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Bulgaria: Girls with Dreams: Let’s turn the page

by Teodora Krumova and Denitza Ivanova

Center Amalipe is the largest Roma organization in Bulgaria. It is a member of the Bulgarian Platform of the European Women’s Lobby. It works towards better education, community development and equal integration of Roma in Bulgarian society. Empowerment of Roma women and girls and overcoming harmful traditional practices is a key priority for the organization. One of the major goals of Center Amalipe is providing equal chances for Romani women and fostering their active participation in public and political life.

Unfortunately, today there are still girls, Roma girls, who do not even know how to dream. They have many barriers - some of them are posed by traditions, some are posed by the community where they live, and some are posed by themselves. The topic of early marriages has always provoked discussions - both in the Roma community and among the majority population. Moreover, it is always shrouded in stereotypes and prejudices - both in the community and among the majority. Very often, the topic has been used for political campaigns, opposition and stigmatization.

Today, traditions are no longer what they used to be. It is not any more the parents who arrange the marriage, but the children themselves. Very often all these girls and boys just need someone to believe in them, to make them believe in themselves and to see that change is possible if they want it strongly enough. We decided that the best agent of change would be their peers, especially those who have already found what it is to follow your dreams. They would find the best words, the best messages, the best channels.

So, in the beginning of 2020, we announced a student competition "Girls with dreams: Let’s turn the page", which we organized together with Zonta Club Stara Zagora. The aim of the competition was to invite young people to create messages aimed at preventing early marriages. They participated with essays, videos and images. Students (girls and boys) from first to twelfth grade from all schools in Bulgaria could participate in the competition. We received many great works and determined 11 prizes.

In June 2020, we announced the winners, but unfortunately, we could not make an official face-to-face award ceremony due to the pandemic. In 2021 we decided to hold the award ceremony online, where the awarded works would be presented. We invited everyone who participated in the competition. Special guests were the girls winners of the initiative of the British Embassy “Ambassador for a Day”, with whom the Amalipe Center had the good fortune to work – Anna, Anastasia, Edje and Vanessa. Three other exceptional Roma girls also took part, wonderful role models for all young people who have already realized some of their dreams and continue on the path of education and their goals: Bogomila Samuilova – volunteer, student, last year’s winner of the Amalipe Center student competition; Maria Hristova – Fulbright scholarship holder, intern in a legal program against hate speech in the media towards the Roma community; Princessa Ivanova – Member of the Children’s Council at the SACP, Ambassador to the Khan Academy, volunteer and activist.

As a final event of the week dedicated to the International Roma Day, Amalipe Center held an online award ceremony for the winners of the contest “Girls with dreams – let’s turn the page” on Friday – April 9. 2021 through the platform Zoom.us. The event was also broadcasted live on the organization’s Facebook page. The live video reached nearly 5,000 people.

The ceremony was extremely emotional for both the participants and the organizers. At times, it was difficult for us to move on with tears in our eyes. In advance, we gave the young girls ambassadors the opportunity to be acquainted with the awarded essays and present some of them. We decided that the views of their peers would be the most objective and close to the participants. When announcing the awarded works, each winner had the opportunity to tell more about themselves and their dreams, and then Anna, Anastasia, Vanessa and Edje read the relevant essays they had chosen and told which among them touched them the most and why they affected them. These moments were incredibly exciting for everyone – winners, ambassadors and everyone involved.

An unexpected effect for us was the announced desire for further communication and friendship by the presenting girls ambassadors and the respective winners, as well as by our other special guests. We are happy with the fact that the event created new connections between young people, who once again proved that it does not matter where you are from, what school you study, what financial opportunities you have. We are all much more alike than we differ and it is enough just to put prejudices aside and be open to everyone. We thank all the wonderful young and inspiring participants, without whom the event would not have been so emotional, warm and touching.

You can see the award-winning videos here, as well as the work of Ferhat Mustafov, the winner in the Graphic Image category.

After the official part with the announcement of the winners and the awarded works, in the closed Zoom meeting the participants continued with a discussion about dreams, the importance of education and the negative impact of “early” marriages.

Meet the winners and our special guests, and read a touching essay from a 14 year-old winner Yana.

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