The small community initiatives are based on the ideas generated by the scholars who participate in the program, with the support of their mentors. They are designed to contribute to the solving of specific problems of the communities identified by the participants – scholars and mentors.
In order to kickstart the initial design and organization of such an initiative, the scholars and mentors are invited to prepare a plan in the form of a simplified project proposal. A template of the proposal can be downloaded here (in Bulgarian).
Scholars in the Roma neighborhood in Rakitovo with a campaign for prevention of socially significant diseases entitled “Stop and check your blood pressure now!"
As part of yet another summer volunteer initiative, a team of three students studying medical degrees visited the town of Rakitovo to conduct an initiative aimed at the prevention of socially significant diseases among the residents of the Roma neighborhood in the town. Krastyo Minkov (“Medicine" at the Thracian University), Sonya Mineva (“Nursery" at the Thracian University) and Krassimira Krasimirova (“Medicine" at MU-Plovdiv), prepared and conducted their campaign with the support of Assoc. Prof. Boryana Parashkevova, mentor of some of the students. The field work on the campaign was organized in cooperation with the “Future” foundation.
In addition to the activities of measuring blood pressure and blood sugar levels, the young people provided information on the diagnosis, prevention and control of common diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. The advice was tailored to the individual situation and risk factors of each of those who stopped at the information point of the initiative.
The event was valuable for all participants, as it provided an opportunity for the young people to develop their professional and communication skills, to tell the locals about themselves and the program. For the locals, the meeting with the young people was an opportunity to get up-to-date guidance on specific health complaints and the possibilities for controlling the common risk factors, and to meet the medical professionals of the future who represent various Roma communities in the region.
Being a role model for the little ones
This summer, scholar Plamena Vasileva (studying a Medical Lab Technician degree at theMedical College – Thracian University) planned and commenced a series of summer classes with children of early school age in her native village of Skobelevo, Haskovo region.
Plamena was provoked by the observations of the huge gaps in the knowledge and motivation of the youngest students in her village during the past school year, passed under the sign of online training due to the coronavirus epidemic. She developed a schedule of classes and coordinated with the local community center the running of the classes with children between the age of 6 and 12 during the summer vacation. Plamena's idea was, through stories about her own way to university, fun activities to increase children's health literacy on topics such as “clean hands" and “clean teeth", to help fill the gaps in social contacts and the acquisition of basic reading and writing skills.
Plamena says that reading books, drawing pictures and learning to wash hands in the right way, in excitement about their new toothbrush and toothpaste kits, her first activity with the children lasted 3 hours, much longer than the original plan. “The children wanted to know when we would work together again and asked us to study English words together," Plamena added. The parents of many of the children work abroad, and the kids spend their time here under the care of their grandparents. This is one of the reasons for the children’s great interest and enthusiasm to work with young people, who encourage them to share and develop their stories and dreams.
As part of Plamena's initiative, the children received writing and drawing materials, as well as a selection of books to use during their activities. The books purchased for the purposes of the initiative will remain available to the children in the village through the library of the “Iskritsa” community center. The most valuable thing, however, will be the time and memories of the fun summer spent together, which will motivate the children to dream and work to become like Plamena.
Scholars join forces to keep their communities healthy and informed on the brink of another COVID wave
The small projects of medical students this summer gained momentum with a number of initiatives to disseminate information and guidance on the still prevailing coronavirus and the methods to prevent infection, including information events on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
Maria Nemtsova (“Midwife" degree at Medical University – Varna, Sliven branch)conducted an initiative to inform people in several Roma communities in Sliven to discuss their knowledge and fears related to the virus and its effect on them. In addition to the symptoms, risks and ways to prevent infection, Maria's personal history and path to university, her ambitions and dreams were of great interest among the people in the community.
In another corner of the country, Byala Slatina, Alisa Rumenova („Nursery” degree at Sofia University) ran an information-dissemination initiative focused on the vaccination campaign against Covid-19. After individual conversations with people in her neighborhood in Byala Slatina, Alisa shared about her efforts to provide key, practical information about the vaccine options, the possibilities for their administration in the town, as well as what can be expected after the vaccination.
