Sunday 17 April 2016

Reflections on the week - by Carol Floris

In summing up this week in Bulgaria the first thing I have to do is to cast my mind back to about a year and half ago {possibly longer} when Voices From Care was first introduced to CRED and the possibility of assisting with the adventure of taking young people abroad for the opportunity of undertaking voluntary work.  We had several meetings and young people decided that Bulgaria would be a trip that it was possible to achieve.

The group of young people that are on this trip are a group of care leavers and so have their own personal struggles in life and whilst being aspirational, we had to be realistic. So after a number of meetings and a number of changes to the group, for one reason or another, the group that were definitely up for the trip became clear. Assisted by a number of supporters back home in Wales we managed to get young people ready with passports and to raise some of the funding needed for the trip. The trip was slowly becoming a reality, “Voices In Bulgaria” was going to happen.

Suddenly it was January 2016 and the pressure was on to get the last minute arrangements in place. Young people set up a Face Book Group saying how excited they were and advising each other about what they needed for the trip. What struck me was the young people’s commitment, enthusiasm and support for each other.  Sometimes I had to stop myself from getting caught up in the details of the trip to think about why we were doing this and what it was hoped the young people would gain from the experience.

Hopefully you have read the blogs throughout the week to know what we have been up to – a mixture of sessions at the kindergarten, meeting the homeless at a shelter run by the Helping Hand Foundation, getting to know the local Roma children in Kolentski and helping Karol in her continued developments at the Ark.. In our final full day here in Bulgaria we have been to a church in Dobrich where we were warmly welcomed, and after shared pizzas and time in the park with the teenagers.

As well as these experiences we have opportunity to live together as a group – cooking for each other, working together and living as a family for the week. There have been disagreements and frustrations as I knew there would be but we have worked through those.

So I go back to the question what have young people got from this week. Young people have spoken about their sense of perspective on their own lives, their aspirations to help others when they get back home and into the future. Some have enjoyed the sense of community we have had this week and the experience of meeting a whole range of new people and communicating with them despite the language differences. Young people have seen that they can have an effect on others and that they have a range of attributes that can be of value and usefulness in the world, especially to those who may have less than them.

We are now getting ready to go out for dinner and to say ‘Goodbye’ to Carol Connolly, to our group living, and to Bulgaria.  We are all keen to maintain the links we have made.  The young people are now ready for the next step of keeping the learning from this trip and inspiration from this trip alive on our return to Wales.    

Saturday 16 April 2016

Saturday - by Neil

Today – the local children came in the morning, and we done a few games with them, including football etc. Dan and Josh were doing some relay races, and I was doing the starting for that; watching that was a lot of fun. Then we had a run around game based on colour recognition that they enjoyed. We did the Macarena, but it’s a lot harder without the music; not the hardest dance I’ve done though.

And then later on we had the teenagers who came along. I played a few games of table football with them, and a game of darts, and then it was me and Steve against Carol and Mike in a game of basketball. That was fun, and no winner – we were evenly matched!

We walked down to the shop at lunchtime but it was closed – maybe it was their siesta time. But we went in the evening instead, and had a wander round the village which was nice. We saw various farm animals in the gardens, as well as horses and carts

I’ve enjoyed the trip, it’s been an eye-opening experience because it shows what other places are like. Often you don’t realise what is going on in other parts of the world and this has helped me to understand what is happening here and realize that we have it fairly easy in the UK by comparison.

It’s not easy for everyone, but for those who came on this trip it has helped us to realize more and to be shown that we should be grateful for what we have back in the UK.

It was quite a culture shock in some ways – it shows what other places are really like, and whereas most buildings in the UK look like they are done up good, over here they are more basic, and you can tell its from a different era. Some of the houses are pretty desperate, and it must be very hard to live in them.

We have it so much better and we really should be helping these countries more. When I go home I’ll be more grateful for what I’ve got and I’ll think more about what others haven’t got in the same way. Normally, if you haven’t been to a country like this, you don’t think about it, but once you’ve been here you start to realize that you’ve got it so much better.

I think I’ll spend more time out and about when I’m back, trying to find out what is available in the local area. I’d like to try and do some voluntary work or something like that when I’m back, not sure what yet but I’ll look into that when I’m back.

I think the biggest shock for me was to see what happens to holiday resorts when they are not in season. I was in Albena 16 years ago, and it was good to see it again, but when I was there last time it was really busy with lots going on. Now I know that when they are not in season it is like a ghost town. So for the people who work there in the summer it must be hard as they have no work in the winter.

Balchik was good, and to see Queen Mary’s Palace was really good, even if it was a lot of steps.

It’s hard to pick a favourite bit. Meeting the children in the Kindergarten was one of my high points and I really enjoyed that. Then there was Balchik – that was a learning curve as I was learning other things about the history of the town. The original name of Balchik was named after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine – I didn’t know that before.

