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Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Do you remember when we were just kids and cardboard boxes took us miles from what we would miss? Schoolyard conversations taken to heart, and laughter took the place of everything we knew we were not..." - 'Inevitable' by Anberlin

Kids are kids - no matter where in the world you are.

I value few things more than the consistency found in that statement.

But its not an exaggeration to say that some kids are given much more room and freedom to actually BE kids.

But who gets to choose which kids are given every opportunity and which are labeled "FAILURE" without a second thought?

This isn't supposed to provoke some deep theological, moral, or political discussion here.

This is reality.

My reality.

The reality of the kids I worked with in North Carolina, DC, Virginia, and New York.

The kids here.

Every day I walk past a variety of different schools in Samokov, and often have to remind myself to suppress the frustration raging deep in my soul... most of the schools in the city are predominantly attended by ethnic Bulgarian children. These schools are usually freshly painted in vibrant colors (sans graffiti) with manicured lawns and {relatively} observed trash cans.

My organization operates in the one 100% Roma school in Samokov that is outside of the actual Roma neighborhood. Next time you are in Samokov, take a little walk down one of the main drag's and take a look, you can't miss it - the "gypsy school" (as it is not-so affectionately known) is a drab gray color with more broken windows that I can count, trash overflowing from the dumpster, more than just a smattering of graffiti, and a building that might look abandoned if it weren't teeming with kids and no one seeming to care if they are actually in class or not.

The school doesn't even offer classes after the 9th grade, so if the student decides to challenge their "right" to marry at the age of 14, they will be thrust into one of the Bulgarian schools, where chances are they won't be well enough equipped academically to succeed. So what option do they have? Go back to the Roma neighborhood that their parents hardly leave anymore because of the community wide resentment towards their existence, forget about any thougths of higher education, and get married. {**This is often the reality in Bulgaria, but Samokov seems to be a bit of an exception to the extent of the segregation - please try to refrain from tough judgements on this reality**}.

I fell in love with the Bulgarian people and the culture here from the day I stepped foot in the beautiful Balkan mountains, and moreso when I met my "family" in Kraynitsi. These are loving people living in a country that has unfortunately seen so much oppression (although more passive than in other former-Soviet countries) in the past decades that they don't know any different way to view the world. Now that the country has joined the European Union, all of Bulgaria needs to take drastic steps to meet the various EU standards. Unfortunately, the Roma people, one of the same groups that got overlooked throughout years of governmental squelching, is still so far on the back burner that they seem to be left behind again.

I've worked hard in the past few years to try and give voices to those society often neglects to address, but I don't think I've ever stood in front of such a large mountain of obstacles knowing that in reality I will accomplish very little in the next two years...

But I digress...

Now that I have been in Samokov for about a month, I am FINALLY starting to settle into some semblance of a routine:
  • Mondays: enjoy a slower morning either studying Bulgarian or scouring the internet for various project/grant ideas, then head over to my organization to "teach" English (aka, break up fights and exhaust my VERY limited list of Bulgarian directives/commands).
  • Tuesdays: an hour and a half of Bulgarian language in the morning (with a tutor who speaks ZERO English and explains grammar to me like I am a native speaker... I'm hoping this pays off later instead of getting the best of me), then I head over to the organization for arts and crafts with my kids.
  • Wednesdays: I'm hoping to soon get involved with a soup kitchen over in the Roma neighborhood a couple mornings every week, but that requires I can manage to book it across the city in time to be at "Trust Me" to work with kids with special needs for the afternoon (another overlooked people group in the country - kids here are often immediately institutionalized, but "Trust Me" is run by parents who are trying to keep their kids in the school system. Its pretty incredible...)
  • Thursday: Bulgarian language in the morning and then the organization to hang out with my kids and play sports (blustery Bulgarian weather permitting - although it is downright gorgeous right now!!)
  • Friday: Hopefully soon to be soup kitchen time, then back to "Trust Me" to hang out with my other kids. ;)
Това Е...

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