The largest effort in connection to Covid-19 prevention was the information campaign in the center of Parvomay, designed by Alexei Mitkov (“Dental Medicine” at Medical University-Sofia), Krassimira Krasimirova (“Medicine" at MU-Plovdiv), Alexandra Boyanova ( “Nursery" at MU-Sofia) and Dimitrinka Dobrinova (“Medical Assistant" at Mu-Sofia, Vratsa branch), supported by Prof. Ani Kevorkian (mentor of Krassimira and lecturer at MU-Plovdiv) in their preparation. The students talked to the locals about the coronavirus, what we know and don't know about it and the vaccines. The topic provoked different emotions and fears in people, but with patience and a smile they answered all the questions, shared personal experience from their work in hospitals and provided practical advice.
Medical scholars about COVID-19 – measures and protection
With the onset of autumn, the coronavirus is back on our agenda. Let's replace panic with awareness and responsibility.
Scholars in our Scholarship Program for Roma students studying medical degrees, funded by the Active Citizens Fund, set aside some of their time between volunteering and the exam period this summer, and gathered useful verified information to help everyone. (Video in Bulgarian)
Watch teaser in English here:
The video and the teaser were prepared with videos recorded by the scholars, within the project “Mentorship support for Roma students studying medical degrees".
From the textbook to the field: students pursuing medical degrees apply their knowledge by volunteering for the benefit of their communities
While the Covid-19 crisis has caused concern across the country, scholars supported under the program for Roma students pursuing medical degrees have invested knowledge, ideas and effort to organize their own initiatives and contribute to raising awareness, as well as with informational and diagnostic activities in their communities. Some of the young people decided to prepare and distribute materials among their communities in Sofia, Plovdiv, Sliven in order to provide information and reassurance regarding the pandemic.
Such was the idea of Dimitrinka Dimitrova, studying for a “Medical Assistant" degree, who prepared and distributed information materials titled “Smile even under the mask" in the streets of Sofia, with advice on responsible and reasonable maintenance of both the physical and mental health in the times of a pandemic.
Others undertook and organized volunteer initiatives in their communities to talk about the risks and prevention of a number of socially significant health problems, although the agenda of most people being recently occupied by Covid-19.
At the end of August screening gynecological examinations for uninsured women of Roma origin were organised in Byala Slatina. During the examinations entitled “Prevention saves lives", initiated by the scholarship holder Adelina Radeva, a student pursuing a degree in midwifery, information was provided about the importance of regular prevention for the prevention of cervical cancer in women. Adelina is led by the belief that it is important to create momentum for better awareness of how to maintain women's health, regardless of the social and health insurance status of women.
At the same time, Vesa Ivanova, a student in Rehabilitation, held an information meeting with mothers and children in her home village of Nevestino, Karnobat municipality, in order to tell them about and diagnose spinal deformities in childhood. Vesi explains the choice of topic with the growing problem of scoliosis, namely – spinal deformities in early childhood. She shares that it is important for her to acquaint parents with the problem and to remind them of the importance of maintaining good physical shape and building the right habits. Last but not least, the scholarship holder helped with diagnostics and advice in relation to specific young patients.
The majority of students – participants in the program in the 2019/2020 academic year have shown responsibility and initiative, devoting their time to organizing activities to disseminate useful health information and support to those in most need in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. Others have begun work on larger projects to survey the opinions and access to useful information that their communities have by preparing and completing questionnaires, and their summarized results and conclusions are yet to be shared after the fieldwork is completed.
TSA scholar shares first-hand experience as a hospital volunteer during the pandemic: “My job will always require sacrifices. You could see the suffering in people’s eyes, the pleas for help in order to return home recovered."
Emanuil Atanasov is from the town of Sredets, Burgas region, a first-year student in the “Medical Assistant" degree program at the Thracian University – Stara Zagora. He is a scholarship holder in the program for Roma students enrolled in medical studies of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria, managed by the Trust for Social Achievement. In parallel with the adaptation to online education in recent months, in the first year of his studies, Emanuil joined the ranks of his fellow medical professionals in order to be useful in times that are difficult for our healthcare system.
