Leaders of Change: the Successes of the Bulgarian Fund for Women’s (BFW) Community Development Program

  •  February 13, 2023

In the spring of 2022. The Bulgarian Fund for Women (BFW) is organizing for the third time its Community Development Program, which aims to support community leaders and activists in their efforts to unite and mobilize their communities, to promote initiatives related to bringing citizens together for a better social environment, to enable encounters and exchanges between different groups, and to promote women’s involvement in community development. An accompanying goal of the program is to promote and support the informal involvement and unification of citizens in solving societal problems left aside by the government’s assistance, as well as to promote community philanthropy.

After 92 applications from 42 different locations, the BFW team selected 25 community leaders from 16 locations. They went through the program in two parts – theoretical and practical. In the first stage, the 25 participants underwent a three-day training at the end of June aimed at developing community-building and organizing skills. In the second stage, they had the opportunity to apply for funding for their submitted projects, which they could use to activate their communities and together implement an initiative to improve the lives of everyone in the community.

After the evaluation of the submitted projects, 13 leaders were approved for funding, who contributed to the development of their communities. Each of them developed their project according to the needs of their community and their competencies.

Today We Tell You about the Projects Implemented within the Framework of the BFWs Program:

Daniela Deskova held several art workshops with mothers of children with disabilities who visit the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration of Children with Disabilities (CSRIDU) in the city of Pleven. They do not have the opportunity to engage frequently in such activities as their daily lives are mainly occupied with taking care of their children. The project is entitled Because we can and managed to collect funds from the sale of handmade souvenirs, as well as to improve the space around the building by creating a recreation and games corner for the children and their relatives.

Dina Kirilova from the town of Sandanski created a community of women whose hobby is a tapestry, training them in working with computer models, held a storytelling contest on the topic “My favorite tapestry” related to needle painting, and promoted their works on a purpose-built site where you can learn more about the relationship between tapestry and computer graphics. Dina believes that this type of art can serve as a tool to deal with social isolation and anxiety. For this reason, within the framework of the project, the beginning tapestry makers had the opportunity to work with children and adults with mental disabilities in the Day Care Center Sveta Nedelya, Sandanski, where they passed on their skills by participating in a special workshop called “Brodirachnica” (Embroidery). To find out about other side events, keep an eye on their website.

Elka Stoyanova, also from the town of Sandanski, mobilized female pensioners from the Zdrave Sports Club and formed a gymnastics team, which developed a complex of exercises and performed excellently at a regional and national gymnastics examination. This gave older women, many of whom had lived in increased isolation during the pandemic, the opportunity to perform and indulge in group sports. Subsequently, the team conducted 2 joint sports and game initiatives with people with mental difficulties in the sheltered housing in the village of Razdol. The women from the sheltered home presented a short literary and musical program and were awarded for their sports performance. (More about the activities of the Courage for Life project can be found in a local media publication.)

As part of her project Unseen Scene, partially funded by the National Culture Fund, Kristina Todorova organized two concerts in the dark as a platform for seeking a new kind of communication between the sighted and the blind. The project expanded the opportunities for the inclusion of blind people in socio-cultural life and empowered some of them, giving them the opportunity to become the main actors in the concerts as well as mentors. The printed materials created for the event were translated and printed in Braille so that they could reach the wider blind community. The concerts were held at the Regional Center for Contemporary Arts “Toplocentrala” (Heat Plant) and were attended by nearly 200 people. (You can find out more about the project here.)

The SPOKO Pensioners Club, dedicated to sports, cultural and educational activities, as well as to empowering and raising the self-esteem and mental state of its members, led by Margarita Krasteva, embarked on a series of sporting activities such as gymnastics, petanque training, folk dancing and participation in competitions.

The culmination of the project activities was the organized celebration by the lake in the Druzhba district, Sofia, where outdoor gymnastics, folk dances, and art workshops were held with the elderly and their friends.

In Margarita’s words, “Many people from the neighborhood and guests saw firsthand how seniors can have fun.”

Photo source: Margarita Krasteva

Mariana Goranova organized the youth community on the territory of Stamboliyski Municipality and Velingrad Municipality through a series of events and initiatives in which young people were able to stand up for different causes and spread messages related to them in their schools through their participation in student parliaments and with the help of the municipalities. Some of the activities were related to environmental protection and climate justice, such as discussions related to the environmental problems of the different localities in the region, screening of a film on environmental issues, exhibition, reforestation, etc.

