The largest platform for volunteering in our country, TimeHeroes, presented its prizes to volunteers, organizers, companies and journalists.
1. Prize for initiative: Anna Iliycheva
This story begins with a short ad. A woman named Anna says that she took up the revitalization of the community center in the Sofia village of Negovan. Looking for a few pairs of hands to help out in the library: moving shelves, cleaning and organizing books.
What this ad doesn't say is how much work, energy, time and struggle it takes to bring back to life a place that's not only fallen into dust and ruin - it's buried even in the memory of the people who witnessed his better days.
Today, a year later, thanks to the efforts of Anna and all the volunteers who shook her hand for "Hello, how can I help?", it is coming back to life - slowly and in small steps, but increasingly - decisively. Just as a man walks when there is someone to help him stand. And if you pass by the library now, it's no wonder you hear laughter and school noise. The village of Negovan has its community center again.
2. Dedication Award: Volunteers of St. George
Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon they are there - next to the Metro of the Medical Academy. They are there when it rains, when it is terribly hot, and when it is unbearably cold. They are there because for hundreds of people it means today to have a warm meal, to hear a good word, to feel human closeness.
The volunteers of St. George, there are 59 people with various professions and occupations: lawyers, programmers, theologians, housewives, engineers, clerks. However, this does not matter when they put on the apron and grab the knife, because there, in the kitchen and on the street, they are guided by the same common desire: to prepare a soup, a main course and a dessert and serve them to a person in need. In addition to food, they also help with shopping for medicines, essential goods and help with social and household issues for sick and suffering people.
From the beginning of the state of emergency until today, there is not a day when they have not missed being there. For 1,300 people, this gesture hardly means simply receiving a box of food or benefiting from a social service. This gesture means something much bigger: the hope that someone cares.
3. Courageous Heart Award: Georgi Vasilev (SiteGround) and a group of volunteers to the Union of Bulgarian Rescuers
This is what Viktor Fachev, Georgi Vassilev's colleague, says in his nomination: "I only found out about Georgi's feat when his manager asked me: "Didn't we have a special procedure for volunteering leave in the company?"
That's how I learned that Georgi, driven by his desire to help and nothing more, left his job and home for a few days to put out a fire in the Rhodopes. And yes, at SiteGround we have extra days of paid time off for volunteering, but he hadn't even thought to take advantage because his way is humble and unobtrusive.
The common thing between Georgi and Evgeni, Vilimir, Stoicho and Peter from the Union of Bulgarian Rescuers is that they all don't go home after work for several days in a row to face the fire element that has covered a huge area forests and fields, and sometimes houses.
Georgi has to travel hundreds of kilometers with water on his back in the mountains, because there is no other nearby. The rest invest their own funds to create specialized vehicles and include them in the battle with the fires. Fortunately, in the end nature finishes the work of the squads. Only a person who has watched the terrifying dance of flames for hours knows what relief the rain brings.
4. Activity Prize: Maya Metodieva
You've probably seen a movie about a super-successful person and thought to yourself: "Hey, look how much he's accomplished, when did he have time for all that?". And on top of that, when he talks about them, make it look easy – you just tell yourself it will happen, and it does.
This is how Maya Metodieva acts when the task is to help people in need in the Vratsa region. Since March, she has launched 7 initiatives in TimeHeroes, supporting more than 3,000 people - from single elderly people who need a package of oil, sugar, s alt and other basic products, to children from vulnerable groups whose families do not they can neither afford a tree nor a present for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Maya managed to gather like-minded people for the renovation of the children's ward at the Vrachan Hospital. We remember when she told us how she came up with the idea - she had seen a photo of another renovated hospital somewhere and thought: "Why not here?". Perhaps because of all this, her Facebook group is called Be Good! Do good!” – as a reminder that you can do it. It seems to be working – 3,500 people with a TimeHeroes profile have clicked the “I'm in!” button on her missions. And this is just the beginning.
