expect more updates when Fall programming ends.

Thank you for your continuous support as it is now more than ever we need it even more to ensure successful virtual programming for our community.

best regards,

Lina Jarad

Summer Slam Live Show
Summer Slam Live Show
Coach Training Sofia
Coach Training Sofia
Poetry BEST friendly online tournament
Poetry BEST friendly online tournament
BEST Speaker Series
BEST Speaker Series

Links:

 
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