He says that his childhood dream was to become a pastor and with the encouragement that his teacher gave him, he was moving toward this almost until the end of his secondary education – “she used to tell me that I have a big soul, I am compassionate, I am ready to help anyone", Emanuil tells us. In March 2019, however, his grandmother passed away, and the day after her death, his grandfather was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery, having been diagnosed with cancer. “After that, my plans totally failed, I was devastated, because only then did I realize what it was like to fight for someone's life, to give your best so that this person can be with their relatives again." After what happened, Emanuel firmly decided to dedicate himself to the cause of helping people not only spiritually but also physically.
We ask him about his first academic year:
The academic year ended successfully for me, although there were obstacles, I did not give up. My goal is to prove that I can, that this is my calling. I am grateful to many of my friends, relatives, and especially to professor Marinova (Emanuil's mentor within the program for Mentorship Support for Roma students enrolled in medical studies within the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria) who encouraged me during the semesters. The most difficult part of the academic year was online learning. I had the feeling that this was a big gap in front of me, which I had to cross with a lot of effort. I am very happy with my achievements, because I have never had such progress and success! You need perseverance and persistance, because if one gives up, all efforts and dreams are in vain.
To our request to tell a little more about the time since the beginning of the pandemic, Emanuil responds:
In March, when we were at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, vacancies for volunteer work related to the fight against the coronavirus had been announced at the University hospital “Virgin Mary”. I applied, in April I received a call that I was approved and I could go to the hospital to get acquainted with the situation and the rules. Initially, I was scared and hesitated whether I had made a bad choice so as not to infect my loved ones if I was infected… Concerns about my volunteer work during the pandemic were great, but my job will always require sacrifices. Whatever happens, I will be glad to have helped someone. The medical profession is not a job, but a calling!
In the eyes of the people entering the ward, there was suffering, pleas for help in order to return home recovered. Most of all, we were pleased to see the patients improve, to see their smiles and sparks of happiness. There I learned that there is nothing more valuable than HEALTH! When a person is healthy, he can do anything. My work in the ward continued until the end of May.
In June, I again applied to volunteer in another ward, Vascular Surgery and Orthopedics. The staff working in this department is unique. I adapted very quickly. It will be difficult for me when I part with them, because they have taught me many useful things that I will need in the future. They taught me how to make bandages, dosing antibiotics, giving all kinds of injections, etc.
… I want to help people, I want them to be alive and healthy, to keep them happy with us medics. To let them know that there are qualified doctors who can take care of them, can help those suffering and people in need, that they are ready to stay in Bulgaria!
Emanuil is also involved in activities in support of the Roma community in his hometown of Sredets. He and his fellow citizens from the local church community help people in need, mainly with food, medicine or transportation to a hospital. During the state of emergency, they helped large families every week by handing out food packages, and they also held an information campaign on how to prevent viruses and maintain personal hygiene, during which hygiene materials were distributed.
We did not skip the topic of stereotypes about the Roma, noting that the Roma community has been the subject of a lot of finger-pointing for most of the past months. Emanuil is convinced that the only way out and response of the Roma community should be education, adaptation to the 21st century, end to early marriages and overcoming the idea that Roma are second-hand people. He himself does not deny that he has always strived in order not to be compared to anyone, because everyone is human and equal, and his aspiration both in his studies and volunteering is to go beyond the usual framework known to society.
Emanuil gratefully admits that he relies on his scholarship to cover the cost of transportation to the hospital where he volunteers. He doesn’t spare his thanks to his family and to his relatives and friends who have supported him.
