Archive for the ‘Projects’ Category

My New Friends

22 May, 2009

Since I’ve been back I’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been hosting the PCV before me in Chirpan as well has his brother. It’s been great hanging out with his since he’s introduced me to his old friends.  But the big news is we went to the Mahala (the Roma slums). I’m going to have a lot of free time this summer so I’ve been looking for another project. What better way to finish off my service than helping the most underprivileged? Here’s how it happened:

The Roma people have historically been kicked around. During communism in Bulgaria, they were rounded up and put in separate communities only allowing them to enter town on market days. However, most Roma people are suspicious of outsiders and intentionally separate themselves. This is the biggest obstacle trying to enter the mahala-they don’t really want you there. Given this, you usually have to be invited in by someone. I didn’t have any Roma friends so this was a problem.

We walked to the edge of mahala and sat on some steps overlooking the slum, hoping to get noticed by a group of guys asking us what we were doing. We could see being out and about, some obviously wondering what those white dudes were doing looking into their neighborhood. No one came up to us to see what we wanted. We then decided to take a leap of faith and walk straight into the mahala, uninvited. We decided not to walk down the main street but a side street instead saying “hello” or “good afternoon” to everyone that made eye contact with us. We hadn’t been in the slum for more than two minutes when one of the many people eying us suspiciously asked us what we were doing in their neighborhood. We smiled, introduced ourselves, shook their hands and explained ourselves. Straight off the bat, they asked us if we were missionaries (I’ve been asked this before having been to mahalas in the past so I was prepared to dispel this quickly) As soon as I told them that I was an American looking to teach English for free, their skepticism vanished. It turns out, there is already an English group taught by the pastor of their church. We were, in fact, standing in front of their church (Adventist) and they invited us in to see their place of worship. We stressed that we were not religious and that our English lessons would be open to anyone who wanted to attend.

After our tour of their modest yet lovely church, they said their group would be meeting at six that evening. We were amazed how quickly everything went- in literally five minutes from entering the mahala, we offered a room, class and time to teach English. They then took us out to a cafe; one of the nicest I’ve been to in this country. It was on the second story, outdoors and offered a nice view of Chirpan in the not-so-far distance and the bustling street below. I wrote down my name and number for one of my new friends and he let the pastor know that an American would be joining their class that evening.

That evening we returned. I made copies of the first twenty pages or so of the text book I usually use. It’s the same book the Peace Corps provided for us to learn Bulgarian but translated for Bulgarians to learn English by a PCV. There were about eight students and the lesson went very smoothly;everyone was eager to learn. They had their second lesson the next day (Wednesday) and at the end of that class, they wanted us to return for a third day! My new friends, are quite simply, awesome.


Football Tournament

17 April, 2009

Last weekend was Chirpan’s Fourth Annual Charity Football (soccer) Tournament. The even had a lower turnout than last year. This is largely due to the fact that it was during spring break and most volunteers and students were on vacation. But it was the only time the stadium was available so, I’ll take what I can get.

We had four teams: a semi-professional team from a village (the Rangers), a group of Turkish medical students from Plovdiv, children from the Center and Peace Corps Volunteers.

The tournament started out with an exhibition match between the Rangers and PCVs with most of the water being carried by the med students.

The final score was 4-1, Rangers. The med students weren’t too happy about the outcome, but in my book, not getting shut out was a victory in it’s self.

The tournament began with the med students taking on the Rangers and the PCVs taking on the kids from the Center. The med students won and and so did the kids. The PCVs were left fighting for third against the rangers and the kids for first.

The end result was: Med students, kids from the Center, Rangers with the PCVs falling dead last.

But winning wasn’t important; it was all about having a good time, raising some money for the Center as well as their profile in town. After the game, we enjoyed a beer on the field and the PCVs taught the Turks how to play American football. Later that day, we went to the Center to take a tour of the facilities.

All in all, a good day; despite the low turn out. Hopefully this will become a sustainable tradition.

From Football Tournament
Football Tournament

A question gone awary

20 March, 2009

Yesterday I had a meeting with the man I’m organizing the football tournament as well as another project. I wanted to know how widespread Chirpan’s TV coverage is. He called the TV station and I scribbled some thoughts/other questions to ask as he spoke with them. “I’m here with my American friend. He’s very nice and speaks Bulgarian very well…” I cracked a smile as I jotted some notes and thought to myself “I think he’s stretching the true a bit”. He put the receiver down, “Jimmy, the coverage is for the city, the surrounding villages and some nearby cities in the region. And you have an interview in 30 minutes.” “Whoa, wait, what!?” “They’ll be coming to your office. This is a good opportunity to talk about the tournament!”

