A lesson in hope

‘You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us and the world will be as one.’ - John Lennon

Stanislava Stambolieva
Refugee and migrant children on different age are at a refugee center in Bulgaria. They have smiles on their faces.
Caritas Sofia/2018
03 July 2018

Zahara, Jasmine, Sajad, Azis, Mustafa… The list of names of children who have found shelter in Bulgaria's refugee centres is long, and their stories are painfully alike. Stories of a missing family and home. These children survived, chased away by fear for their lives, looking for not only a safe place to live in, but also a better future. This is the goal pursued by the people working at refugee centres.

‘These are the lives of children who grew up in days and irretrievably lost their childhood. That is why their smiles are so precious to us’,

Martina Raychinova says, describing her work. She adds: ‘I am the coordinator of the project ‘We Play and Learn', an initiative of Caritas Bulgaria and UNICEF. We want to make the challenging life of these children a little bit more colorful by engaging them in different activities and at the same time giving them the knowledge that they need in order to move on. Their enjoyment and vigour during our classes show us that we are on the right track.’

Martina does not contain her pride in the good results. ‘Our greatest reward is seeing how they are looking forward to the next day.’ ‘We Play and Learn' starts in the morning with exercise in the open air for a warm-up. Then the youngest children are involved in a variety of educational games, while the older ones take lessons in Bulgarian and English, mathematics, geography, biology and other subjects.

Refugee and migrant children pose with drawings on circles at the refugee center, supported by UNICEF.
Caritas Sofia/2017

‘Our intention is to gradually prepare them to go to local schools,’ Martina shares, and adds: ‘At the beginning, most of them refuse, afraid that they will be rejected by local children, but over time we manage to convince them that this is a good opportunity for them.’ The results achieved prove that: with the precious contribution of the ‘We Play and Learn' project, 88 asylum-seeking children already attend local schools on a regular basis.

‘Coming back after classes, the first thing they rush to do is come and tell us about their day at school. And then we help them do their homework.’ Martina also shares that ‘We Play and Learn', as well as going to school, give children self-confidence and pride. Recently, two children won gold medals in sports disciplines – yet another reason to be proud and self-confident.

‘I'm not saying it is easy. The challenges these children face every day are numerous, but with the support of Caritas and UNICEF, they are gradually preparing for their future. And it does become brighter. I am confident about that because at a certain point I see hope starting to shine in their eyes…’

*This is based on true story, names and images are changed to protect children’s privacy.