Mission: Bulgaria, Part Two

If you missed Part One, you can read it HERE

Besides looking for a new home for our permaculture project, we wanted to bring the first of what we hope with be many educational materials for the children at the Home in the village.

Montessori materials are not currently available in Bulgarian. The Montessori schools and suppliers here are in English only. The schools are only available to wealthy families in larger cities. The irony is that the Method was developed for kids from hard places – kids who were impoverished, neglected, traumatized. And they did better on tests than their more privileged peers at the time, which led to more well-to-do families wanting their children to have the same education. And so, here we are a few generations later and the educational approach meant to help underprivileged children is no longer serving them at all – at least in some places.

Because ready-made materials are not available in Bulgarian, they had to be hand-made, just like the first materials Dr. Montessori created. We started with three-part cards at the most basic level on topics that might interest the children – Night Sky/Solar System and Geography. There was also some material for what would traditionally be the Peace Corner and a first Movable Alphabet. Constellations, heavenly bodies, and maps were all hand-painted, and those watercolour illustrations used to make the cards.

Solar System
Helping Hands
Movable Alphabet

On Wednesday, we were able to visit the Children’s Home where Nick and Olivia grew up. We were welcomed very warmly by Daniela, the director, and Mutaher, one of the senior ladies. We also met with Velichka and Tatiana (Olivia’s former mentor). We shared coffee and sweets from both America and Bulgaria. Nissa gave a brief demonstration on the use of the materials, and then we had a tour of the Home. Nick remembered who had slept where, and was allowed to go into each of the rooms in turn to look around. We saw the beautiful new bathroom upstairs, checked out the dining and kitchen areas, and then headed outside. Nick remembered the shed where the bikes were kept and was invited to take one out for a spin, which he did, happily. It was good for him to reconnect with his former home.

Nick outside the Children’s Home, Malak Preslavets
Joined here by Daniela Dimitrova, the Home’s director
The children choose how to be greeted when they come home from school: a hug, a little song and dance, or a handshake. This helps with both self esteem and setting healthy personal boundaries.
Each step has an affirmation. Pictured here (from the bottom):

I am tolerant. I am caring. I am respected
Nick in the dining room at the Children’s Home. We have a very special memory of making pizza together, having our (Brian and Nissa’s) first taste of banitsa and elderflower iced tea, and meeting a beautiful young lady named Gloria, with whom we still have contact.
Nick was invited to take one of the bikes for a spin.
Right at home.

While he rode, we ladies caught up on how Nick and Olivia are doing. We talked about the house in the village that we are working toward purchasing. And we talked about plans for our work in the village and our hope that the villagers would be accepting of us. Nissa was assured that we would indeed have friends in the village. Nissa has a little bit of Bulgarian, and the ladies have a little bit of English, and with the help of translation apps, we were able to converse with some hilarity.

The ladies offered to take us to see the home of a British couple, Steve and Jill. They live right at the end of the lane, quite near the Children’s Home. They weren’t at home, but we were told that they would be happy to help us on our subsequent trips.

Later, the ladies arranged for an impromptu fish barbecue at the park along the Danube. We arranged for our driver to pick us up an hour later than originally planned and we were still late. You can see photos from that on the Renaissance Mama blog.

Mission: Bulgaria, Part One

This trip had a two-fold purpose. The first was to find a property to be the heart of our permaculture project in Bulgaria. We had narrowed it down to the village of Malak Preslavets, where our Bulgarian-born children lived for nine years before coming home. We set aside almost three weeks to find the right location. We found it in less than three hours.

House, Malak Preslavets
The house is quite large with six finished rooms.
Barn, Malak Preslavets
The barn nearest the gate to the lane.
House, Malak Preslavets
Part of the house is cob, in need of new rendering.
Workshop, Malak Preslavets
Workshop on the ground floor.
One of the bedrooms.
Garden, Malak Preslavets
Looking south to the nearest neighbour.

The purchase process is complicated, requiring us to establish a business in Bulgaria in order to qualify for residency. And we will have just 30 days after the initial deposit is made to complete the purchase with the balance of funds. We need to raise just under $10,000 by Christmas. Any funds surplus to purchase fees will be used to begin making improvements.

Because we will be able to operate a small business, initially making products exclusively for our US farm shop, we will be able to match financial gifts which will be donated for the needs of the children and young people we serve. Like Dorothy Day, we don’t seek tax exempt status, but rather seek to establish a social enterprise that benefits all stakeholders – our employees, volunteers, communities, the young people we serve, the environment, as well as our family.

Part Two HERE

There and Back Again

Malak Preslavets is famous for its waterlilies

This spring, Nissa and Nick will be returning to Bulgaria, bringing educational materials to the orphanage where Nick and Olivia spent 9 years of their lives. They’ll also be helping to prepare a vegetable garden that will serve the needs of the children there, and visiting with a very special friend. They will also be visiting a permaculture project in Shipka and making contacts with people to help us start our ministry there.

Our vision is to establish an intentional community where children who have ‘aged out’ of State care can come to live independently or with families, receive remedial education, life skills and vocational training, valuable experience, as well as solid Christian catechesis. Our aim is to form adults who are confident, capable, and kind; adults who can care for themselves, their families, and for others; Christians who will live and share the joy of the Gospel. Our hope is that some of these young people will go on to establish other such projects in Bulgaria and beyond.

We have set up a fundraiser on Facebook where Nissa is sharing photos, videos, as well as other fun and interesting information about Bulgaria and travel plans.

We are placing our efforts under the patronage of Pope St. John XXIII who faithfully served Bulgaria for many years as Msgr. Roncalli.