The result is this:

The sound isn’t too good since I recorded it with my camera off my tv. Note the long windedness of my answers. This is a trick I learned early one: if you talk for a long time, you may answer a question that the journalist wants to ask and thus saves you from the embarrassment of not understanding a question. My fifth week in country I was interviewed on TV and it was a horribly long expirience.  Live and learn.

Dental Project

28 January, 2009

One of the projects I’ve been working on for a while has been to teach my kindergarten class proper dental hygiene. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been shot down by lots of companies both in Bulgaria and international as well as several professional organizations. In the end, I just asked my dentist from the US and picked up a supply of trial-sized kid’s toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Dental hygiene doesn’t seem to be a high priority for many Bulgarians (purely from my observations) as I have seen several people with poor teeth. It’s usually the older generations, but the youth are no exception. Many kids have cavities in my class and there is at least one student whose baby teeth are rotting out. Hopefully, my project will stem the tide.

I partnered with a local dentist to teach this lesson (since my dental vocab is pretty limited).  We went over healthy foods, dental care and how often you should see a dentist. I covered more of the “how to” part of the lesson. I told them that it’s best to brush twice a day and for at least three minutes (play a song and brush for the length of it. Just don’t pick the Бяла Роза! (it’s like, 45 minutes long!))

Here’s to hoping they make a habit out of it!

Project Updates

14 September, 2008

Here’s what I’ve been up to and what I plan on doing:

Municipality: I haven’t been doing too much work with them at the moment since people in my office have been on vacation and the fact that the EU has withheld 3 Billion Euro of aid. This makes my job in the office of External Resources a bit harder… I’ll be scaling my presence in the office back some to work in other areas in Chirpan like

Kindergarten English classes: Tomorrow I start teaching the kindergarten class at Kliment Ohridski. The first day (or week!) will be fairly difficult since I’ve never taught English before and this will be the first time many of them will be away from home without their mom. Add to the mix an American guy butchering their language with a very distressed and confused look on his face. Funny/awkward stories are inveitable. Check back here to read about them.

The At-Risk Children’s Center: I’ve been wanting to work with them for a while and I finally got a meeting with the director. She is still very appreciative of the charity football tournament I organized for them back in April. We talked quite a bit and she asked me to be and English teacher/tutor for some of the kids. I eagerly agreed and I hope to expand this role. She even offered to introduce me to a British family that occasionally helps out. Next month I’ll be going with the Center on an excursion to Veliko Turnavo and helping out with some sort of Picnic (though I’m not sure when that is).

English Club: Over the summer it’s pretty much just been me hanging out with one or two teens and speaking English with them. Once the school year starts tomorrow, I hope to expand it some.

Dance: I’m still heavly involved with the Chirpan dance team. This season will be different since I’ll be teaching them English for an hour after each practice. I’ll be paid in beer and rakia. PC policy doesn’t say anything about recieve gifts for our help 🙂

Youth Conference?: I’ve spoken with my tutor and she’s interesting in organizing a youth conference next spring. I have no idea what it will be about or, well, pretty much everything. We’ll flesh it out this winter and see if it’s feasable.

Charity Football Tournament: It’s never too early to start working on next year’s event 😉


13 August, 2008

I haven’t been keeping this blog up-to-date as I should have. And the entries I have posted have been excerpts from Bulgarian news. It’s been a combination of not doing anything really interesting and pure laziness (mostly the latter). So this will catch you up to speed:

I was recently asked to be a resource volunteer. These volunteers assist the Peace Corps Trainees (who arrived in Bulgaria late last month). This means someone somewhere thinks I’m doing a good enough job to be an authority on such things. Last week I went to the mountain resort of Panichishte, where my initial orientation was. I gave a presentation on how to integrate into a Bulgarian community with another PCV. It felt very strange being on the other side of things (and it also felt really good! I’m so thankful I don’t have to go through that whole process again). It was an eye opener to see how far I’ve come in a year. Our presentation had some Bulgarian words in it we subconsciously used and we were later told that most of the PCTs didn’t know them! That made me realize how much Bulgarian I have learned and can use on a daily basis.

That evening I was peppered with all kinds of questions ranging from life in Bulgaria, what my job is like, Bulgarian words and pronunciation and Peace Corps policy. I didn’t consider myself an expert but then again, I’ve been in Bulgaria for over a year and they arrived only 3 days prior. It was a strange feeling. The following day I, along with the other resource volunteers, gave a presentation on what it’s like within our respective programs. Each resource volunteer is assigned to a training site. I was given Rila, where I spent my training. I look forward to going back there and seeing my host family again.

