A story about strength, inspiration and the support of family on the road to higher education Petya Dimitrova, Bezdenitsa village

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When I was a child, my grandma, Petra, would pick me up from kindergarten in our lovely village Vladimirovo in the Montana region and take me to the local patisserie. At that time, my parents worked in Montana and couldn’t look after me during the week which is why we got together only on weekends. It seems that my grandma saw in the small patisserie with all kinds of delicious treats a small substitute for the peaceful and joyful evenings spent together with family.

It wasn’t at all easy to juggle work, studying and raising my son in the first year of my university studies. I commuted every day, hopping from one bus to the next, on trains and in taxis until I finally mustered up the courage to take matters into my own hands, start driving lessons and get my driver’s license. My husband encouraged me to get behind the wheel and showed huge patience in yet my next endeavour, even if part of him regrets that now.

One thing I’ve realized is that for every obstacle on the way to realizing my dream of becoming a children’s teacher, a solution is quickly found. My family and friends are always around when I need to be away from home and I’m worrying about who will meet Pavel when he’s back from school. What’s more, my colleagues from the kindergarten are a source of invaluable support in my getting acquainted with the curriculum. I’m happy that I got the opportunity to start teaching and studying at the same time. It is through practice that a future teacher can most easily find her unique approach to education and upbringing of children. Teaching is a very responsible profession and it’s extremely important that it is taken up by devoted and enthusiastic people for whom no insurmountable challenges exist and who are always there to offer solace and show support. Back when I was a child, my grandmother invariably found a way to make the world a sweeter place, more interesting and full of possibilities. I hope that I can open the eyes and hearts of the children I teach in the kindergarten in a similar way, for a life overflowing with joy and accomplishments.

My grandma and I used to sit at a table and I would recount all of my adventures from the day that had passed. She, on the other hand, reminisced about her childhood and the fairy tales of strong princesses or most ordinary heroes which her grandparents had bequeathed to her. “Everything becomes possible when there is someone who believes in you”, she liked to say. It was around that time that I realized how important the support of family is in our lives, as well as that one day I would like to have the privilege of making the childhoods of as many children as possible.

My childhood years went by fast; filled with countless games with friends from kindergarten and the neighbouring houses between the village of Vladimirovo and my hometown Montana. I was naughty and often got in trouble, but my grandparents Petra and Nikola never scolded me – instead, they praised me when I was well-behaved. It is from them that I learned my first lessons as a future mother and teacher – to have patience, to encourage kindness and to have a sense of humour even in the difficult moments in life. My grandparents worked in an agricultural cooperative and I attended the local kindergarten. My parents and my sister Nina used to come visit from the city at the end of the workweek. This is when I was the happiest. When they would leave on Sunday evening to go back to Montana I cried a lot, but I knew that they had to work and the village had little to offer them in that respect. When my grandma got ill, I moved back with my family in Montana. I remember that when I got the news about her stroke, I curled up under the old sewing machine and I cried until my parents arrived to pick me up and take me with them.

In the new kindergarten it was difficult for me to get used to the unfamiliar atmosphere and the children whom I didn’t know. But the teachers and the rest of the staff managed to make me feel at home. I remember that I didn’t even want to leave when my mom would come to pick me up at the end of the day. Getting accustomed to school a few years later was much easier, as I walked there and back with my sister. She helped me with homework. We spent the summer months back in Vladimirovo and took care of the animals in the yard together with our grandparents, we would often go to the river to swim or run around the neighbourhood with our friends. Before I finished primary school, I suffered through another big change – my parents bought an apartment in a different quarter of Montana and I had to start over once again. But my mother, father and sister were unfailingly by my side and I felt their support once more as I was building my new life in school and starting new friendships, the majority of which I still maintain.

Right after graduating from high school I started working for a sewing company. My parents were unemployed at the time and couldn’t sustain me financially. I was dreaming of starting a family, taking care of children and spreading the warmth and support I had received as a child from my own family. This is when I met my husband Svetoslav, and two years later our wonderful son Pavel was born, who is now a teenager. Pavel is my rock when his father leaves the country to work as a truck driver. After five years in the town of Lom where we lived because of my husband’s job, away from our family and loved ones, we finally moved to his cozy home village Bezdenitsa near Montana. It’s peaceful here, people are kind and we feel at home.

What followed exceeded my wildest dreams. Caught up in the routine of everyday life it didn’t even cross my mind that new professional opportunities might be ahead of me. Very soon, I’m going to start my second academic year in the branch of Veliko Turnovo University in Vratsa, as a student of “Pre-school and early school pedagogics”. Starting university was an unexpected turn of events, the story of which begins about two years ago on a warm summer evening as I was watering the plants in the garden. The village mayor showed up at our doorstep and asked whether I wanted to start working in the village’s kindergarten as an assistant teacher. I accepted without hesitation and it felt like a new, even more exciting chapter of my life was beginning.

Thinking about my new job, I was overwhelmed with joy when I entered for the first time the building of the old school in Bezdenitsa, which is now the home of the kindergarten. My husband’s frequent traveling and taking care of Pavel made finding a permanent job very difficult. But this opportunity made my family mobilize in finding cover for the time in which I was away from home. The director of the kindergarten, Emiliya Kotseva, treats everyone as if they’re her own children. I learned a lot from her about the teacher’s extremely responsible profession. The children’s joy filled us with positive energy and even the lack of resources for a refurbishment of the kindergarten couldn’t bring us down. I had worked there as an assistant teacher for two years when Emiliya Kotseva introduced me to the Young Roma Teachers project of the Trust for Social Achievement and asked me whether I’d like to take part and work on my professional development. I once again accepted without hesitation because I knew that my family would stand by me and support me in any endeavour. I couldn’t put into words the gratitude I felt for the incredible professional opportunity and the trust confided in me through the extension of this offer, especially after I’d had the chance to have some practice and show my abilities as a teacher.

A month later I was sitting in a meeting in the kindergarten of Kosharnik, a Montana neighbourhood, with the rest of the girls on the program. The representatives from TSA and the New Road association introduced us to the Young Roma Teachers project, which gives Roma people the opportunity to develop in the field of early children’s education. We couldn’t wait to take part in the building of a brighter future for our children. The director of the kindergarten I worked in even accompanied me on the day I enrolled at university. At that time, I still couldn’t drive and this gesture, as well as her support every step of the way to my becoming a teacher, made me even more passionate about being part of the positive change in the everyday lives of people from minorities in Bulgaria.

Some of the kindergartens in Bulgaria are attended by a significant number of children from the Roma community. Nevertheless, the number of Roma educators is extremely low. From a young age, children need someone to look up to in order to be able to recognize their own potential; someone who can serve as their role model. Kindergartens working with vulnerable communities can support this process of building confidence and inspiring children by employing teachers from Roma backgrounds. The project Young Roma Teachers (the Project) of the Trust for Social Achievement foundation (TSA) aims to encourage the hiring of teachers from local Roma communities in kindergartens and in this way create role models for young children and provide opportunities for the professional development of young people. This is a long-term project with the vision to support participants both with their university applications and for the duration of their studies.