The mentors looked at the issues of diversity and (un)realized privileges
Some of this year's mentors joined the discussion meeting on the topic of “Mentoring as an investment in the future: health professionals with a view to diversity", with a focus on the topic of diversity, understanding differences and the potential of the health professionals of the future.
The session was prepared based on the design of the “Embracing Diversity" training program of the International Step by Step Association (ISSA), and the format was adapted specifically for the online meeting of the mentors working with scholars in the academic 2020/2021 year. The purpose of the case studies and the exercises that the mentors discussed were to provoke discussion and inspiration that everyone can later channel in their preferred direction of growth.
With the help of professional trainers, the mentors went through the issues of diversity, the things we know or not about ourselves and others, and tried to refract them through the prism of their various professional roles as mentors, teachers, health professionals and practitioners. The topic of the influence of (un)realized privileges, preferences and stereotypes was not missed either. The discussion provoked energetic conversations and emotional reactions, which confirmed the feeling of the importance of these issues for achieving good standards in the professional and personal interactions with others.
About the way forward: scholars and mentors talked about the problems of Roma communities in the country since the beginning of the pandemic
The report “Covid -19 in Roma neighborhoods in Bulgaria", published by the Open Society Institute – Sofia, brought together medical students and their mentors working in the framework of the project Mentorship support for Roma students pursuing medical degrees.
Part of the team that authored the report joined the event to present specific data and up-to-date information on the attitudes of Roma communities towards the events since March 2020, in order to serve as a basis for further analysis and research. In addition to continuing the development of the network of scholars and mentors throughout the country, the aim of the event was to identify current topics and issues around which small community initiatives can be prepared and implemented by the scholars.
Topics highlighted included Roma communities' trust in the information they received about the pandemic measures, the impact of vague messages and fake news on that trust. The options of provide accurate and comprehensible information to enable all members of theсе communities to make informed decisions about the Covid-19 vaccination campaign were also a discussion topic.
After reviewing and discussing the data from the report, in the second part of the meeting the participants took on the role of local authorities in selected locations and worked on identifying the problems of Roma communities in places during the pandemic and their potential solutions. Topics for research and activity were marked, around which mentors and students could formulate plans for future work.
Online training on conceiving and creating small community initiatives
On the 15th April 2021, the students participating in the “Scholarship Program for Roma students enrolled in medical studies" gathered for an online training on the topic of volunteering and activism for the benefit of the community. During the training, they had the opportunity to meet virtually with participants in the “Young Roma Teachers" project realized by TSA, who also have the difficult task to prepare and implement small projects for the benefit of their communities.
During the event we talked about the importance of small community initiatives in achieving the goals of the Scholarship and Mentoring Programs. Some of the scholars shared their experience with projects they have already implemented, including during the pandemic.
Lyudmila Zhivkova from the Student Society for the Development of Interethnic Dialogue was also part of the meeting with a presentation on the key aspects of the creation and implementation of projects. In the second part of the training, participants worked in smaller groups based on their professional orientation, so the students pursuing medical degrees discussed the health problems of Roma communities and tried to generate initial ideas for projects that have the potential to contribute to their solution.
Among the big highlights of the meeting were the search for common ground between the knowledge and fields of activity of the future health professionals and educators, as well as the importance of small projects for the personal and professional development of the scholars and building their potential as role models.
Scholars from across the country pursuing medical studies degrees talked about student life during the pandemic
Participants in the program for Scholarship Support for Roma students enrolled in medical studies gathered virtually to talk about the exam period during the pandemic and about their lives during the last months of online studies. The students united around the worries and struggles caused by the lack of practical exercises which are key in the preparation of all students with ambitions to become good medical professionals.
We also talked about the scholarship program and the organization of volunteer activities during times when social isolation is highly recommended.
41 are this year's scholarship recipients within the program for Scholarship Support for Roma students enrolled in medical studies, managed by the Trust for Social Achievement and implemented within the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway in the context of the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014-2021.
While 14 of the scholars continue their participation in the program after being approved following the previous 2018/2019 academic year, 27 were the newly approved students. The aim of the Scholarship program is to contribute to the formation of a community of health professionals, motivated and prepared to contribute to solving health problems in the Roma community and with the potential to become significant role models for young people of Roma origin. Many of the scholars shared their experience about increased activity, including volunteering at the local level, related to the participation or organization of initiatives, including informational or disinfection activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Participants in the program receive financial support in the form of scholarships for a period of one academic year, as well as mentoring by a mentor – a healthcare professional. Despite the complexity of the situation and the transition to distance learning in all universities in the country in order to limit the spread of Covid-19, the scholars successfully worked with their mentors during the 2019/2020 academic year. As part of the accompanying project for Mentorhip Support for Roma students enrolled in medical studies, mentors support students both in developing their academic and professional skills as health professionals and in preparing and organizing awareness-raising initiatives to address common health problems and improve the health of the Roma community. This year, scholars and mentors were supported in their joint work by specially prepared manuals and online discussion groups and events, created in order to address the inability to organize experience-sharing events in person.
First steps in building and establishing a mentoring network in the conditions of social isolation
The start of the work of this year's mentors, who support the participants in the Scholarship Program for Roma students studying health specialties this academic year, began shortly after the declaration of a state of emergency in the country. In these unusual conditions, a webinar for the mentors was held a few days ago, which touched on key aspects of the topic of mentoring – basics, best practices and examples, guidelines for their implementation within the current program, experience exchange.
Guests of the webinar, in addition to our mentors, were Dr. Radosveta Stamenkova – Executive Director of the Bulgarian Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health (BFPA) and a member of the Scholarship Selection Committee and Jeff Warner – Expert in Analysis and Design at the Trust for Social Achievement. They shared their experience with the theory and practice of mentorship.
Experienced mentors participating in the program used the opportunity to share stories and examples from their practice as mentors over the years in order to give ideas and topics for reflection to younger participants in the program. The mentors also had the opportunity to discuss the specifics of remote mentoring imposed by the circumstances at this time. The spontaneous and continuous discussion about the good practices and the desired results undoubtedly showed the energy and high motivation of the mentors to develop the potential of the students-future medical professionals.