On the Fulfilment and Joy of Helping Others, Motivating Them and Changing a Community
Read the story of Veronika Petrova, a mediator in the sphere of education in the village of Novo selo.
This story is part of our series of publications that will tell the stories of front-line workers in the field (social workers, mediators and nurses) who performed and continue to perform their duties tirelessly and with dedication to help hundreds of children and families to overcome the challenges brought about by COVID-19 more easily.
Online learning. Some years from now, more than a handful of analyses will perhaps have been devoted to this. All the comments will no doubt be to the effect that the quarantine imposed due to COVID-19 saw a multitude of systems unprepared. The educational system was among these and it had to align itself to modern-day realities quickly and convert to an entirely distance-based mode of operation within less than ten days. Aside from constituting a major challenge for those engaged in the system of education, this change resulted in a tremendous pressure on parents, who had to assist, support and study together with their children on a daily basis but also ensure that homework was done and who tested a variety of online communication platforms, going from one chatroom to the next.
While this was a less than easy task for everyone involved, it proved an almost insurmountable challenge for parents living on the brink of poverty, who do not have an array of mobile devices or a good Internet connection, or who sometimes lack devices and a connection to begin with but also sufficient knowledge to actively assist their children in the process of education.
‘What this crisis has shown us and what has made me very happy is that parents were able to acquire a key skill, i.e. the ability to support their children and actually help them to learn. By working together, they began to study via distance learning and assist in the process of education.
No family abandoned this process and even poorly educated parents did their utmost to support their children.’ This is what Veronika Petrova, whom everyone in the community addresses by her pet name Vercheto instead, shares. Veronika is a mediator in the sphere of education who works at the school in the village of Novo selo in the Vidin Region and has been a part of the team of Amalipe, a [Roma integration] organisation.
The school is attended by children from the entire region, including children from several neighbouring villages. Veronika helps them all in every way she can. Everyone has known her even before she became a mediator. She would be at the school all the time, taking an interest into its daily running and asking how she could be of assistance. That is why she did not hesitate to accept the offer she was made about a year ago, namely to become a mediator in the sphere of education, even though the position required full devotion and long hours and was not well paid.
‘All my work brings me joy, I find it worthwhile and I cannot pick specific aspects of it and tell you that some are more meaningful than others or make me prouder,’ Veronika tells us without so much as a hint of hesitation. Yet, upon dwelling in more depth on the overall situation, she highlights the following: ‘Over this past year, I have witnessed more and more parents and families realising the need for education and ensuring a better future for their children... They want their children to do better than them and, indeed, to surpass them.’
In line with this, she has noticed that more and more parents offer incentives to their children and support them in becoming better educated. ‘In this crisis, this has proven vital. All families succeeded in helping their children through distance learning, although some had to invest serious efforts. Parents were always by the side of students and studied with them,’ Veronika explains.
‘What is more, these two months of absence from the school buildings have not resulted in higher dropout rates. Students have not lost their momentum and there is no need to offer them additional incentives to go back to or remain at school,’ the mediator shares. ‘Indeed, it appears that more people have realised that education is necessary and worthwhile. Children were eager to come back, kids at kindergarten and students alike,’ she adds. ‘Even in June, when classes are still not held in school buildings, children visit the school in Novo selo. They catch up on material they have missed or come to ask their teachers for advice,’ Veronika tells us.
‘All of this is thanks to their sound relationships with teachers,’ the mediator explains. ‘Many families communicated directly with teachers and remained in contact with them on a daily basis.’ Those who experienced greater difficulty, turned to Veronika, too. Every day, she keeps an eye on the class schedule of each of the children in Novo selo, visits families, helps with lessons and homework assignments, brings students printed school material and makes sure that the homework assignments are done.
Her round-the-clock duties also include training some people on how to use social media and finding a way for everyone to have at least some access to mobile devices and the Internet. In addition, she brings families disinfectants and cleaning agents and draws up lists of families in dire need that must receive food products...
‘I enjoy my work very much, I am happy, and I can see that I am helping others,’ Veronika shares. One would think that her obligations are only confined to helping out at school, where we find her. In reality, however, apart from performing these, she also cares for five children. The youngest of these is 4.
Despite her many commitments, Veronika immediately responds our invitation to this conversation, she does not ask us to come by later, does not request some time to think or rearrange her schedule. ‘Shall we get this job done?,’ she asks. This is the same attitude she adopts every day: whenever a problem crops up, she is there to assist in solving it. She was like that even before she became a mediator, when she used to spend many hours at school for her children’s sake.
‘I can see that each of the things we do is worthwhile and beneficial: our actions used to change the community before the quarantine set in and they continue to do so,’ she shares.
She believes that the community is changing due to the realities of the present day, some traditions being retained while people try to keep up with everyone else, have better education and consider the future and employment. To her mind, they strive to ensure a better starting point for each coming generation.
‘I like that we can assist them in this particular endeavour,’ Veronika tells us. While she has all these other obligations, Veronika has also decided to pursue her education further.