A unique self-management volunteer model of Plovdiv 2019 assisted 300 events. But many Bulgarians were too irritated about the failures of the foundation Plovdiv 2019 to notice positive achievements of their compatriots. This post offers more insights from the recent report on the Legacy of Plovdiv 2019 Volunteers.
In the Deafening Silence of Information Isolation
Plovdiv was the first Bulgarian city that became the European Capital of Culture. It had the smallest budget comparing to the rest of the Cultural Capitals. So, the city relied on free labour more than the other status-holders.
At the beginning of 2019, over 1000 volunteers joined the initiative. But just in several months, this number decreased tenfold. Many supporters were discouraged by the financial and homophobia scandals. Only slightly more than 100 volunteers continued assisting the events during the year.
Those who remained managed to combine personal interests with the benefits for the community. Over 60 per cent of the active Plovdiv volunteers aged 14-24. They focused on getting the proofs of professional development, honorary diplomas from different events.
Many also aimed to improve the positive image of their hometown. There were a lot of professional photographs, and the world saw many beautiful moments of Plovdiv 2019 due to their dedication and many hours of unpaid work.
Enthusiasm Fueled by Competition
The contest Volunteers of the Month encouraged volunteers to engage in healthy competition and hone their professional skills. The prizes were the crown and a promotional post on the Plovdiv 2019 Volunteers blog.
14-year-old Akis Pandis was the only twofold Volunteer of the Month (in July and November). He always tried new things which helped him to improve digital and managerial skills as well as the knowledge of English and Italian.
Another Volunteer of the Month professional photographer Vanesa Popova captured over 50 events building her bachelor diploma on the initiative Plovdiv 2019. Hundreds of her highly professional photos have been used by various online sources all over the world.
Amazingly, the framework for the Plovdiv Volunteers was mainly created by former or new volunteers united by the common goal – to make a difference. The volunteer coordinator of Plovdiv 2019 Kami Klifton is a case in point. For her activities, she combined her previous volunteer experience gained at the Romanian ECoC Sibiu 2007 and professional skills acquired at the Plovdiv Puppet Theatre.
One of the key contributors was the Dutch intern Romy Geschire. She spent one year in the city doing an internship in the volunteer department of Plovdiv 2019. With a degree in Public Policy and Communication and Central & Eastern European Studies, she helped the Bulgarian volunteers to develop the functional system for the volunteers’ database, the information support for the weekly meetings and the agendas for the Language Café.
Another activist was Dimitar Ferdinandov, a keen photographer and videographer. The high-school student was one of the authors of the volunteer programme and the volunteer legacy. He also made videos about the activities of the Plovdiv volunteers.
Helpful but not Eligible for Bonuses
The lack of tangible benefits discouraged many enthusiastic volunteers from supporting events of Plovdiv 2019. One of the most desirable rewards for many was a trip to other cultural capitals in the framework of the exchange programmes. But many countries refused to host Plovdiv volunteers, no one regarded schoolchildren as helpful volunteers.
In many countries volunteering was mainly popular with well-off pensioners. Thus, the existent system simply excluded ambitious youngsters.
Now there’s a great opportunity for transformational change. The pandemic caused by Covid-19 is urging people to activate activism in its different forms. And those communities that recognize the impact of cause-driven residents will have more chances to quickly activate support and find more effective solutions during a recession followed by coronavirus.
In the case of Plovdiv, it would be logical to build on the already created self-organized model that has proven to be effective. What requires reconsidering is the system of support towards those who are willing to make a difference and help communities to be more self-sufficient.