The Happy Mondays

Trip Start Dec 07, 2009
Trip End Dec 19, 2009

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Flag of Bulgaria  , Oblast Sofiya-Grad,
Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Monday morning! We started with some happy manual labour at the warehouse. We are becoming more familiar with the busy major roads of Sofia and we wound our way quite slowly right across town to reach the warehouse. On arrival we said hello to the very sweet fox dog (scary guard dog) that is one of the guardians of the warehouse sight. Then we loaded the van for the three orphanages we were going to be visiting. We are now a highly polished unit when loading; Mimi with the list, Rich stacking in the van and the minions carrying the boxes diligently. We then prepared for battle with the heavy traffic as we drove out of Sofia.

Vidrare is an orphanage specialising in caring for those with mental and physical disabilities. Following last year's visit, Rich briefed us on what the team should expect. On our arrival we met Yevgeny, the director of Vidrare and Phillip of the US Peace Corps, who was spending some time working for Pravets municipality. After unloading the van with help from staff members and some of the residents, Phillip asked us if we would like to meet some of the people living here. The building has recently been renovated and has brightly coloured murals on all the walls. We were given a tour and were able to meet all the children and adults who were residents there. We were privileged to be introduced to most of those that we met. In the first room one of the young boys was very happy and excited to see Rich and continually hugged him. A little girl who was sat on the other side of Rich showed a good deal of interest in Rich’s ear, to the extent of sticking her finger very far down it! All the residents varied significantly with age and also with their disability. There were children who looked as young as six or seven and we were introduced to Juju who was 32 years old. Some had severe physical disabilities and others were fully fit physically but may have had a learning disability or mental health condition. A few years ago Kate Blewitt made a TV film called 'Bulgaria’s Forgotten Children’, a documentary about a state run institution that was supposed to care for people with disabilities. The programme documented terrible conditions, the residents chained to their beds and ignored. Vidrare was very different, in every room there were two or three members of staff who were engaging with the people and clearly had a lot of love for all those they were working with. The love showed in their faces as they were holding the children and engaging with those in the room.

The Director Yevgeny gave us some coffee and told us about the latest development in the new building that was under construction last year when The Trussell Trust visited on the Christmas box trip. The shell of the building has been built, which was funded by ‘Beautiful Bulgaria’, there was also some funding promised which has since been denied because of the recession. The house is designed to house 12 young people who will move out of the main residential home into it to become more independent. The Director gave a few names of people who were living in the orphanage who would currently really benefit from living in this house and becoming more independent.

The Director also really wanted to promote and encourage integration into society of many of the people who live in the home. Since the fall of communism in Bulgaria there has been little change in attitude towards people with disabilities and the majority of time people are placed in state care homes away from their families. There has not been a push to give people with disabilities life choices and be integrated into the local community which is what Yevgeny is trying do.

Razliv was the next orphanage we visited with more Christmas boxes. Here we were greeted by many excited children who had been looking forward to our visit. After unloading boxes from the van, we were treated to a traditional Christmas song by the younger children and then we gave out the boxes. The children were really happy to receive a Christmas box, especially one lad who was a big fan of the cartoon Ben 10. Inside his box was a hat, scarf and gloves all with the Ben 10 logo on. He was so happy and ran around showing everyone his lovely Christmas present.

Gurkovo was the last orphanage of the day where we gave out even more Christmas boxes. It is an orphanage for 3-7 year olds and when we arrived we happened to meet up with our friends from Peterhead Methodist Church in Scotland who help support the orphanage. After greeting them we were just in time to join in dancing with the children in their disco. We danced around and then prepared to give out the boxes. Every child had learnt a poem or song to tell us before they got their box. One boy was new to the orphanage and was worried as he had forgotten his poem. His face was very happy when he was allowed to have a box anyway. Some of the children shouted them and others shyly recited what they had learnt. After the first two groups of children had received their boxes then we went upstairs to give out boxes to the youngest kids in the orphanage, all aged 3. Here we were delighted to hear another poem which all the children told us together and then they gathered around the boxes, eager to get one and see what they had. We were privileged to be able to stay to help open their boxes and to see the excitement as they explored their presents. It was such a blessing to see how much joy the boxes brought to the children in Razliv and Gurkovo orphanages.

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