Harvest for the Hungry

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Summary of H4H visit to Bulgaria, Nov. 2006

Introduction

This brief report was written by one of the volunteers who visited Bulgaria in November 2006 with the Harvest for the Hungry team. The aim of the visit was two-fold:

  • To help with the distribution of food aid gathered during the Harvest project which took place in Essex a few weeks earlier.
  • To see for ourselves some of the needs which exist in this part of Eastern Europe – a place we need to remember that is only 2 hours travel by air from England – and to plan how best to assist with those needs in the near future.

Hristo Botev Special School

This school has had an association with Harvest for the Hungry for several years, during which time much improvement work has been carried out by our volunteers using money raised for the purpose. The children have also regularly benefited from our distribution of food aid. The school has an attendance of 63 children of whom 40 apparently live there. There are usually only around 25 children evident on site when visits have taken place.

In terms of future project work there are three things that were suggested that we could do, one being to re-plumb and refurbish the upstairs washing area.

There was some debate about the way in which the two bathrooms at the orphanage were being used. There is one bathroom (4 toilets and 4 showers) in each wing of the accommodation block but instead of using them both, one for girls and one for boys, they use them on a duty and standby basis. This is because one or two of the children cause problems with the drainage by putting things down the toilet that block them so the Director prefers to have a back up.

The directors’ priority was to create a recreational room to replace the one in the accommodation block (which will become the ball pond room for disabled children to use).

She would like to have a TV and video, a sewing machine, a sofa, a simple shelving unit and several tables and chairs. This room would be for use by 14-15 year olds.

Boy at Hristo Botev

Washing facilities in a stairwell

Borislav Petrov

Borislav (Bobby) Petrov

Bobby has been working at the Children’s Mental institution in Berkovitsa since 1988. He couldn’t get another job at the time so he started there as a teacher. His colleagues there told him “If you spend one week here you will stay forever” This seems to be true for him as is evident in his passion and drive for improving conditions in the place.

He finds his job, not surprisingly, more stressful than ever and has real trouble balancing his commitment to the home with his family life. He has recently started studies for ’managing social services’ which he is hoping will mean he can have some time with a bit less stress.

As he buzzes around and directs the H4H group from to place, cigarette in hand, he reminds us ‘these children have a right to happiness’

Berkovitsa Childrens Mental Institution

Borislav (Bobby) Petrov welcomed the team to his institution and thanked them for the visit and the donation that had been given to them during the last year. The donation had meant that the psychologist/speech therapist room had been completed on the 1st floor and was now in operation. It also meant that the windows in the main hall had been replaced and had funded cladding materials for the walls in the same area. He had invited a group from the Suffolk Princes trust to complete the refurbishment of what will be a communal hall and to decorate in the corridors. The group met these people and saw some of their work.

Bobby thanked H4H for the food aid provided - 100 boxes of pasta 70 kilos of sugar and boxes of rice. He explained how this had been just in time as he had just receive a bill for fuel oil (to power the heating) for ? leva (about £7,800). He does not have the money to pay for this as well as food for the winter. He has asked that oil company to give him some more credit but has struggled with this. From what we know of Bobby he would have given them a hard time.

Bobby has an annual budget of about £45,000 for the food, clothing and heating of the institution that houses 90 children - all of whom are evident as you visit this remarkably well run institution. This is the equivalent of £1.37 per child per day. In winter the cost of heating is almost £1.00 per child per day which doesn’t leave much spare. Clearly here H4H and the people of Essex make a huge difference.

Bistrillica Elderly Peoples Home

H4H has funded the renovation of the day room at the home and helped to decorate and equip a room for craft activity.

The director of the home read out a letter of gratitude to the ‘inhabitants of Essex, England, we extend our gratitude and appreciation for your kindness’.

The home is for elderly people who have no other means by which to survive. This can be anyone from a lady from a rural village to a former police chief. By our standards the conditions in the home are terrible. One of the H4H party, Mike Higby, felt ’that no human being should be subjected to such inhumane conditions’. He was quite overcome by the experience of the visit.

There are 54 people in the home and there is a long waiting list of people to come there, despite the conditions.

The municipality has recently replaced the drainage for the four toilets that are all there are available for the 54 people, but the toilets and showers themselves still need refurbishment. H4H is looking to work in partnership with the Berkovitsa Municipality to fund this work, something that the Mayor welcomes. The cost of refurbishing one of the pairs of toilets will be about £1,300.

The home received around 300 H4H boxes from the people of Essex, including flour, pasta, rice and 50 family boxes.

The newly renovated day room at Bistrillica

A resident at Bistrillica

Boxes & team in Lom warehouse

Loms empty docks

Lom

In Lom representatives of the municipality took the team to the warehouse in the dock area where 22 pallets of food aid was being stored prior to distribution. The municipality has set up a group to manage and record the distribution of the aid. The team loaded some boxes.

After lunch at the Soup kitchen that H4H supports in Lom, Stoicho, the local pastor, told the team some of the history of the area.

Lom was an ancient town, previously called Almus, before an invasion by the Slavs when it gained its current name. The next invaders, the Ottoman Empire stayed for around 500 years until 1888 when Bulgaria was liberated, with the support of the Russians. The town was a market centre and under the Soviet regime became a major centre for Sugar production. Following the collapse of the Soviet regime the industry rapidly disintegrated leading to poverty and the resulting increase in crime. Stoicho’s greatest desire is to see the factories reopened and economic prosperity returning.

The soup kitchen was set up three years ago with the support of H4H and provides hot meals three times a week to those in need throughout the bitterly cold winters. The municipality has been so impressed by this model that they have copied it in another area. The soup kitchen will receive several hundred H4H boxes. H4H has also supported the setting up of a Medical centre in the town.

Ivan Vasov Special School - Asparovo

This combined school and orphanage in the rural town of Asparovo was opened in 1961 and provides education from years one to eight for around 100 children, thirty of whom live at the school. The resident children are from homes where the family cannot care for and feed them. While we visited there were only fifteen children in the school due to a holiday in the region.

The school also provides weekly literacy and numeracy lessons for local adults, mainly from the Roma community.

We met the Director of the school, Tsetanova and the local Mayor, Lybush who told us of the needs in the school. They are short of clothing and shoes for the children and are really concerned about the toilet and shower facilities. The only toilets are seven pit latrines in an out door concrete structure. Conditions are very unhygienic. The only showers are in the derelict sports block where two pipes spray water into the air.

H4H is going to look into the possibility of working in partnership with the local mayor and the school to improve these conditions.

The collapsed gymnasium at Asparovo

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