Emanuil's mentor, prof. Dr. Juliana Marinova, Head of the Department of Social Medicine and Health Management at the Thracian University, shares her impressions of their joint work during the last semester:
In this complex situation, our acquaintance is still remote, but this did not prevent me from sensing the strong will and positive energy of a young person to achieve his goals, regardless of the difficulties and challenges, from our very first conversation. Emanuil successfully coped with the biggest challenge – the transition to distance learning through the electronic platform of the Thracian University. Indeed, Emanuil achieved very good, satisfactory results in his studies during the summer semester. Emanuil is highly motivated to achieve even better results during his training in the “Medical Assistant" program in order to achieve higher academic success and successful performance and passing of exams.
It is a pleasure for me to share my satisfaction with Emanuil's commitment to an extremely humane cause in support of efforts to help those in need in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic. I am sure that the support he gets from the Scholarship Program is highly valued by him and further strengthens his motivation for realization in his chosen highly humane profession.
Emanuil's advice to young Roma – those who have graduated or are still studying – is to follow their dreams and not give up, because in life there is time for everything – for family and education, but it is impossible to succeed without education. “SEARCH, DREAM AND DISCOVER !!!" Emanuil concludes his story.
Roma volunteer students campaign to prevent hypertension and diabetes
Roma volunteer students conducted an information campaign on the prevention of hypertension and diabetes during an event on 22 August in the Nadezhda neighbourhood in Sliven. It was the last of a series of volunteer initiatives for 2019 organised by students studying medical degrees under the Mentorship support for Roma students studying health specialties project.
The campaign aimed to inform the local community more about the importance of prevention of hypertension and diabetes. Socially significant illnesses are significantly more common in poor communities, with minimal health education and awareness, unhealthy eating and poor living conditions being the main factors behind this.
During the campaign, which included blood pressure measurement and blood sugar measurement, scholars were supported by the foundation “Health of the Roma” and its leader, Dr. Stefan Panayotov, the National Health Mediators Network, and Doctors Without Borders.
The project is being implemented within the framework of the Active citizens fund Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2014-2021. Three voluntary initiatives were held in Byala Slatina, Lom and Sliven. The first one was organized on the topic “Drugs – the health damage from their use and the consequences of addiction” and the second in Lom on “Healthy eating among adolescents and young people”.
Medical students spoke about the importance of healthy eating in Lom
During the second event initiated and organized by scholars in the “Scholarship support for Roma students studying healthcare specialties”, future health professionals met with the Roma community in Lom.
Topics such as maintaining optimal blood pressure and prevention of hypertension and hypotension, the most common diseases among children and young people, as well as tips for following the right diet among children, young people and people with problem blood pressure were discussed during the event. At the end of the event, the scholars measured the blood pressure of participants with suspected abnormalities and gave prevention tips.
First event – meeting with young people in Byala Slatina
Three volunteer initiatives were organized by scholars in the “Scholarship support for Roma students studying health specialties” program in Sliven, Byala Slatina and Lom in August 2019. The initiatives were organised in the framework of the project “Mentorship support for Roma students studying healthcare specialties”.
The first one, a talk on “Drugs – the health damage from their use and the consequences of addiction” took place on 7 August 2019 at the Hristo Smirnenski school in Byala Slatina. More than 15 young people between the ages of 13-18 participated in the meeting, which was kindly supported by the PULS Foundation – Pernik and the management of the elementary school.
The project “Mentorship support for Roma students studying healthcare specialties” is implemented by the Trust for Social Achievement Foundation, within the framework of the Active citizens fund Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area 2014-2021.
Students will volunteer in Roma neighborhoods
Roma students studying medicine and other healthcare specialties from different locations in the country will volunteer as part of the project “Mentorship support for Roma students studying healthcare specialties”. The project is managed by the Trust for Social Achievement Foundation and the idea is for participants to develop and implement an initiative or campaign to raise awareness about socially significant diseases among people living in Roma communities.
Today, part of the students participated in a meeting on the second component of the program, which specifically concerns the development of health-oriented initiatives in Roma communities. Students were also able to get to know each other through various game models and met with TSA Executive Director Sarah Perrine.
The first component of the program is the awarding of scholarships to Roma students studying healthcare specialties within one academic year. The whole program period is for 6 years.
The aim of the project is to develop role models in order to raise awareness of the health problems in the Roma community.