Where to start sustainable living? Find practical tips from Bulgarian eco-activists who gathered at the seminar “Equality and Climate Justice” (Bankya), where I was one of the participants. All the ideas have proven to be effective in 14 Bulgarian communities and can be implemented elsewhere!
Use every opportunity to get food for thought – Bulgarian Fund for Women, Sofia
The three-day seminar was organized last week by the Bulgarian Fund for Women in Bankya, a well-known international spa resort and one of the best Bulgarian destinations for sustainable travel. We enjoyed the warm hospitality of Bankya Palace Hotel, which takes care of one of the main local landmarks – a 20-year-old ficus grown from the ground in the building.
Our trainers were: Madeleine Popignatova, participant of the Dutch feminist climate movement, Kirilka Angelova, expert in non-formal education, Mila Dimitrova, lawyer and mediator in Sofiaplan and Georgi Stefanov, expert on climate change programs of WWF – Bulgaria.
With games and workshops, together we explored the role of women and vulnerable groups in the processes of climate change, analyzed the Bulgarian reality and possible opportunities and tried to understand how to integrate our ego into social initiatives.
Because often what is good for some people is bad for others. This was the main idea through which we explored such concepts as intersectionality, the social construction of gender and climate justice.
Taking advantage of the high concentration of activism in one place, I asked environmental activists specially for my blog to share their advice on how to start positive changes in communities. As the author of this article, I will start with my proposal.
Share Ideas & Inspire Changes – Founder of Blog-networking platform Cultural Insights, Pomorie
My community is virtual and includes dozens of professionals involved in cultural and environmental projects in seven countries (Bulgaria, Armenia, Lithuania, Hungary, Ireland, Russia and Ukraine). The content of my blog is original interviews and articles based on my encounters with all those people and my personal travel trips.
1.5 years ago I created my blog to share positive experiences from different countries. The main feature of these ideas is that they can be easily applied in different places. And I encourage people to collaborate more and engage in meaningful partnerships.
“Share Ideas & Inspire Change” is the motto of my blog, my life credo and my main advice to those looking for meaningful cooperation.
First of all, through my own example and my volunteer experience in such initiatives as a working brigade in a reserve on Lake Pomorie, the adoption of birds in the wildlife center of Stara Zagora and dolphin monitoring in the Black Sea, I show people to combine their pastime and hobbies with useful for community activities.
This is the key idea of sustainable travel – one of the main specializations of my blog.
Take matters into your hands – Radostina Vuteva, Founder of the platform Dialogues for the future of Botevgrad, Botevgrad
The platform has been operating for one year. Its main goal is to connect active people to generate ideas and common actions for the development of Botevgrad in sectors such as urban and ecological development, culture and education, sports and tourism, social issues, etc..
Citizens use the platform to complain and inform specialists about the identified problems and discuss possible solutions. The main idea is submitting a complain, offer a solution.
To bring about a change, it is very important to work in a structured way with like-minded people, whether within the neighborhood or within a working group.
It’s not enough to like something on Facebook just to show that you are engaged. This has nothing to do with any real commitment. Engagement is when you take something into your own hands, write a proposal, or form an initiative.
Involve people with baits and games – Milena Ilieva, Senior Conservation Expert, Nature Park Bulgarka, Gabrovo
With the an impressive area of 22,000 ha and over 300 plant species, Nature Park Bulgarka is located in the center of Bulgaria.
We implement research, educational and restoration projects. With them we try to involve as many people as possible in the restoration of biological diversity, promotion of cultural heritage and development of nature tourism.
We address different stakeholder with different approaches using baits and games for our campaigns. For instance, for one of our community clean-ups we invited the famous Bulgarian actor Philip Avramov, who was the face of the promotional campaign. That time many people joined the initiative just to see him.
Once people understand the importance of clean-ups, people join similar projects, even without any “hooks”.
To achieve the best results in projects with children, we provoke them with various games to think about the consequences of their actions.
For example, we had a Forest Inspector for a Day initiative. The aim was to get acquainted with the profession of forest ranger.
Children themselves need to feel that they can be part of the problem of environmental pollution. And they need to understand how to correct their habits and be an example of responsible citizens.
Participate in the initiatives of others – Helena Hudjek, hydro-biologist, member of Balkanka Fishing Club, the village of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo
My family and I try to live in harmony with nature, we produce clean and healthy food in our garden.
