Thursday, March 25, 2010

Summer of Dreams

Living in some of the most culturally diverse and tolerant places in the US and in the world has thought me a lot about cultural tolerance, however I realize that this was a long learning process and as a kid growing in the capital of Bulgaria I simply was not exposed to the issue of cultural or ethnical diversity in the same way an open modern society does. I recall how only couple of years after the infamous words of President Reagan that ended with “Tear down this wall!” resulted in a cultural vacuum that quickly caught the attention of a number of NGOs. As a result I was fortunate to visit West Berlin several days after the wall fell and mingle with peers from distant, until then, West Germany. Every summer for the next 4-5 years thank to organizations sponsored by governments, private businesses and giving individuals as a college student I met with hundreds of peers from neighboring Turkey, Macedonia, Rumania and many other European countries. Prejudice and stereotypes about our Balkan and European neighbors fell down faster than the Berlin wall.

Now almost 20 years later I decided to support a similar project trying to help kids from a small and diverse (about 30, 000) town in Bulgaria with a large Roma population. Roma have been living on the Balkans for hundreds of years. They have darker skin and they rarely had equal opportunities anywhere they live in eastern Europe. Bulgarians and Roma in this town live separated in their own neighborhoods, schools and rituals effectively establishing a cultural wall that inhibits the growth of this town. The Roma school is underfunded and the graduation rates and the employment rates are much lower. The little common both groups have is related to crime and trouble. Most of the efforts of the authorities are directed in monetary assistance, but that does not address the underlying issue of lack of tolerance on both sides of town.

Katie a US Peace Corp volunteer with a strong faith embarked on a mission to educate kids from both sides of town about cultural and ethnical tolerance and help them establish rituals and cultural ties that will remain self sustained after her departure in two years. She works with a local NGO based in the Roma school and she already had some success with several small projects including a culturally neutral Halloween party with kids of both ethnic groups.

Her next project is Summer of Dreams where Katie and other volunteers will help 20 kids from both groups learn about tolerance and diversity on a neutral grounds in a summer camp in another part of the country. Currently the Peace Corp is collecting donations for her project on this page http://sn.im/SummerOfDreams. I find that this is a great way to spread the real values of the American culture based on tolerance, giving, diversity and equal opportunity. If you do too, please consider supporting Katie and her volunteer peers in this effort. You can also follow Katie on her blog http://handofhope.blogspot.com, where she shares the hardships and successes of her mission.

Another way to support the project is to twitter:

Tolerance and equal opportunities need work. Support #SummerOfDreams #Bulgaria here http://sn.im/SummerOfDreams or retweet