I’ve been working on a few projects. However, it’s been pretty difficult since most Bulgarians go on vacation in August since it’s towards the end of the tourist season. One of my co-workers is going on a (much deserved) three week vacation. This has left the rest of us without much to do. And since the teacher I’ve been working on a project to get playground equipment is also on vacation, this has left me with my English group and studying Bulgarian. Things will definitely pick up once the school year starts on September 15th (I’m really looking forward to that). Since Bulgaria has lost most of it’s EU funding and PHARE has been suspended, the Department of External Resources (where I work) won’t be having much work to do. I’ll be working more closely with the school where I’ve been teaching a computer class and will teach kindergarten English.

I will be going on vacation starting tomorrow to Austria and Slovenia. I’ll be back in Bulgaria next week but I have some training stuff to do as a resource volunteer. So it’ll be a while for my next entry. But you can be sure it will be full of photos from my vacation. That’s more or less it.

Painting the Eco-Center

16 July, 2008

Last weekend I travelled up to Karlovo to help the PCV who works at the eco-center (also known as beautiful girlfriend) paint. She had gathered several Karlovo teens she has an English group help. It was a blast! We painted the front of the center while the teens painted the side with nature scenes and anything else they could think of. For Earth Day, she had help covering up graffiti and painting murals. Since teenage vandalism is worldwide, a few days later, the center was defaced. This was going to be the tour de force to stop it. The day before I got there, they painted over the graffiti and the building got a fresh palate.

Since everything on the building is in Bulgarian, most Eco-tourists don’t know what it is. This is were we came in. We painted “Tourist Information Centre” on the front as well as two logos of organizations the center belongs to. There’s no mistaking it now!

Kids painting

Over all, bang up job! The center looks cleaner and it’s easier to recognize for foreign tourists.

Eco-center painting

English, Baseball and Aura Cleansing

10 July, 2008

Yesterday I had an English group. It was more of one person than a group, but it was still good. He spent the last 10 or 11 days at the Black Sea at a Young Commandos camp. From what I understand, YC is like an ROTC program but they aren’t training to become officers. Kinda like a youth army. He told me there were kids as young as six there! They did standard military training stuff like obstical courses, etc. I don’t know if they used any fire arms.

We chatted about this and that. I showed him Missouri absentee ballot for the state wide election this fall. He asked me some questions about America (do all the high schools like the movies? Are there neighborhoods like “Desperate Housewives”?). After talking for about a hour, he invited me to his grandparents house. It was along the walk to the school and was a nice house. I met both his grandparents. His mother was there as well taking a break form work. They were all very kind to me. His grandmother offered us soda, nuts and bon boni and told me about Turkish yoke. I have no idea what provoked this topic and she went on to say how the Bulgarians were enslaved but the Bulgarians never enslaved anyone. It bit random.

My friend showed me his room when he stays at his grandparents and turned on the tv. He fliped through the channels and found NASI. To my surprise (and delight!) there was a baseball game on! I was so excited! I haven’t seen a ball game in almost a year! His mother came in with dinner; I certainly wasn’t expecting to be fed! We watched the game and I explained the rules (Toranto won). After a delightful time, we left. As I headed out the door, I noticed several people sitting in chairs in the courtyard and asked about them. He told me that his grandmother cleanses people’s aura! I asked if she was like a fortune teller but he was very against that terminology and does not predict the future, just helps people. The term he used was “Lekarshum”. A “lekar” (лекар) in Bulgarian is a doctor. I’ll have to ask what a “shum” is.

Day Camp

27 June, 2008

Last week I was invited to help another Volunteer out with her summer day camp. This camp was in the second largest city in the country and in a minority neighborhood. It was sometimes confusing since they didn’t speak Bulgarian very well, mostly Turkish and Romani (the language of the Roma). All in all, we (meaning the other volunteers, I was the newest of all them)  were able to communicate effectively with them.The school was located in a busy section of this minority quarter. There were stands selling all kinds of Bulgarian snacks, car repair shops, Turkish pop music blasting from local cafes, mother’s taking their infants out to the market. It was a lively little street and I enjoyed walking it every morning. The school looked like a typical Bulgarian school: run down but full of character. Next door, still on school grounds, was a collapsing building, sandwhiched between an abadoned one. The abandoned building was a crack house. I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but our games were interrupted several times by local junkies making there way to the den.


The week that was

13 June, 2008

This last week has been fairly busy. A brief review:

I sat in on the summer kindergarten class. I had a blast! We (read: my site mate) did several English games. A great one was having a duck-duck-goose style game where they went around the classroom and introduced themselves. The person chosen went on and chose someone else until everyone had gone. There were several “Psssst! Pick me! Pick me!. We (again- awesome site mate) went over colors. If the wore the color, they had to come give me a high five. If they didn’t, they had to jump. All in all, it was a great day.