5. Ambassador Award: Roma students studying medical speci alties
When you get sick, you usually know what comes next: you check which shift the jeep is, you go, you wait outside the office, they examine you, you get a prescription, you buy medicine, you rest, and if everything is fine, you gradually get back on your feet.
For many people from vulnerable communities in Bulgaria, however, this is not so easy: as they live in conditions of extreme poverty, many of them cannot even pay their user fee to the doctor. That's why they prefer to wait until things get really bad, and then sometimes it's too late.
The youth of the program for students of Roma origin studying he alth speci alties at the Foundation "Trust for a Social Alternative" are aware of these problems. More than 15 people, this summer they are giving up their time, preparing and conducting various he alth-related trainings in their communities across the country.
For some of the people, on the other hand, these are the first he alth consultations in years, the first call and specific directions to take care of their he alth, the first incentive to go to a doctor for more extensive examinations. The little ones hear a story about life at the university for the first time.
That's why their work is an inspiring example of developing a future generation of he althcare professionals who have the power to be role models and activists. Those capable of treating some problems in society.
6. Prize for inclusive approach: Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria
Before they were refugees, they were students, teachers, doctors, craftsmen, accountants, artists. But then the war changes their lives in one fell swoop and sends them on their way to unknown countries, where they not only have no profession and no school, they have no home and sometimes no basic items such as shoes, clothes, toys, plates and glasses.
The team of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria has been helping these people for almost 20 years now. Do it with attention to the fact that they are individuals and each one of them has their own personal story.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, people seeking protection in Bulgaria can also go to their warehouse for humanitarian aid and pick up items they need at that moment. From 2021, for the first time, they are also accepting volunteers to help them there: sort donations, communicate with people if they speak the language, help with accountability.
On September 15th, there was a long line in front. Excited, the parents were waiting for backpacks for their children, who were crossing the threshold of a Bulgarian school tomorrow. The school supplies, notebooks, rulers, pencils, pens and everything else was a gift from people who joined the organization's mission at TimeHeroes.
Thanks to everyone in this warehouse, the organization and everyone who sent a backpack, the lives of these children and their families continue in a banal way: with homework, with friendships and fights, with couples and sixes and with a first love hopefully.
And this is why the work of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria is so important: they are there to help life go on. Regardless of the past.
7. Intransigence Award: Mladesh LGBT organization "Action"
2010 year. In Pazardzhik, they adopt a municipal ordinance, according to which it is forbidden to demonstrate your sexual orientation in public. Seven young people decide to go out on the street and protest.
At the same time, a counter-protest was organized in the city's central square. Some of the participants decided to attack the activists physically. Others hit them with objects.
This is how the story of the Youth LGBT organization "Action" begins - in a head-on collision with hatred. When provoked, a person can easily make a fist, but the team believes that attitudes in society will not change if you return violence with violence. Their path is different: in search of justice.
That is why in 2012 lawyer Denitsa Ljubenova, one of the founders of "Action", launched a Legal Program at the organization. Its purpose is to provide pro bono legal assistance to people who have also experienced discrimination and hate crimes. So far, the team has invested hours to defend them in court: to recognize the marriage of same-sex couples contracted abroad, to condemn incidents caused by homophobic or transphobic motives, to change civil sex.
In 2021, after two years of legal battles, one of her biggest cases was also won - for "baby Sarah". A child who could not be a Bulgarian citizen because he has two mothers. And because none of those involved lose heart, the EU Court comes out with an important decision: all children like Sarah will now have two parents before the law, regardless of their sexual orientation. And do you know how many children like Sarah there are in the EU? Between 100 - 150,000. This decision affects the lives of each of them.
8. Good Practice Award
Education Without Backpacks Association Here are three things they believe in:
- That everyone can learn anything.
- That every student in the 21st century should have access to free online educational resources.