Photo source: Mariana Goranova

Minka Arabadzhieva from the city of Haskovo conducted trainings with young people on the topics of “Volunteering” and “Reproductive” and Sexual Health, which were supported by the community association Bulgarian Association of People with Oncology and other Diseases Life. Members of the association discussed with the young people various proposals for the implementation of causes and future volunteer initiatives in the schools of Haskovo, and the students had the opportunity to learn about the needs of people with cancer and to perceive them as mentors in volunteering.

Roberta Kostadinova from the city of Plovdiv and the team of Tsarski Pishtovi – an educational portal that aims to inform the young audience about various aspects of Bulgarian politics in an understandable and accessible way – has significantly grown its community of followers and finalized the web page of its project, where you can get acquainted with important statistics and discussions about political life in the country. Tsarski Pishtovi implemented a series of educational posts on topics such as the adoption of the euro, Bulgaria’s membership in NATO and the EU, the election campaign for the October 2022 national elections and the importance of voter turnout, as well as the situation in Iran and women’s rights there. Through its BFW project, the team has been able to reach more young people looking for credible sources and ways to inform themselves about the political situation in the country. This success did not go unnoticed by Forbes Bulgaria and Roberta was nominated in their “30 under 30” for 2022 in the category of Social Entrepreneurship.

With his Together Again project, Severim Bobachev from the village of Selishte, Smolyan Municipality, organized young people to support and care for the elderly in the region, who need help in the household, in the purchase of medicines and basic necessities, looking after animals, preparing winter food, working in the garden or in the field, cooking and others. The intergenerational exchange was also realized through the study of folk songs and choirs, as well as local customs and traditions, passing on the cultural heritage of the Smolyan region.

In the same spirit, Valentin Kehaiov from the town of Smolyan devoted himself to the preservation of local life and culture by recording video podcasts in the Rhodope dialect with guests such as Valya Balkanska and Petar Yanev, Union of the Blind in Bulgaria, Women’s Club Rhodopchanka, community center Budeshte Sega (Future Now), as well as other popular people from the Rhodopes who told amazing stories in the local dialect. New words were also added to the one-of-a-kind online Rhodope dictionary, and creative workshops were held where young people had the opportunity to experience traditional but disappearing techniques such as weaving, and knitting of ornaments typical for the region, and many rituals and customs. The project also launched the virtual communication club  Na Megdana (On the town square), where, with the help of social networks, young people helped adults to communicate with their relatives and friends by organizing online dinners to raise spirits and exchange useful information..

Photo source: Valentin Kehaiov

Silsila Mahbub from the city of Sofia gathered representatives of the refugee community from the Middle East in a series of meetings, where common problems were discussed and personal stories and experiences were collected, which will subsequently be published online for the purpose of cultural exchange. The women of the group have also begun work on a cookbook to present Middle Eastern cuisine in Bulgarian and stories from the women cooks who will share special recipes.

The project Young Firefighters by Stella Mincheva from the city of Shumen aimed to improve gender equality and combat gender stereotypes in the firefighting profession by involving more young girls in initiatives related to fire-applied sports and their participation in competitions in the country and abroad. Stella held training seminars, including with specialists from the Regional Directorate “Fire Safety and Population Protection”- Shumen, and also purchased equipment for the youth who participated in the International Competition of Youth Fire Brigades in Slovenia in July 2022, where they finished in 16th place. 

The community development program also supported Toni Ivanova, who organized a farmer’s market, a culinary exhibition with an emphasis on the preparation of traditional mekitsa (traditional Bulgarian dish made of fried kneaded dough) recipes, as well as a folklore program entitled “Coffee with mekitsa in the village of Varbitsa”. The event in the village of Varbitsa attracted media attention, a partnership with the Municipality, and the interest of the local residents, who expressed a desire for it to happen every year. Toni says that by involving volunteers from the village, the project has been able to encourage creative thinking, increase the prospects for local economic development and provide an opportunity to further develop the knowledge and skills of the immediate festival participants towards self-organization.

We are extremely happy that we were able to support such diverse and meaningful initiatives from small to larger communities! We are delighted with the success of all the participants in BFW’s Community Development Programme and continue to follow their future activities and development with interest!

BFW’s Community Development Program is supported by the Global Fund for Community Foundations.

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