March 26, 2004 - Sofia Echo: Bulgaria Peace Corps Volunteers host an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: March 26, 2004 - Sofia Echo: Bulgaria Peace Corps Volunteers host an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses

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Bulgaria Peace Corps Volunteers host an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses

Bulgaria Peace Corps Volunteers host an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses

Bulgaria Peace Corps Volunteers host an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses

Fundraiser to aid children's camps

Velina Nacheva

A group of Peace Corps volunteers is assisting three Bulgarian non-profit organisations that are hosting an evening of entertainment called Levs for Lads & Lasses, at JJ Murphy's at 9pm tonight.

The event is being held to raise funds to host summer camps for Bulgarian children.

These camps will include an English-language based leadership camp for girls (Camp GLOW- Girls Leading Our World), an English-language-based leadership camp for boys (Camp TOBE-Teaching Our Boys to Excel) and a Roma camp, called Forward Together.

The Roma camp has been held for the past six years. It started as a children's camp for the Roma in Shumen. Unlike last year's three simultaneous camps for Roma, this year there will be only one, said Brian Murray, Peace Corps volunteer and organiser of Forward Together.

Murray teaches in two segregated schools for Roma in Pazardjik and helps with the Roma NGO, Napreduk, there.

"I am very fortunate to be in the position I am because it is unique. There are not many people who get to see that perspective of Bulgaria," Murray said.

His initial experience was difficult. He said that, coming from the United States, where discrimination is frowned on, seeing open racism and discrimination in Bulgaria was very difficult for him.

"It made me very angry."

He describes his job as being to bridge gaps where he can.

One of the steps towards bridging these gaps is the Forward Together camp. This summer it will accommodate 35 Roma high school students.

"We are targeting students who are youth leaders in their community, who have plans to go on to university, and people who we think can take a little bit of the camp, and bring it back to their community in some form or fashion," Murray said.

The camp lasts for a week and includes many discussions, from what it means to be a Roma, to what it means to be Bulgarian, and minority issues, human rights, sexual education and leadership skills. Speakers are also invited.

Feedback from the Roma is encouraged. "The idea is that they are involved and have the power to change their community," he said.

Camp GLOW, which is for girls between the ages of 14 and 18, aims to encourage them to stay in Bulgaria once they reach adulthood. For the past five years, the programme has touched on issues including trafficking in people, as well as the positive achievements of which women in Bulgaria are capable.

Jessica Serbus, Peace Corps volunteer, said: "It is such a unique and bonding experience, where you have one week of just women."

Other topics covered at the camps include self-esteem, leadership, goal setting, decision making, values and eating disorders, and HIV-AIDS.

The camps combine fun and learning. Girls who want to go on the camps have to pass through an application process. Candidates have to be recommended, and each has to write an essay to be considered to be allowed to be one of the 50 girls chosen to take part in the camp.

The campers, counselors and junior counsellors are all Bulgarian women who strive to make the experience of the camp directed towards Bulgarian girls.

"After the camp, we keep contact with the girls," Serbus said.

Murray said that all the camps deal with similar issues, with the aim of empowering youth to get involved in their communities.

"Children could be deprived of opportunities if these camps do not happen," Murray said. Said one camper, "I learnt to work in a team and tolerate others. I made a lot of new friends, I gained the power to go out and stand up for myself".

Another camper said, "I feel totally changed, more open-minded and ready to accept opinions different from my own. I also got a clearer idea about my aims in life and the ways to achieve them".

Said Serbus, "Being involved with camp GLOW has been the highlight of my Peace Corps experience".

"Girls become so much more mature and if we take this away from them it will be very sad."

The learning experience at the camp is a two-way process and volunteers learn, too. Murray has spent two years in Bulgaria. He knows from his experience that one thing that is most difficult to deal with is the pessimism.

"There isn't a day that goes by when one volunteer some way or another has to confront that issue." Murray said that even a week working with positive people makes a difference.

Peace Corps volunteer Kevin Elliott said, "I have made life-long friends which I think is one of the best things about the experience of a Peace Corps volunteer."

"Everyone is very enthusiastic and it will be painful when I leave," Elliott said.

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Story Source: Sofia Echo

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bulgaria



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