Olivia, Bulgaria 2017

Olivia Dunphy, a student at Lancaster University, was part of the OXAB project in 2017. Read on to find out her work benefitted the lives of underprivileged children and young people in Bulgaria.

I’m Olivia and I was a first year English Literature Student when I decided to volunteer with OXAB through Intervol. As soon as I heard about the work they do I knew I wanted to get involved. I have always wanted to work with children and I have been particularly interested in child development since studying Psychology at A-Level.

The aspect of OXAB’s work that appealed to me the most was how they promote the deinstitutionalisation of children and young people. By supporting the smaller, more home like centres they are helping to replace the larger orphanages that were previously most prominent in the country. After hearing about this opportunity I spent the next six months planning, fundraising and telling everybody who would listen about my upcoming two weeks in Bulgaria.

The bulk of our fundraising goes towards supporting the work of OXAB to break the cycle of poverty that many children and young people are found in. The mentoring scheme seeks to support young people living in centres to go on to university or a career by providing them with a university student to talk to and learn from.

Pictures made by the children at Gorna

The school holidays mean there is a strain on staff working at the centres so volunteers are able to teach lessons and activities so the children can still learn and be entertained during their time away from school. Some of the money we raised during second and third term went towards buying resources for our activities such as craft materials and sports supplies. The children adored all of the paints (maybe a bit too much!) beads and papers that we brought along and while we had a few very messy afternoons they were also very fun.

Our first week in Bulgaria was spent at a Day Centre for Disabled Children in the town of Gorna. This was a short bus ride from our accommodation, giving us a chance to prepare things for the day. Having never worked with children with disabilities before I was nervous about how well I would work with the groups but before I knew it we were all singing and dancing around the room together. They also loved doing finger painting which soon evolved to painting fingers.

The volunteer accommodation had a friendly cat

On our last day we made cards for each other and had a music session. We provided rain makers made out of bottles and rice which the children played while Becky and Matt played the Ukele and sang. It was so rewarding to see both the children and staff enjoy what we had planned. The children got involved whole heartedly with making noise and expressing themselves. The goodbyes were emotional but equally they showed us that the children had enjoyed our company and therefore our time there was worthwhile.

The second week of our project was spent at a family centre for children deprived of parental care in Veliko Tarnovo. I found this more difficult than the first week due to the behaviour of the children. They all had very bold personalities so group activities were more challenging and energetic than in the Day Centre. This made it particularly important to carry out activities that allowed the children to express themselves, such as dancing and creating.

The children loved to play Uno, but loved even more to abandon the rules. This made for a fun and confusing game which we all enjoyed. The centre had an outdoor area with swings and climbing bars so we spent a lot of time playing sports. Thankfully they did not notice my lack of athletic skills and let me draw chalk pictures on the pavement with them and push them on the swings. Our last day was spent decorating the centre and icing biscuits for our party in the afternoon.

Getting our nails painted at the family centre

The person who made the biggest impact on me during our project was one of the older individuals living at the centre. She took on a very caring role within the centre – she helped us immensely with her understanding of what each child liked and what they did not. She took us to see the shop where she works and shared with us her aspirations for the future. It was great to spend time talking to the older individuals and hearing what they thougt about our project and the family centre.

I would recommend to anybody to take part in this project as it really does impact the children and staff at the centres. I am so thankful that I was accepted on this project and that I had the opportunity to learn more about the child welfare system in both the UK and Bulgaria as this will aid me in my future volunteering career. As current president for Intervol Lancaster I cannot wait to share my experience with new students and assist them on their projects in 2018.

You can find out more about the OXAB Bulgaria project here.