I am currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin. My topic is “Impact of hydro power on rivers.” Due to the covid restrictions, I work from home.
My social activity is linked to the Balkanka Fishing Club in the village of Nikyup. Together with my colleagues, we organize green schools, clean-ups, fighting illegal landfills, send signals to institutions and try to improve water and natural resource management in general.
Our current project is related to the garbage dump around and in the village of Nikyup. A few months ago, my family and Balkanka Fishing Club initiated a clean-up of the illegal landfill. Our initiative attracted the municipality and gathered about 40 people.
For those who want to see positive change in their communities, need to begin with involving of their loved ones, friends and acquaintances in their projects. The more people know, the better the result.
Surely, there will be people who will not understand why do it and even those who will interfere. This is normal and should not be discouraged.
At the same time, it is very important to support social initiatives of others. Together we will change Bulgaria, it is important to start now.
Launch a boomerang of kindness – Diana Chiakmakova, mediator of cultural projects between Roma and Bulgarian communities, Sliven.
As an informal leader and mediator, I went to school and had classes on Roma culture in my home town.
Many children are ashamed of their background. And I was in that situation due to my mixed Bulgaria-Roma origin. And with my activity, I aim to boost the children’s self-confidence.
Another project I am involved in is a women’s group that supports vulnerable families. We also work with negative stereotypes against Roma women. Roma women are wonderful mothers.
At the annual competition for the best mothers in Sliven, a Roma woman who raised 10 children besides her own became the winner.
There are lots of mixed families in Sliven and we have many events where they can share their experiences on how to take care not only of their own but also of other children.
We need to open our hearts and souls and spread goodness. I believe that if we pass on the good, like a boomerang, the time will come and these things will be activated in everyone and people will become better.
Learn from your failures to be useful to others – Ivan Belchev, Founder of the online platform for sports activity Ruse GO, Ruse
I created a platform that allows people to get together and practice various sports, as well as organize effective online training. I borrowed many ideas from Germany, where I lived for several years.
The biggest event so far was last year’s ‘100 Days of Sports in Ruse’ initiative. The project brought together hundreds of people who participated in 30 sports in 100 days.
An attempt to do something is very important even if it fails. It’s because volunteer initiatives do not have a financial dimension and it is very difficult to measure their impact quickly.
I have a lot of experience in failed projects. Every time, I learn from my mistakes and this helps me understand how to be useful to other volunteers who are involved in my cause or want to organize their own.
In addition to sports initiatives, I organize voluntary clean-ups and planting of trees in Ruse. And one of my long-term projects is dedicated to collecting and disseminating the experience of Bulgarians living in different countries.
Explore awkward topics with contemporary art – Mariela Ruseva, Psychologist of Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration Chaika Center, Varna
Stand by me is an art installation by the Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration “Chaika” and Day Care Center for Adults with Disabilities “Riviera” (Varna). We prepared it for March 8 with the financial support of the Bulgarian Women’s Fund.
The project represents two giant shoes placed in one of the popular Varna public spots – at the entrance to the Sea Garden.
Everyone could wear the shoes and in this way metaphorically put oneself into the shoes of people with intellectual disability.
In this way we drew the public’s attention to the problems of people with mental health problems.
Now the installation is in the center Chaika. Welcome to try your shoes on!
Expand your networks – Zornitsa Spasova, Chief Assistant at the National Center for Public Health and Analysis, Author on Klimateka.
At the Centre, I deal with the issues related to climate change and human health.
Additionally, I write for Klimateka. Our goal is to produce high-quality content on climate change to reach and engage as many people as possible.
I am currently working as a consultant for Sofia Municipality in several other projects. The challenge is a lack of data for research and a low interest of the Bulgarian health authorities in the problem.
I think that will change soon. There has been great public interest in such information over the past year.
I can advise everyone to constantly develop and enrich their networks.
Personally, I use every opportunity to participate in an event or training useful for expanding my network of contacts. And there is always some person or information that can be useful.
Inspire the people around you – Vladimir Geshev, Founder of Youth Ecological Initiative ForAseNOVgrad, Asenovgrad
Last August, I organized the environmental initiative ForAseNOVgrad. The goal was to wake up people of my home town and together tackle environmental issues.
