We are extremely grateful to God for the gifted group of UK health and care professionals who faithfully serve in Bulgaria each year providing seminars, advice, mentoring and much more alongside the team at the Blue House, and the staff of different social homes and institutions.
Evelyn Wilson is one of these professionals - she is a social worker from London, and has been working hard to further improve conditions, and standards of care for the 200 plus residents and staff at Tvarditsa Social Home. All the men there have some mental or physical disability, and we have helped with various different resources over the past 10 years. Evelyn and other volunteers are particularly focused on helping the most disabled men and this has included the provision of a new minibus with wheelchair access for 4 residents, thanks in part to a grant from her church, Holy Trinity, Wimbledon
Looking Back and Ahead, A report by Evelyn Wilson.
When I met with Brian Clarke and Genka Ivanova at the Blue House in 2007, they asked me to respond to a request from the Director of Tvarditsa Social Home for training for his staff. After three years living in Bulgaria engaged in social care development through Voluntary Service Overseas, I was pursuing openings to help improve the lives of vulnerable adults living in large institutions ‘far from the eyes of society’. The opportunity offered felt God-given and I have worked with staff and residents at Tvarditsa on my regular trips to Bulgaria since then.
On my first visit, the fifty most disabled residents were living and sleeping in the dingy day room, furnished with long, rough wooden tables and benches, with beds crammed together as per the photo below. Happily these were removed long ago. Today the men are nicely dressed, the room is brighter and homelier and there are more activities for residents.
About eighteen months ago, much-needed renovation on the day room (and dormitories) was finished and inside toilets provided. I have, in recent years, been assisted by a Bulgaria social care activist, Mariyanna Branzalova. This has bought new stimulus for staff but the standard of care and the level of change is not yet what we hoped for. The staff revert so easily to former practices that don’t put the residents’ needs at the centre of care.
The main aim of my last year’s visits has been to give the most disabled residents good quality attention by supporting staff in providing a new activity, such as the game of Boccia designed for people with disabilities. Driven by the European Union, Bulgarian Government plans for de-institutionalisation for adults who live in Social Homes are now in place – and we wait to see how this works out in practice.
Over the last eight years, I have also become increasingly involved in development and training with many of the adult social care agencies in Sliven (with children’s services often using our training too). I am sometimes accompanied by a colleague, Cynthia Ransley, psychotherapist and social worker, who helps me tackle some of the harder challenges!
I am currently responding to a training request from the Adult Social Care team in Sliven who support older people and people with disabilities in their own homes, as well as working with Tvarditsa and the Blue House.
In April this year, Cynthia and I ran a five day workshop “Developing Skills as a Trainer” aimed at staff who have a training role in their job description or who work with service users in small groups. The training was more useful for some participants than others - staff are hungry for training but managers are not always discriminating in whom they send. However, the last day’s theme had broad application - “Skills in giving a short talk”. After a theory input, participants divided into small groups to prepare ten minute presentations on a subject of their choice. The two most memorable were:
• three mature women, working in low paid and undervalued roles in a very challenging social care environment, speaking on ‘the value of work’.
• three young women speaking passionately on how Bulgaria will be the better for fully integrating people with disabilities into society.
Everybody left uplifted, including the trainers!
A 12 month sponsorship by one of our Walsall Church partners of Hristina, a Bulgarian social worker, to promote foster caring in the Sliven region began in September 2011. This project has a strategic impact for the future as more of the old children’s homes close under EU rules, and is helping fast-track a vital service that might otherwise take many years