The youngest participant in the BFW Community Development Program, Veronica Georgieva from Pleven talks about her successful project
In November 2019, the Bulgarian Fund for Women launched a Community Development Program, which aims to support community leaders and active people in their efforts to unite and mobilize their communities, to promote initiatives related to uniting citizens for a better social environment, to enable meetings and exchanges between different groups and to promote the inclusion of women in community development. The main goal of the program is to promote and support the informal involvement and association of citizens in solving social problems left out of state support.
The BFW program had two parts – theoretical and practical, in the first stage the participants attended a two-day training at the end of January 2020, aimed at developing skills for building and organizing communities. In the second stage, the approved candidates, received scholarships from the BFW to pursue their goals to mobilize their communities and implement an initiative to improve the lives of everyone in their community. Out of a total of 97 applications, 20 contestants were approved to be funded with scholarships.
One of the participants in the program was Veronica Georgieva from the town of Pleven, member of the association “Volunteers for Kaylaka”. She was also the youngest participant in the Community Development Program – only 18 years old.
This did not stop Veronica from developing her idea and successfully applying with her project “Recreation of the Panoramic Area at Totlebenov Val Dam”, for which she received funding in the amount of BGN 500 from the BFW. The young girl from Pleven managed to attract additional financial support from the Rotary Club Pleven “Center”, which supported her initiative with another BGN 350.
The project was implemented between March and June 2020. Veronica and 25 other volunteers from her community, who stood behind her cause and project, carried out all of the planned activities, complying with the requirements and restrictions related to the prevention of the spread of COVID-19.
Veronica Georgieva’s project consisted of a recreation of a tourist area in the “Popska Skala” area. This includes the construction and installation of 6 benches in places with panoramic views in this e extremely picturesque and beautiful area, the installation of new waste bins and the construction of a 6-meter aluminum pylon with solar lighting, on which hangs the Bulgarian national flag. It fluttered on the opposite shore of the dam, making the view even more breathtaking. For years, locals have complained that the beautiful area, which offers magnificent views and pure nature, is polluted by visitors who had nowhere to throw away their waste. Unfortunately, the waste management company does not serve this area and so Veronica and the other volunteers have committed themselves to pass regularly and collect the bags of accumulated garbage after the installation of the new waste bins. With the new benches, tourists and locals now are able to relax while contemplating the breathtaking view, high above the dam.
Here is what Veronica herself tells us: “With the implementation of the project we managed to achieve two main changes – one material and the other – purely moral. We restored the benches and bins that had been neglected for years, improving the environment in the protected area of “Kaylaka” Park. We showed that we will not stand inactive and wait for someone else to solve our own problems. But at the same time as fulfilling this mission, we managed to provide a place for rest and relaxation, allowing for peace in front of the view overlooking the dam “Totlebenov Val”.
“Despite the difficult situation in the country (related to the economic crisis and COVID pandemic), we managed to find an alternative way to raise additional funds, we managed to engage young people, to improve the environment in the area and to reduce pollution. The social activism and positivism of volunteers and citizens gave us hope that, although neglected by the state and municipality, the park may look good as a result of our common efforts. Most importantly, we left a mark and set the stage for one of the many good examples in Pleven, a town long forgotten by the authorities.
There were difficulties, of course. In the course of the implementation of the project, we had to obtain the necessary documentation certifying the permit for construction activities in the protected area. The documents were provided, but due to the lack of organized waste management regulated by the authorities, we were able to install only 3 of the purchased 5 waste bins with the stipulation that we ourselves will voluntarily organize the garbage collection. We decided to place the other two bins at another restored site – “The Kissing Place”, where the logistics of waste management is already in place.”
As a result of Veronica’s project and the participation of all the supporters, apart from the purely material dimension, we can say that the following additional benefits have been achieved: engaging the community in the activities; increasing volunteer activity; enhancing the skills and competencies of volunteers; providing additional funding for the project; reduction of the amount of waste that pollutes the nature in the area; improvement of the area, which as a result increases the number of visitors to the protected area; increasing the responsibility of tourists to nature protection. The response of the local media and social platforms has helped inspire other volunteers and community members who have never been involved in such initiatives to participate and support.
The direct participants in the project activities are 25, and the indirect beneficiaries – over 7,000. These are the expected annual visitors to the area, who will personally use the improvements. As other benefits for the direct participants, their civic activity has significantly increased and they have realized the urgent need for change. “We have empowered them to initiate the change of the things they don’t like and to start to set the rules themselves by changing environment,” Veronica commented. “On the other hand, many of the beneficiaries have only now learned about the park and their homeland, which has partly achieved our mission to restore national and local self-awareness,” she added.
“I want to personally express my gratitude to the entire team of the Bulgarian Fund for Women for their support and for giving me the opportunity to implement this project and thus develop my potential and prove to myself that nothing is impossible,” says Veronica. “I’ve learned so much and expanded my worldview during the two days of training organized by BFW, which was an amazing experience for me. At first, I did not believe that the day would come when I would prepare and then report on my first project and that I would be able to handle the whole organization of so many people and the management of so much documentation. Thank you for believing in me, I believe that I have succeeded and changed the environment in which I live. You have empowered one 18-year-old girl, the youngest participant in the training, busy with a bunch of exams on the verge of graduation and prom, to create a corner that will remain for generations. And this is anonymous, because good deeds have to be done just like that. Today, probably dozens of people sit on the benches and enjoy the view with a wide smile in the distance to the dam, fleeing from everyday life, which invariably haunts us. I hope they enjoy this moment. Thanks to BFW for partnership and the given opportunity!”, Veronica wrote to us.
“Working on the project was just one of the many steps we took with the community in order to fulfill our cause for the preservation of “Kaylaka” park; and to provide the fresh air that the park deserves. The results of the project will certainly be sustainable over time and I strongly believe that we will avoid acts of vandalism and that what has been done will remain for future generations. The community has also achieved its task of engaging local people in the maintenance of the park, becoming part of a larger foundation “For Kaylaka”, which will deal with the overall maintenance and improvement, so the work on the subject will continue after the completion of this project.”
The young woman says that after the project, some people criticized the volunteers for placing bins that would be overcrowded every day, benches that where a place for noisy young people that would sit in the evening and disturb someone’s peace on a rock that was not safe and someone could fall, a pylon that would be pushed by the wind and many others. “I realized that we sometimes complain too much and enjoy the good things too little,” Veronica replied. More than once we went and voluntarily collected the garbage, more than once we received pictures of new garbage and there was a moment when I believed in the people that claimed that “Nothing can change!” One evening, however, on the social networks, I came across this photo. A photo from the wedding photo session of Rebecca and Gennady – a young couple, who captured an intimate moment on one of the benches that the volunteers and I set up, on the background of the distant flag on the rock.
If you’ll believe me, a month later, when I’m incredulity that nothing’s going to change, I can think of this picture. The photo on the same benches, where every night noisy young people gather and which those “crazy” Pleven volunteers decided to do with love for the others. And love is the first thing to do, it builds the world around us. And what a pity it is that dozens of times we are surrounded by hatred and complaints, and much less of love and smiles. What a pity that we rarely see the good in the world around us! And changing to something positive is an extremely good thing… Dear people, please, love each other!
This photo gives me hope that the happiness brought on by the little things still exists, and there is still hope that good things can happen here. Nice things with nice people in our beautiful Bulgaria…”