It all started with a clean-up of the two largest local parks. Passers-by, seeing our small group cleaning the area, began to join us. Soon, more than 30 strangers worked together as a team of good friends.
That day among the volunteers were the employees of the Municipality of Asenovgrad and the owners of the restaurant Summer Cinema.
Since then, I have initiated and implemented with the help of my supporters more than 10 environmental projects: clean-ups, environmental art exhibitions and workshops.
For most of them, neither a lot of money nor a lot of resources are required. It’s enough to have the desire to take small steps and start something with the people around oneself. It’s very inspiring to go and clean up, to leave something small of yourself to inspire others.
Activate yourself in local ecological organizations – Nadezhda Gergova, agronomist, teacher, and inventor of a a recycling machine, Sofia.
As a kindergarten teacher, I create special eco-activities for children with the application of suggestopedia methods.
In addition, my 4-year-old daughter and I are exploring new methods for organic gardening in our family garden. With my family, I investigate the potential of my recent invention, the composter.
Where can eco-activism start? Well, local environmental societies are the easiest step for a person to become active, find inspiration related to their interests and help environmentalists with something, for example, counting cormorants.
For instance, I am a member of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds and Green Balkans because I am an avid bird watcher. I must say that these environmental organizations have many positive examples, and a regular participation in their activities is akin to a domino effect.
Start with looking at old photos – Veronika Georgieva, volunteer at the Foundation I am Kaylaka and Volunteers for Kaylaka, Pleven
For more than three years I have been actively involved in projects dedicated to cleaning and regeneration of parks in my hometown Pleven.
Everyone can start any initiative with examining old photos, as we did, and see what was in this place, for example, 50 years ago. And then you can also say to yourself: ‘Our park might look like this again.’
Additionally, you need to push many institutions to get them involved in new socially useful projects. And don’t be discouraged by their initial indifference.
For instance, our mayor didn’t want to help us too. But gradually things have changed. And now each of our clean-ups gathers up to 50 people.
In addition, we have two renovation projects – a park chess board, which used to be there 40 years ago, and an area for kissing.
Develop structural critical thinking – Stoyo Tetevenski, activist of the queer feminist group LevFem, Sofia
The main topic I’ve been working on for several years, is related to the improvement of women’s rights and the empowerment of queer people. On our platform, we share experiences of people from these groups through the critical framework.
In addition, I participate in the local climate movement supporting different environmental initiatives.
In my opinion, the most important thing to start with is a critical viewpoint of the situation. It will help to work out an effective new solution. Because often the existent solutions are related to similar but, at the same time, different problems.
And they simply do not meet our current needs. Moreover, they are the product of a ruling class that tends to replaces our needs and feelings and puts them second to the basic ideology of the time.
So, it is very important to think about the structural and systemic causes of the problems.
Discover your vocation – Vihren Mitev, Programme Coordinator at Young Caritas (Caritas Sofia), Founder of Ecological Manifesto – ManEco
To enjoy a fulfilling life, one must find one’s vocation in life, to figure out what one really likes to do and start working in this direction. And inevitably the right people and conditions will be found.
I explored these issues with my doctoral dissertation on personality development. I managed to go on “Erasmus” in France where I was a PhD student in philosophical anthropology for 2 semesters. There, I came across the Paris Agreement in 2015.
I made a connection between these two things that the context of personality development on the one hand is social, but in the broader context it is natural. We cannot continue to develop individuals’ personalities if they have nowhere to live or nothing to eat. Climate change affects human destinies and makes people vulnerable.
Now, I try to help young people at Young Caritas (Caritas Sofia) gain a new perspective on their lives. We develop the potential of our volunteers and with special workshops train them to find their vocation.
Another our initiatives is Edible Garden, planted with vegetables. It is located by our volunteer center Young Caritas. We recently harvested onions and used them for a salad. Now we want to plant tomatoes and make a recycling machine.
Change your attitudes to change your way of life – Valentin Kehayov, Chairman of Young Researchers for Youth Development – Partner of Erasmus+ Programmes, Smolyan
In Smolyan, we develop volunteering as a main tool of non-formal education. Our main goal is to build community leaders in the whole region.
Additionally, we are active participant of Erasmus+ programmes related to informal education and constantly engaged in international cultural exchange.
We have a youth center where we help youngsters to improve their communication skills and acquire new competencies.
