The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of Elon University, the U.S. government, or the Peace Corps.

Monday, April 26, 2010

World's Apart

View from the ridge of the town where I live. Very European looking, right?

And then a glimpse in to the reality where my kids live: the Roma Mahala in Samokov, Bulgaria.

Most of these kids are from the same family. 10 kids (no father) living in one room...

Isabella! One of my core kids and her little brother.
Katya was meeting with parents throughout the afternoon, trying to emphasize the importance of them being in school on a regular basis (or coming at all, in some cases).

I'm not sure where this blonde cutie came from, but he was adorable!
One of my kids from last year, and a new mom...
I've always felt apprehensive at first taking photos down there, but my colleague requested that I did and I eventually resembled something along the lines of the pied piper!
So cute... these little ones trying to figure out how to "share" ice cream between the four of them.

Outdoor sleeping arrangements...

The Iskar River looks quite different down here... there is no organized system for trash removal down here. No dumpters, nothing... One woman came up to me and asked why I was taking pictures. I thought it was upsetting her until she started telling me about all the trash and lack of electricity. I think she wanted me to write an Exposé..

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010!

"Save Our Planet!"

After school today, the kids met for a quick video and info session on Earth Day a keeping our world clean from Katya, the director of our NGO. 

Afterwards, the kids each got gloves and trash bags, and went out to the school yard in pairs. I had hidden pieces of brightly colored candy in random places, and the kids had to try to find them. If they came back to me with a piece of candy and a full trash bag of trash, then they got to put their names in a drawing for a new sports ball or art supplies.  

I think my colleagues were surprised, but the kids got so into it!

Honestly... I can't believe I forgot to count the number of trash bags the kids collected, but as you can see by the next couple of pics, they filled at least a couple dozen!

The school yard looks fantastic, but we're thinking it will only last until tomorrow morning. Especially since the dumpster is obviously overflowing now!

After the work outside, we went inside and handed out various prizes, then went back outside to put together the gliders and have a contest for who could throw theirs the furthest. They loved it!

Obviously no holiday is complete without the Bulgarian Horo... :)

Then we went back inside again where the kids colored butterfly and "Save Our Planet" coloring pages. 


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I found out some really exciting and encouraging news awhile back... and can't believe I haven't shared it yet!!

Of the ten kindergarteners I've been working with that are ready for first grade next year (a bunch still have another year or two left before they are old enough), ALL but two of them are going on to a predominately Bulgarian elementary school!

This is HUGE news!! No reflection on me as far as success goes... but I couldn't be more excited! This means they are on the track to continue to be main-streamed if all goes well. :) :) :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

It wouldn't be a stretch to say last week was emotionally draining… but the best things in life are worth fighting for, aren't they?

I love my life here. I really do. I love walking around my crazy little city in the mountains and feeling normal. Like this is exactly where I want to be – and am supposed to be. I appreciate running into people that apparently know me even though I could swear we've never met (thankfully my Bulgarian is good enough that I've become quite the faker when situations like these arise). I love that my veggie guy across the street from my apartment makes sure I get the best potatoes and the freshest lettuce. He also checks in to see how my puppy search is going (I've resolved to part with Bailey for good now). I love the trust I'm building with my kids. It's a slow process and I wish I could put a sticker on their shirt and achieve hero status like I can with the littles at the kindergarten, but we're getting there.

Most of all though, I love my colleagues. My Bulgarian family. I hate being this far away from loved ones back on American soil, but I'm not quite sure I could do it without these incredible woman here in Samokov. The ladies are some of the strongest, most independent and determined – and GIVING – women I have ever met.

Take last Friday – my friend here in town wasn't feeling well. My counterpart suggested we go see the school nurse. The school nurse checked her out, then took us to her own personal doctor, then pointed us in the right direction of the cheapest pharmacy in town. It was amazing – to feel this well taken care of and supported. And it wasn't even me (shocker) with the problem this time!

These women knew I was coming back to Bulgaria after my accident before I did. They told Peace Corps that they would basically rather take the chance that I couldn't return, then to replace me. Holy smokes. How amazing is that?

I could go on and on about how well taken care of I am… but let's talk for a minute about why the three (plus) of them are rock stars. Seriously.

We have a standing "agreement" with the municipality here that the local government will support our annual summer camp by providing all travel costs to and from the Black Sea. It's been this way the last couple of years, and we were informed that this year would be no different. However, when my colleagues went to go get the signature needed to continue pushing paperwork, they weren't even allowed to even go in to see the mayor. "Economic crisis – no money."

So what do my incredible colleagues do? They went online, downloaded a copy of the municipal budget, FOUND THE MONEY WITHIN THE BUDGET THEMSELVES, and then went back to the mayor's office and had a sit in until they got their signature.

I hope I never lose my determination and "save the world" mentality. I hope I continue to be even half of the advocate these ladies are.

Friday, April 16, 2010

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both of their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them."


Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is probably the most intense emotional rollercoaster you'll ever find yourself on. It doesn't take long for the catch phrase, "The toughest job you'll ever love" to ring true.

I've had trying days since I was reinstated back to Bulgaria, but overall I've kept my feet on the ground and plugged on through to this appreciated state of excitement and motivation. If I've said it once, I'll say it again - I wouldn't wish my accident on anyone, but WOW, has it given me an incredible perspective.

Things back in Samokov have been going great, then I stepped back a bit from my NGO duties to help substitute teach a bit. One month. I'm not going to lie - it was horrible. Even back home where you get to teach in your own language, I've never been comfortable in a teaching role. But, for one month, I got an incredible opportunity to see my kids in a new role. Instead of being the "fun" afterschool youth worker, I found myself in a position that demanded respect, and struggled to get it. I saw the system and how it works, and how it doesn't. I saw cultural expectations and norms play out.

I had my heartbroken.

For the first time I truly realized that I'm not equipped to help these kids. Will my Bulgarian ever be good enough to look them in the eye and tell them what they need to hear? Ask them the questions they need to be asked? Reassure them? Challenge them? LOVE THEM?

Probably not. In addition to a bunch of other things going wrong this week (still no puppy... please keep praying Bailey finds her way home!), I allowed myself to see reality in a new way.

Its not that I WON'T be a successful volunteer. Its not that I won't be productive or effective. It's that I need to change my expectations of altering a system and a culture and truly find a way to focus on these kids.

Always up for a challenge.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's been a rough past few days for a variety of reasons, but I am pleased to announce that our 2010 "Summer of Dreams" Camp has been FULLY FUNDED!!!

I want to thank everyone out there – family, friends, and internet world – who prayed, supported, encouraged, and helped raise awareness about my organization's annual summer integration camp.

Thanks also, to the Bulgarian-American Society for their generous gift and support! They have come alongside for the 4th year in a row to cover the entire remaining amount we needed to execute our 10 days at the sea with 30 children from Samokov.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Have you ever thought that you had gone over every detail in a decision, and were certain that you'd made the right choice? Well, I realize this may have been an obvious decision to all you out there, but I truly thought that for my first "mini-trip" away from Bailey (my new pup), that leaving her with her litter behind the hotel where the rest of the pups live (and the parents) was the best choice. She is still too small and timid to leave her with my friend's who have dogs (trust me – we tried… they aren't such a fan of her right now… she's too tiny and can't play yet), so after going over everything, we thought it was best to leave her with the other puppies. She'd be safe there, and no one except the people who live in the hotel (who were all gone too), go back behind where the live.

Well. I'm an idiot. She's gone.

My perfect and adorable, housetrained in two days, snuggling little Bailey – is gone.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More pics from Sandansky and Blagoevgrad!

The whole gang - minus myself (the "professional" photographer)

We left nasty weather in Samokov, only to discover perfect lake weather in Sandansky, which is really close to the Greek border.

Katya and Svetla with a few of the 7th grade girls on a bridge/stage by the edge of the lake.

We found this great art studio/gallery/school in the Old Town part of Blagoevrad. The kids were fascinated, and when the artist discovered there were three Americans in our group, he was soon disappointed to find out we were broke Peace Corps volunteers (he's familiar...) and couldn't afford to buy any of his work!
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Svetlina Excursion #1! Sandansky and Blagoevgrad

Started the day out bright and early this morning - left a cold and rainy Samokov heading south, and when we stopped for a bit at a rest station, we were all excited to see this gorgeous site out over the plain!

The masses - we brought thirty kids (5th and 7th graders) from the middle school and Association Svetlina, and ten adults.

We grabbed some lunch and hung out around a lake in Sandansky. Some of the kids took out the paddle boats, and others just enjoyed the fact that we had left the "seasonably cool" weather back up North for some blue skies and sunshine.

Top Gun/Tom Cruise wannabe's!
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