- That the school can do more if it is supported by business and the civil sector.
They are called "Education Without Backpacks" and in addition to standing behind these good ideas, they act in their favor. Their main mission is to translate into Bulgarian the lessons of "Khan Academy" - the largest educational platform in the world - so that they are available to all 100,000 curious minds registered on the platform here.
You can guess by yourself that making thousands of tutorials speak your language is not an easy job. That is why dozens of volunteers stand behind their cause, who in 2021 translate sub titles for about 150 videos, as well as 80 articles and 45 exercises. It's intellectual, time-consuming work involving research, digging and searching in dictionaries and other sources, but for the organization and everyone behind it, the result justifies every effort: thanks to them, education is becoming more accessible.
9. Determination Award: "Save Strandzha" Association
You might have heard of them under the name "Save Sinemorets". In 2021, however, they take a big and important step: they register an association and call it "Save Strandja" - with the idea that they will give nature a say in the entire protected area.
The basis on which they build their idea is still the same: to oppose the illegal construction in the village of Sinemorets and Strandzha Nature Park. And it is already visible on the horizon: in the fall of 2020, it becomes clear that the construction of a whole new neighborhood is planned in the village, which is on its way to leave the wide meadows with a view of the sea only in memories and on the face of a postcard.
That is why in 2021, together with the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, they are sending signals to the Ministry of Environment and Water, the Directorate for National Construction Control and the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor's Office with a request that eight building permits in Sinemorets be declared null and void. They do it in their free time and as volunteers.
They hold inspections on the cases, look for responsibility and insist on the removal of the environmental damage caused. They also shoot a short film in which they talk to the locals: about childhood on the rocks and about the freedom that the blue horizon makes you feel. It ends with the address of Filip Barov, tenant of Veleka beach, to the camera: "Mr. Minister, nature is our most valuable resource. Let's protect her".
10. Green Policy Award: Harmonica
One day, Metodi, founder and driving force of Harmonica, was walking near Struma and had the following in mind: to collect the trash he saw on his way. Since he did not take a sack, he sees one in the river and begins to fill it. In no time he reaches its edge. He decides that he will come back again the next day. He has prepared better, but the task turns out to be too much for a man alone. Thus, he understands that the solution is not to take a hundred sacks, but to gather a hundred people, ready to roll up their legs and step into the deep with you.
Thus gradually, from person to person, the brigade begins to grow - the group buys an old pick-up truck with which to load and transport the collected waste, and the plan gradually grows into a new idea: in addition to cleaning, they also find the causes of the pollution and to attract the municipality of Kyustendil to their side.
Thanks to their efforts, on September 26, 2021, hundreds of volunteers from all over the country joined their action, collected 1,200 bags of trash and returned 600 kg of plastic for recycling. However, this is not the end - this year they continue with new forces.
And because Harmonica knows how important it is to be a volunteer, as soon as you join their team, they will tell you about the opportunities to support a cause during working hours. Everyone on the team can commit 4 hours twice a month to "be part of the change they want to see," as they say. And not necessarily waiting for the weekend to do it.
11. Youth Policy Prize: Coca-Cola HBK Bulgaria
"Coca-Cola HBK Bulgaria" organized its first major volunteer initiative already 14 years ago. It is called "My Green City" and involves more than 1,500 employees and their families in cleaning, afforestation and beautification of the environment in 15 settlements in the country.
This is why the company is gradually creating its policy regarding volunteering: everyone can invest 2 working days in support of a cause that they can touch personally - with their hands and with their heart. One of them was launched on the initiative of "Coca-Cola" and is called YouthEmpowered. This is a program focused on young people from schools with a high dropout rate from the education system and the labor market, as well as students who need motivation for their successful career start. At the heart of the program are its mentors - teachers, business specialists and popular personalities who support the development of personal skills and competences of young people. 39 of the volunteers in 2021.are employees of the company. The result in numbers: 627 hours donated to this cause and 4709 young people who went through the training. The result beyond the numbers: 90% of participants say that this support was really valuable to them.