Our latest project is related to the construction of two graffiti paintings, which have become the new tourist attractions in Smolyan and have united many people.
Now the space is extremely popular and is used for selfies, weddings, exhibitions, classes.
Previously, street art had never been popular in Smolyan. Illegal paintings and vandalism were a real pain. We invited local vandals to try volunteering and organized for them practical graffiti workshops by famous Bulgarian artists. Now the former troublemakers guard the public art in the town and prevent any vandalism.
But it was extremely important for young people to change their attitudes. We have noticed that when their attitude changes, so does their lifestyle.
During the participation in various volunteer projects, youngsters actually not only give away their time, but they also benefit a lot.
Because by meeting other people, they acquire important skills, which in a sterile school environment it’s impossible to acquire. And thus young people become extremely adaptable to the labor market. They find better jobs, and do it faster, because they know how to present their skills.
Let’s our imaginations run wild – Dari, Founder of the Feminist Library, Sofia
With our Feminist Library team, we spread the past and present history of women’s struggles, as well as Feminist mobilizations. In this way, we actively fight against violence against women and the patriarchy in general through protests.
I also participate in the self-organized social space Factory Autonomy in Sofia and organize creative classes for children applying fine arts.
The main advice I want to share is – let’s our imaginations run wild. Just believe that a radically different and better world is really possible, and build it through things that bring us joy and pleasure.
Give a second chance to the others – Anelia Parapunova, Founder of Academica-We, citizens, Deputy candidate in the upcoming elections in 1 and 24 MIR, Sofia
I started my professional career as a volunteer in a non-governmental organization that works with young people.
This happened by accident and for the first time I got acquainted with people experiencing poverty, exploitation, marginalization, segregation.
The most striking thig for me was that it is a bitter reality for so many young Bulgarians.
I consider myself a person fighting for social justice and my goal is to be useful to those who look for opportunities to deal with difficult situations.
From May 2018 until now I’ve been responsible for the development of the Association Academica-We, Citizens. Additionally, I am a consultant to the “Project Generation Platform 2020-2023” and “Active Citizens Fund”, “Open Society Institute”, further evaluating projects in the social sphere and the NGO sector.
The Academica-We, the Citizens Association works with pro-Roma organizations, minority, discriminated and marginalized groups.
Our goals are the development of civil society and democratic institutions, motivation and development of young people through social entrepreneurship and volunteering, and the development of women’s freedoms and rights.
And because everyone makes mistakes, I particularly love the fact that our support is about giving a second chance.
Never give up on your goals – Stella Nedyalkova, founder of Play and Nature , Sofia
I am a recent graduate in Geography and Pedagogy. It’s where my passion for learning about the environment and its protection comes from.
I’m doing it with a wonderful team of creative people with whom we create and promote the idea of free play for children in nature.
Our main goal is to involve families, teachers, social workers and all people who work in the field of education or take care of children. Together, we can create a healthy and accessible educational environment.
Creating the association Play and Nature, we set out to inform the public about the qualities of the natural environment, how to take care of it and how to be part of it without violating its integrity.
The advice I can give to other people and to myself is to never give up on our goals, with hard work and insistence there are no impossible things!
Often the ultimate idea is not realized, but it is part of the process – Milena Trendafilova, Founder HiveinTheHouse + Co-organizer of 9 large-scale social initiatives, Haskovo
Many of our initiatives are dedicated to the improvement of many areas in our region, as well as the introduction of new practices. For example, the development of instrumental and orchestral music, which has never been popular in Haskovo.
It took several years for people to start appreciating this kind of art. Now our orchestra attracts new musicians and gathers many spectators.
Some of our projects are conducted at the national level. One of the brightest was within Plovdiv – 2019.
We recently completed two projects related to civic participation
In September we will wake up the rock community in the city again with the new edition of Rock Fest 2021.
We attach great importance to the development of new collaborations and one of my latest initiatives is related to the development of new ideas and building partnerships.
The rest of the time I work for the development of HiveInTheHouse, a community space for education and culture.
My experience shows that often the most splendid idea is not implemented, but it is part of the process. Dreams are an inexhaustible resource!
Images: Tatyana Garkavaya, Bulgarian Fund for Women, Center for Social Rehabilitation and Integration Chaika, Young Caritas Sofia, Young Researchers for Youth Development, Play and Nature