In a little district on the outskirts of Bulgaria's capitol, Sofia, there is a slum area called Fakulteta. There are close to 60 000 Gypsies living here that are severly segregated and discriminated against by their fellow countryman. In many ways, these people are left to fend for themselves and try to build a sustainable and healthy life without much needed financial help from the government. In Fakulteta, our strongest supporters are Project Garbage Dump and Benjamin Lie's Memorial Fund. Since 2010, they have been responsible for a large part of the budget and following up the project. Without their strong participation, we could not be where we are today. Together we are strong!
In Fakulteta, people have access to clean water, but there is no sewage system so all the sewage just runs out in the streets. They steal electricity from each other wherever they can and the standard of living is some of the worst that you can find in Europe. Larger families, with 6-8 members, often live in shacks that are approx 10-15 square meters. We now operate 2 social service centers in this slum area for the Gypsy children called Benjamins House and Life and Light. Here we focus on following up on the education, nutrition and health of the Gypsy children. We also have a pre-school program with teachers that have recently graduated with their degrees. The challenge we face is that most of the children do not speak Bulgarian, but Romania, the language of the Gypsies. This makes it difficult to find teachers. Our wish of course is to facilitate the use of the public school system so that the Gypsy children will have the same benefits in education as the rest of the children in Bulgaria. To reach this goal, we try to meet the elementary needs of the children such as clothing, packed lunches and school supplies. At the same time we have a frequent dialog in place with the public school teachers and principals to help integrate the children in the most successful manner. There are many challenges and problems in our path, but with eager and devoted colleagues that have a passion for our work, we hope to change the future and lives of many of these children.
His father was in and out of jail and in a 2 year period, Stefan only saw him a couple of times. His mother is a prostitute that is only home sporadically. Stefcho is incredibily independent for his young age and can practilically take care of himself without the care of his mother and father. Despite this, he runs around with a huge, playful smile on his face and the hugs Stefan gives are close, warm and welcoming. He is mischievous and likes to fight, but what can you expect from a child with his background. Stefan comes often to Benjamins House, but not everyday so it is difficult to give him follow-up care. Thomas was always curious as to where Stefan was and what he was doing. It was hard to understand that this little boy was running around alone, making the days go by.
We have him in school now and that requires massive follow-up from us. We make his lunch, wash him, buy him clothes and drive him to school. Unfortunately, his parents just don't care. We at Europe in Focus do what we can so that tough little Stefcho can have the opportunities he deserves in his life. Thomas says that helping Stefcho lead a successful life makes all the hard work worth it. The little differences we do are big enough for him.