Bulgaria Christmas Trip 2013

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Trustee, Keziah Erde recounts her experiences on a volunteer Christmas trip to Bulgaria in December 2013:

Travelling to Bulgaria in December was a unique experience, a bit of a “whistle-stop” trip, but enough to be an eye-opener as to the “care” that is provided in this country for adults and children with learning disabilities.

A small group home in Sofia, home to eight children, aged from 4 to 18 with a range of disabilities and all from different backgrounds. These children are confined to one room from the time they get up to the time they go to bed and are cared for by one member of staff for much of the day who has only the time to ensure they are clean, comfortable and fed.

An adult institution (Samuil) in Razgrad, Northern Bulgaria – a large concrete building, home to 86 adults with padlocks on gates and doors. The smell is the first thing that hits you as you arrive. A swarm of people, wanting to touch you and be hugged, animated and excited to see some different faces to break up the monotony of their day. Large numbers of people confined to small rooms to ensure control due to lack of staff. Many people in bed behind closed doors, due to mobility issues or illness.

HOH went to offer practical support to these two “homes” to use the money raised to provide not only the necessities which were asked for, but treats in the form of Christmas food, meals out, hair-cuts, a party, fireworks and gifts. Basic things which would normally be taken for granted and our RIGHT were a luxury.

Time was spent interacting with the children and adults and I think this time with them meant as much, if not more than the gifts themselves. As with the very low staffing levels interaction and stimulation is at a minimum and volunteers play such a vital role.

Two smaller adult group homes were also visited and a group of adults were taken out for coffee, a walk and lunch, as well as HOH providing a party, fireworks and gifts.

Many of these adults had previously resided at Samuil and one can only imagine what a positive effect the change in environment would have had on these adults. It would be such a breakthrough for the chance of smaller accommodation to be offered to the other residents at Samuil, as conditions there are appalling and the lack of human rights for these adults is inexcusable in a European country.
Progress in the change of care is slow and negligible and time running out for the adults in the older bracket to experience a clean, comfortable environment with the basic necessities and a staff team who have the time and training to care for these vulnerable people.

Time is on our side though to push for change for the sake of young adults and children going “through the system”, letters to Amnesty International and raising awareness of the appalling conditions that these vulnerable people live in is vital.

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