Sunday, April 1, 2012

Daycare Center in Kazanluk

The last couple of weeks have been very busy- I passed the first stage of the Foreign Service Officer Test, which as you may remember, I also passed last year, but I didn't get to the final stage. I spent a lot more time this round on the essay questions. We'll see if my essays were good enough to pass the next step sometime in May.

Last weekend I made a short trip to Kazanluk, a small town located in the middle of the country at the base of the Balkan mountain range. Kazanluk is most famous for its rose festival every spring, but it's also home to a daycare center for children with disabilities supported by The Cedar Foundation, a non-governmental organization where I have been volunteering for the last several months. Cedar, based here in Sofia, aims to close Bulgaria's institutions for the disabled. These outdated institutions are largely underfunded, overcrowded and lacking basic resources to provide essential care for their residents. Organizations like The Cedar Foundation are working hard to transfer these residents into family-style group homes where they can receive more individual attention and, hopefully, become fully integrated into Bulgarian society. Cedar has already achieved remarkable success in this process through the closure of one such institution near Kyustendil.

The daycare center in Kazanluk is different because most of the children who go there live at home with their families. I was visiting with a friend who works in Cedar's Sofia office to observe the daycare facilities, meet the staff and children there. It was a wonderful experience. All of the staff have such positive energy and are constantly developing new activities for the children's therapy and education. After visiting a similar facility in the UK (on a staff training trip sponsored by Cedar), the daycare staff created a new sensory room where the children can have a more interactive therapy experience. The room has an "under the sea" theme and includes materials for children to touch, hear and see. Although I am not very knowledgeable about early childhood education or physiotherapy, I was impressed with this room.

I'm really happy that I was able to see the facility in Kazanluk because it puts my volunteer work into perspective: seeing the positive results of the foundation's efforts has motivated me even more to continue working with them. 

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