Also helping to dig the trench for Carol - it was good working as a team, and it shows how much quicker and better things get done when we work together than on our own. That’s a good lesson to learn for general, to work as a team together, and to support each other.

In some ways I’m looking forwards to going home – to see family and friends again. I’ll be telling them what a great experience it was and how much I enjoyed it.

Friday 15 April 2016

Friday - and more insights into Helping Hands Foundation. By Josh and Tiff E

Today was back to Dobrich for a bit more insight into the work of Helping Hands Foundation.
The team had a fun hour with the Roma children at the HHF kindergarten, where we had been on Wednesday, and it was lovely to see that the children remembered who we were.

But first off we visited the HHF hostel that provides temporary accommodation for up to 6 men who were previously homeless. The men are referred from the local authority, and tend to stay for between 6 weeks and 6 months whilst they get assistance with reintegrating into society. Where possible HHF try and help them find work,  but some of the men are too old for that and so for them it is a case of sorting out alternative accommodation, and accessing whatever income they might be eligible for.

We were able to see round the home, which is very small, but a safe and welcoming place, and meet the workers and volunteer staff as well as some of the residents. They also showed us their garden where they grow vegetables and keep chickens and rabbits in an effort to be as self-sufficient as possible.

The residents are taught how to do the gardening as part of their daily routine so that even if they don’t have paid work, they still have something to do that gives them self-worth and is a chance to develop new skills.

It was a very insightful visit for the team, and here are some thoughts from Josh Harvey and then Tiff Evans that underline how significant it was.

Q – what did you think about the homeless hostel?
A – I felt sad for the men who lived there because they had to live on the streets without money or food

Q – did you talk to the men?
A – they showed me the garden and how they grow vegetables and raised chickens and rabbits to feed themselves

Q – how did they make you feel?
A – I felt lucky I have people to help me look after myself and I have money to buy food and things
I would like to do something like a hand print collage to give to them to put on their wall.
When we went into the hostel one of the men’s faces lit up and he had a big smile that made me sad that he had no family or friends to make him smile

Tiff E:
‘I was only homeless for a week, but that felt really bad. So when we were meeting people today it really upset me as it brought the memories back and I felt so sad for them. I was lucky as I had help and support to help me get back into accommodation. But the people over here don’t really have anything like that. There is nothing for most of them.

For the six people we met, it must have been really hard for them being on the streets, but now they can have a bit of hope. When they were on the streets it must have been so hard having to approach people to get into that place, but now they are in the home it is still hard as they don’t really have anyone; but I hope that the home is giving them hope, that they are starting to think there is a future for them.

When I was on the streets, I was very cold, hungry and lonely. I had no phone so I was shut off from the world. And because I’d been thrown out of home I didn’t know who to turn to. It was only when I went to my church and they saw the state I was in that they contacted my after-care worker, and she helped me get back to living with my mother. So at least I had my worker, and the people at the church who cared. Most people here don’t have that.

I get on better with my mum now, and after this trip I think I’ll get on even better. I appreciate her more now, and what she does for me; even that I just have her around. So when I’m home I won’t act like a spoilt brat anymore and I’ll try to spend more time with her, quality time that counts for something, showing that I am grateful to her and appreciate her.

Compared to the UK they have it harder here. In the UK there are soup kitchens, and hostels that people can go to for the night but over here there is just the one home for 6 people and if that is full there is nothing else for the others. In the winter here it gets really cold so that must be really hard – it’s hard enough in the summer but in the winter when it is freezing cold and raining – some of them freeze to death in their sleep, how awful is that.

I find it hard that there are charities to feed the stray cats and dogs here, but so little is down to help the homeless people. As much as animals are important and are living creatures, I just think humans should come first. I know some people might think that sounds harsh, but it seems to me that dogs are replaceable, and there is one of each human being and so we really ought to try and make their lives as good as we can.

I like to do voluntary work, and I was planning to go and volunteer in a charity shop when I get home, but now I’m thinking of volunteering in a soup kitchen or hostel instead. I don’t know what is out there in my area that I can help at but I will sit down with my support worker and look into it.

Going there today has really opened my eyes and made me realise there is a lot more I could do. I usually just sit around and think of what I want, and myself; I don’t usually think of others, and what they do or don’t have. But coming on this trip has opened my eyes and made me think and inspired me to want to help others a lot more.

I know I smoke way too much and I’m thinking that if I cut down on cigarettes and put the saved money to charity as well, then the amount that I used to spend on harming my body – that could pay for someone to have a roof over their head and a warm meal for a bit, and that would make it so worthwhile.

If I cut down just to spend money on clothes I wouldn’t have the will power, but to cut down so I can help someone else – that gives me more motivation. And I’ll find something to do to fill the gap – something that is about doing good for others to distract me from smoking. That’s what I want to do when I get back.

I am so grateful for having the opportunity to come here and see what I’ve seen and experience what I’ve experienced.  It’s really changed me and helped me see life differently'