12. Prize for a flying start in volunteering: Allianz Bulgaria
If the first step is the hardest, there is another thing about volunteering: that the first step is usually enough to have a second.
This year, Allianz Bulgaria launched its long-term Allianz Heroes campaign to socially engage its 600 employees in the country.
An extra day off that can be used for good deeds, meetings with representatives of non-governmental organizations and compiling a catalog of various initiatives that people can get involved in, including online, are just the first touches of a good begining. No, just an excellent start - like a reward.
13. Publicity Award: Zarina Vasileva
Zarina Vasileva from OffMedia gives voice to stories that don't always have someone to tell.
For the student Bozhidar, who volunteered at the Amalipe Center, he was appointed as an educational mediator in his school and today dreams of becoming a teacher to help his community. For Tihomira Metodieva - Tihich, who faces fires, floods and earthquakes, "armed with her huge heart, her camera and a focus on humanity", as she describes her. It tells the stories of non-governmental organizations such as "Karin Dom", "Betel", "Trotoara", "Ekaterina Karavelova".
In 2021, she also applied for a Bulgarian Women's Fund project to give a voice to other people who we usually only know as statistics - the mothers and daughters who are serving a sentence in the Sliven prison.
Calls her contest "Motherhood in Waiting" and addresses all 181 women with an invitation: if they agree, to talk about pain, guilt, shame, regret, lack and hope. Eighteen of them accept.
14. Prize for media coverage of causes: Paulina Gegova-Karamfilova
Do you know there is an association that helps people with mental problems through chess games? And have you heard that an organization enters the Plovdiv prison and starts making theater there? What about a group of volunteers from Asenovgrad, which builds entire eco-trails from scratch and even manages to create the city's first botanical park? These are only a small part of the stories that Paulina Gegova tells as a correspondent for the South Central Region of the Information Portal for Non-Governmental Organizations in Bulgaria. Only she and five more of her fellow correspondents know what efforts they had to invest in order to find and describe each of them, but the result is already there - in October 2021, the book "Chronicles of the Good" was published, collecting stories about the work of 30 civil organizations from all over the country.
"Many human destinies lie behind these narratives, many difficult experiences, hopes, successes, achievements and the strong feeling that much, sometimes everything, depends on our participation or non-participation," says the preface of the book. It is freely available to anyone who wants to get to know them at ngobg.info.
15. Prize for Inspirational Story: The Project "The Last Gift of Man" by Dimitar Panayotov and Alexander Nikolov
Thousands of people in Bulgaria are waiting for an organ transplant - tens of thousands have not been able to wait, and for tens of thousands more the race against time is yet to come.
Before it happens to a loved one or to himself, a person rarely thinks about this matter. The reason that Dimitar Panayotov and Alexander Nikolov looked at this topic in the first place is also related to personal experience - Sasho's brother suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 21. His family made the brave decision to donate his organs to people for whom this is the only hope - so on September 20, 2015, four people were given a chance at a second life.
At first, the two decided that they would tell this story in the form of a thesis project. Gradually, however, their idea grew and turned into an impactful multimedia documentary project covering dozens of stories in the period from 2015 to 2021
To tell them, they take more than 60 interviews in more than 15 settlements, spend weeks in hospitals, witness three transplants and one donor situation. These are thousands of hours of work in the name of one cause: to remind that for more than 1000 Bulgarians, at this moment, donation is the only chance for life.
As Dr. Sibila Marinova says in her interview about the project, "when you realize a donor situation, you realize that death is not the end. That there can be hope and comfort in her too. Hope for the recipient to live a normal life. It's a consolation for the donor's relatives that somewhere a part of him is still alive".
For their project "The Last Gift of Man" Dimitar Panayotov and Alexander Nikolov receive the Prize for an inspiring story.