Young Life Czech Republic led a group of Czech youth to Bulgaria last week to take part in a joint service project with Bulgarian teens at the public kindergarten in Tran. A couple of visiting Americans also volunteered for the project, so we wound up with quite a lot of variety in terms of background and personality. It was fun!
The purpose of the trip was two fold. First, we wanted to find a worthwhile project that would be of service to society. We asked Albena Krusheva of Welcome to Bulgaria to come up with something for us and she pointed us towards Tran. She is well known in the town because of her work among children in the orphanage that used to be there. She asked around and realized the public kindergarten could use some help. She also knew from experience with previous Young Life service projects that Young Life knows how to build and renovate playground equipment. The kindergarten playground was in terrible shape. So the service part of the project came together easily.
The second goal was to give Czech and Bulgarian teens the opportunity to make new friends from another country. We thought that would be a little bit harder due to language barriers, but for the most part the teens were able to find a way to communicate. Despite being from different countries, they naturally had a lot in common. Teen interests and concerns seem to be similar everywhere.
The daily schedule was breakfast at the hostel, then work at the kindergarten until 4 pm, although most days at least a few stayed later. The last day the whole team was there until 6 pm finishing up. In the evenings we had dinner and then a short program of singing and a talk about service, which was the theme developed in the week. Each night ended with small group sessions in which we got to know each other better and talked about the day or anything else that came up. The town graciously gave us free accommodations at the hostel, which was a real upgrade from our original plan to stay in tents. Many of the meals we prepared ourselves, with a four person team assigned to food each day. My favorite was our barbecue at the Erma Gorge.
One difference we noticed was that the Czech team was more cohesive than the Bulgarian team. Most of the Czechs have been meeting together regularly for over two years, so they were already close friends. The Bulgarian team was assembled from different places, so most of them did not know the others before the project. I think the camaraderie of the Czech group was a good example of what we can develop among Bulgarians as we develop Young Life here as well.
An unexpected blessing of the week was having some of the youth from the former orphanage in Tran participate in the project. At least one of the Czechs mentioned how watching them work challenged what he had always been told about the Roma. Instead of the lazy people he expected, he found them to be well skilled, hard working and serious about doing a good job. So we can add breaking down stereotypes as an additional positive outcome for the project.
What do you think about this kind of event? Please leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to check out our photo album: