Burden of COVIDThe most recent pandemic has wreaked havoc on countries all over the world and has stagnated, or even reversed progress in many developing communities. While officials have been trying to reduce the number of cases worldwide, there have also been many tech developments that help alleviate the burden of COVID-19. Various apps and websites allow us to spread information, contact-trace and even enforce quarantine.

6 Ways Technology Helps Alleviate the Burden of COVID-19

  1. Afghanistan- Without proper guidance, misinformation can spread like wildfire and can be deadly. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Health joined forces with the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology to create software that provides health information to Afghani citizens. Corona.asan.gov.af translates virus updates and information into three different languages, making it easily accessible for all people.
  2. Bulgaria- Local IT developers created a free app that connects citizens to health authorities to help ease the burden of COVID-19. Users verify their identity and can input various symptoms they are experiencing. A doctor will then review their symptoms and decide whether or not to send the patient to the closest medical facility for treatment. In addition to this, the app also can predict the future growth and spread of the virus. The developers are also willing to sell the software to other countries for a symbolic one euro.
  3. Germany- A Berlin-based tech startup created an initiative that would work on Android devices in developing countries throughout South America and North Africa. The project, called #AppsFightCovid would display health information on popup ads that already exist on different apps. The ads take info from the WHO website and advocate for frequent hand washing and wearing a mask in public. Because of these efforts, underdeveloped communities now have access to important COVID-19 information.
  4. Mexico- The Mexico City government created a screening service that determines how likely a user is to contract the coronavirus. The website also features a map that displays the closest hospitals and how much space is available in each of them. People can also filter the map based on whether they need a general care bed or a ventilator bed. In addition, users can input their symptoms and determine whether or not they require hospitalization. This helps alleviate the burden of COVID by reducing the number of unnecessary hospital patients during a global pandemic.
  5. United Nations- It is extremely difficult to get access to personal protective equipment and accurate information, especially for developing countries. Because of this, the U.N. partnered with the WHO and launched the Tech Access Partnership or TAP. This initiative helps reduce the burden of COVID by connecting expert manufacturers with developing manufacturers in poorer countries all over the world to share resources, knowledge and technical expertise. TAP will also aid countries in creating affordable and safe technology.
  6. Argentina- In hopes of reducing the number of coronavirus cases, a company is looking into enforcing quarantining and social distancing through a tracking app, though it is not yet operational. This would be a way to prevent the spread of COVID since the app would send an alert each time a person leaves their home. In addition, the Argentinian Ministry of Health created an application that allows people to evaluate their symptoms and see whether or not they require hospitalization.

 

Though the novel coronavirus has thrown us all for a whirlwind, many countries are doing their part to alleviate the burden of COVID by using technology. Whether it is through self-assessing symptoms, tracking hospitals or enforcing quarantine, government officials everywhere are trying to flatten the curve through the use of technology.

– Karin Filipova
Photo: Unsplash

Measles in Bulgaria
Though the increased distribution of vaccines has nearly eradicated measles around the world, countries have recently seen returning outbreaks. Bulgaria’s outbreak is one of the worst. However, the nation is working to control the measles outbreak with the help of vaccinations and strict government procedures. Here are the top 7 facts about measles in Bulgaria.

7 Facts About Measles in Bulgaria

  1. Between 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria faced a sizable measles outbreak after not reporting any cases since 2001. This outbreak was the largest in Bulgaria since 1992. All regions in Bulgaria were affected and a total of 24,364 cases were reported during this time.
  2. The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Bulgarian National Programme for the Elimination of Measles and Congenital Rubella Infection managed the outbreak well. Both teams contacted physicians who reached out to families and educated them on the importance of timely vaccinations. These teams also advised the hospitalization of patients with measles to avoid spreading the disease to the community.
  3. Following the outbreak, the MoH distributed information about measles prevention to the national media. MoH also distributed educational materials on measles to all Bulgarians. These efforts made families in remote areas aware of the vaccinations their children should receive.
  4. Bulgaria’s measles vaccine was introduced in 1969, and the second dose was introduced in 1983. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 94 percent of the Bulgarian population had received the first dose, and more than 89 percent had received the second. Following the 2009 outbreak, health officials distributed the vaccine to those aged 13 months to 20 years who had not yet received the two doses. It also became available to those over the age of 30 who were in need of it.
  5. Children that have parents with low education levels have less access to vaccinations. This was found by a study performed by the European Journal of Public Health. Although Bulgaria has consistent access to measles vaccinations, the education level of parents appears to have an impact on vaccination access. In a survey of 206 Bulgarians from the region of Burgas, the mean number of years of education mothers completed was 5.20, while fathers on average completed 7.02. 40.8 percent of children surveyed had no measles vaccination, 45.1 percent received a single dose and only 12.1 percent received a second dose.
  6. Along with other standard, up-to-date vaccinations, measles vaccines are required by the CDC for all travelers visiting Bulgaria. This measure is to protect not only the traveler but also vulnerable Bulgarians. It also helps ensure that measles does not make its way to other countries.
  7. Bulgarians are required to notify health officials if they have measles. The Regional Inspection for Prevention and Control of Public Health (RIPCPH) and the National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD) are then notified. The sooner individuals report cases, the sooner national health organizations can prevent outbreaks. Health officials also proactively study the demographics of measles patients to figure out where the disease came from and other risk factors.

Though Bulgaria’s recent measles outbreaks are distressing, the country has worked hard to protect as many people as possible. Additional efforts are aimed towards preparedness for the possibility of future outbreaks of measles in Bulgaria. With an increase in vaccines and a focus on the disease by medical professionals, Bulgaria will be able to keep measles under control.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pexels

Sanitation in Bulgaria
Situated on the west coast of the Black Sea, Bulgaria has continually struggled to secure basic services for its people. An improvement came when Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007. Amid this positive step, however, it became clear that Bulgaria’s wastewater treatment and sanitation system was below E.U. standards. The latest situational analysis on equal access to water sanitation in Bulgaria shows that there are 10 significant areas for improvement. Bulgaria must address these issues in order to ensure pure water and high-quality sanitation to the entire country. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Bulgaria.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Bulgaria

  1. The water and sanitation network in Bulgaria is decades old. Iskar is the largest reservoir in Bulgaria. Located near the country’s capital, Sofia, it collects about 675 million cubic meters of water. Built in 1954, it is one of the oldest reservoirs. Bulgaria built most of its water network between the 50s and the late 80s. In 1990, however, the political regime changed from communism to democracy and the new government abandoned all infrastructure projects. As a result, one-third of Bulgarians suddenly lacked a reliable water supply and sewage network.
  2. Bulgaria does not recycle its wastewater. Even though two-thirds of the Bulgarian population has access to a wastewater network, only 57 percent possess access to a wastewater treatment plant. This means that large amounts of household water do not receive treatment and households reuse it. In other words, Bulgaria does not engage in the recycling of wastewater. This is not the case in other European countries such as Germany, Belgium and Spain, where recycled water goes towards agriculture, groundwater recharge and ecological enhancement.
  3. Bulgaria’s water supply pipes contain asbestos-cement. The World Bank reports that Bulgaria’s existing water network is extremely outdated. On average, water supply pipes in Bulgaria are 36 years old and most comprise of asbestos-cement. The majority of developed countries have discontinued the use of asbestos in building materials, due to its cancer-causing properties. Several developing countries, however, continue to use asbestos-containing materials. Moreover, Bulgaria’s non-revenue water rate—water that is produced and then lost or unaccounted for before it reaches the desired target— is close to 60 percent, resulting in an even more unstable water supply network.
  4. People suffer from water rationing. As a result of outdated water networks, lack of strategic wastewater collection and expenditure in treatment systems, a significant number of people suffer from seasonal water rationing and lack of sanitation. The people in the North-East regions of Bulgaria suffer the most. They experience frequent water rationing throughout the year and high prices of water supply and sanitation. Additionally, 37 percent of the population does not have access to wastewater treatment. Furthermore, 24 percent of the population lives in areas with no wastewater collection systems at all. These staggering statistics require significant funding to ensure that water quality and sanitation services comply with the requirements of the E.U. directives.
  5. Most Bulgarians in rural areas do not have access to sanitation. According to the National Statistical Institute, 25 percent of Bulgarians, the majority of whom live in rural areas, do not have access to sanitation. These areas spread to 81 percent of the country’s territory and 39 percent (as of 2014) of the population, meaning that most of these regions also lack adequate sewage disposal. The Special Accession Program for Agricultural and Rural Development (SAPARD), the Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession (ISPA) and the Operational program for rural development funded centralized sewerage systems in a number of rural areas. While considered a positive step, the funding ultimately only benefited villages with municipal centers.
  6. Roma communities suffer the most from the lack of proper sanitation. Bulgaria’s compliance with the E.U. standards proved a difficult task in 2007 and, unfortunately, this challenge still continues today. The overall lack of balance between living conditions in rural and urban areas, as well as a lack of public policies regarding living conditions, enhance the challenge. For example, Bulgaria does not possess a national policy for addressing illegal neighborhoods (ghettos). These mostly Roma-populated neighborhoods do not possess access to centralized sewerage systems, water treatment plants 0r wastewater tanks. The National Strategy of the Republic of Bulgaria on Roma Inclusion (2012-2020), a document that Bulgaria implemented from 2012 to 2020, seeks to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups and promote their full inclusion in society. While the document grants Roma families access to public social housing, the measure falls short of solving the problem in its entirety. It ultimately leaves more than 400,000 people in Roma ghettos.
  7. Masterplans for water and sanitation services are corrupt. A situational analysis on equal access to water and sanitation in Bulgaria states that: “Financial mechanisms have been subject to significant trade in influence and corruption, so the investments have achieved very low efficiency.” Experts from the Earth Forever Foundation made a comparative analysis of the validity of the data used in the masterplans for sustainable water and sanitation services in three villages in Central Bulgaria. The analysis revealed that the regional plans provide inadequate wastewater removal. Furthermore, the regional plans utilize treatment measures that not only fail to comply with legislation but also stubbornly remain unaffordable for the general population.
  8. Bulgaria and the World Bank are collaborating to solve water supply and sanitation problems. To tackle these problem areas, the government voted on a new ambitious plan regarding the water supply and sanitation issues. In 2016, the Bulgarian government and the World Bank worked together on the Country Partnership Framework for Bulgaria. The document focuses on the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of essential public service delivery, including improved water supply and sanitation.
  9. Approximately 99 percent of Bulgarians have access to a clean water supply. Thanks to the collaborative efforts, Bulgaria now shows significant improvements. According to the latest report from the Ministry of Regional Development, centralized water supply now spans 99 percent of Bulgaria. At present, a centralized water supply covers 5,000 towns and villages. Currently, only two areas do not receive full coverage from the central water supply. In response to those two areas, the government has created a strategy to cover the needs of the outstanding 1 percent. A new law, part of the next strategic plan (2024-2033), seeks to further improve the country’s sanitation network.
  10. Bulgarian schools teach clean water supply and sanitation. To educate the new generations, Regulation No. 13 of 21.09.2016 on Civil, Health, Environmental and Intercultural Education included new topics in Bulgarian public school curriculum. Subjects added include healthy lifestyles, water usage and conservation, waste/water waste management and composting. Designed to help students recognize the importance of nature conservation, these subjects focus on water pollution reduction, clean water preservation and recycling.

Over the last 13 years, Bulgaria has exhibited slow, yet promising progress towards achieving the U.N. goals for universal access to water and sanitation. The country continues to strive to comply with the E.U. standards for clean water supplies and wastewater treatment. The new challenge for Bulgaria is to establish baseline measures for the fairness of access to water and sanitation through the Equitable Access Score-Card, a process of self-assessment. This self-assessment focuses on “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations” by 2030.

Olga Uzunova
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Bulgaria
According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Bulgaria was one out of only 17 countries with a GHI score of less than five. The GHI collectively puts together this score encompassing the factors of undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. Here are four facts about hunger in Bulgaria.

4 Facts About Hunger in Bulgaria

  1. Volunteer Intervention: Over the past years, there has been quite a lot of overseas intervention by universities and international organizations to address the previous issue of hunger. For example, in 2015, a group of students at Rice University in Texas traveled to Bulgaria to help the Bulgarian Food Bank with its biannual food drive. This food drive typically takes place between May 19 and June 3. Alongside the Global FoodBanking Network, the students spent approximately a semester in Bulgaria learning about international service, making space for collected food and engaging in other volunteer opportunities. In the end, these students learned quite a lot throughout their semester, and the food drive was a huge success. Many volunteer projects and service trips like this one have become a large staple in Bulgaria’s plan to eradicate hunger. With overseas support, there has been a push for various food drives and other initiatives to raise food and awareness for hunger in Bulgaria.
  2. Policy Changes: Bulgarian lawmakers have also implemented various policy changes aimed at fixing the number of cases regarding hunger. In 2016, lawmakers amended a tax law allowing for a waiver of the value-added tax (VAT) on food that companies donate to food banks and other charities. In the past, companies faced a 20 percent VAT on food donations which meant it was more expensive to give food to a food bank than to throw it away. With the action taken by organizations such as the Global FoodBanking Network and the Bulgarian Food Bank, Bulgaria amended the tax law, allowing many food banks to receive more donations from companies. Policy changes like the one discussed above are a win for Bulgarians suffering from food insecurity, food banks and companies.
  3. The Global FoodBanking Network: The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) has played a role in addressing food insecurity in Bulgaria. The GFN is an international nonprofit working against world hunger by supporting food banks worldwide. Its entire approach mainly runs on four ideas: partnering with new food banks, knowledge exchange, building capacity and assuring safety. With these four goals in mind, the GFN has provided expertise, resources and connections for many food banks in Bulgaria to prosper. Individuals and groups can involve themselves as well. Find more information at foodbanking.org.
  4. Bulgarian Food Bank: In addition to the Global FoodBanking Network, the Bulgarian Food Bank (BFB) has also played a very vital role in improving hunger in Bulgaria. Being the biggest initiative actively present within Bulgaria, the BFB has been the hub for food banks and raising awareness around world hunger. It is also a member of the Global Food Banking Network and the European Food Banking Federation. To provide some history, founders including Association of Meat Processors in Bulgaria, Bella Bulgaria AD, Bio Bulgaria Ltd. (Harmonica), Kraft Foods (Mondelize), Neterra Ltd., Piccadilly JSC (Deleuze Group), Road Runner Ltd. (BG menu), Tandem-V Ltd. and FORA – Community Development Foundation created BFB in 2012. Since then, it has grown to work with various other organizations and help millions of citizens. The BFB has held numerous food drives and events on occasions such as World Food Day.

Bulgaria, as a whole, has taken quite a lot of action to ensure food security. By working with various organizations, implementing different policy changes and providing volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups, Bulgaria is decreasing hunger at a fast rate.

– Srihita Adabala
Photo: Pixabay

Destruction of the Thracian BulgariansThough somewhat obscure today, the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians refers to the systematic expulsion of the native Christians (Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians) in Eastern Thrace. These atrocities occurred during and after the Second Balkan War of 1913. Additionally, it involves some of the figures later complicit in the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Historians increasingly view the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians as a prototype for subsequent Ottoman campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

Today, the descendants of Thracian Bulgarian refugees remain attached to their Thracian heritage. Amazingly, this is despite gradual assimilation into the dominant culture of Bulgaria. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians remains a point of contention between the governments of Turkey and Bulgaria.

9 Facts About the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians

  1. Although the Ottoman census of 1906-1907 indicated a Muslim majority in five of Eastern Thrace’s counties, non-Muslims possessed numerical and cultural significance. Moreover, both Muslims and non-Muslims occupied positions across the empire’s social strata from peasant farmers to imperial administrators. Therefore, despite Ottoman claims to the contrary, Eastern Thrace’s character transcended a single religion and ethnicity.
  2. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians consists of mass deportations and atrocities against Thracian Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians. This arose from the late Ottoman Empire’s suspicion of non-Muslim minorities. The transformation of Eastern Thrace from a core to a peripheral territory occurred following the Balkan wars of independence. Ottoman officials saw ethnic minorities as a liability to the cohesion and security of the state. In place of deported or massacred Thracian Christians, the Ottoman state settled Muslim refugees from the western Balkans.
  3. With the expulsion of Bulgarian forces and the Ottoman reoccupation of Eastern Thrace during the Second Balkan War, non-Muslims faced accusations of disloyalty and subversion. Locals and officers alike singled out Thracian Armenians in particular as untrustworthy. These assumptions played on ethnic prejudices that precipitated the 1906 Adana massacre. They would reach a fever pitch during the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Thus, in Malgara, occupying Ottoman forces accused the local Armenians of appropriating property from Muslims, which incited a mob to murder 12 Armenians and raze 87 houses.
  4. On July 14, 1913, the recapture of Rodosto (present-day Tekirdag) from Bulgaria by Ottoman volunteer forces occurred. Local Christians and Jews were told they must surrender “government” property. In framing local non-Muslims as unjust appropriators of property, this stirred volunteers arriving by an Ottoman battleship. Further, they despoiled the town’s unarmed non-Muslim inhabitants, killing 19 people in the process and displaced others. This constitutes one of the most serious massacres of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  5. Mass expulsions of Thracian Bulgarians and Greeks, punctuated by intermittent killings, characterized Ottoman policy in Eastern Thrace. This occurred even after the September 29, 1913 peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Where voluntary deportation proved unfeasible, the Interior Ministry resorted to tax and labor levies to coerce emigration. The government signed three population exchange agreements between 1913 and 1914. These agreements were biased in favor of Muslim refugees from Balkan countries and against Christian refugees from Ottoman Thrace. This granted de facto legitimacy to a long-established reality arising from the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  6. Enver Pasha played a role in fomenting violence against the Bulgarians and Greeks of Western Thrace across the Ottoman-Bulgarian border. Later, Enver Pasha became one of the architects of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. Led by Enver Pasha, a coterie of fighters forded the Maritza river and razed 22 Bulgarian villages to the west of the Maritza river. Reportedly, these forces killed thousands of Bulgarians. However, the Ottomans did not regain Western Thrace.
  7. The process of resettling refugees in the wake of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians placed a strain on the Bulgarian state and people. The experience of property expropriation without compensation left the refugees initially reliant on the assistance of the Bulgarian government and people. Substantial aid only arrived in the 1920s when the League of Nations provided loans to permanently house the refugees (incidentally, the first methodical policy of its kind).
  8. Attempts to preserve the cultural uniqueness of the Thracian Bulgarians spurred the formation of the Thracian organization. This organization protested the 1925 Agreement of Friendship between Bulgaria and Turkey. The agreement essentially validated the uncompensated appropriation of Thracian Bulgarian territory by the newly-established Turkish Republic. Though the post-World War Two communist regime suppressed Thracian associations, the fall of communism promoted their resurgence. Today, the associations seek to maintain the Thracian culture within Bulgaria and Turkey without advocating for an explicit right of return.
  9. In 2011, the Bulgarian Parliament voted for a proposal urging Bulgaria and Turkey to negotiate compensation for property expropriated during the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan displayed a willingness to negotiate over the matter in October 2010. The issue of compensation remains unresolved.

Although it transpired over a century ago, the legacy of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians persists. Descendants of those directly affected especially recognize the importance of this history. The role as the prototype for the genocides of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians during World War One is also key. Further, this confirms that the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians is anything but peripheral to an understanding of the twentieth century’s upheavals.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Credit Access in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is an Eastern European country with a population of approximately 7 million people. In 2016, the country’s poverty rate stood at 23.4 percent, which means that around 1.6 million Bulgarians lived below the national poverty line. In addition, Bulgaria has the lowest GDP per capita in the European Union and the highest levels of income inequality among E.U. countries. Increasing credit access in Bulgaria could be one way to recharge the economy and help reduce poverty.

Background

Poverty in the country has been steadily rising. Since 2000, the poverty rate has increased by 9.4 percent. Contradictorily, the unemployment rate has never been lower and wages have never been higher than they are now. To explain this contradiction, it is important to know that Bulgaria has experienced a rapid population decline. Between 1988 and 2018, the population of Bulgaria declined by nearly 2 million people. By 2050, economists predict that the Bulgarian population will fall to 5.5 million if the country does nothing to reverse the trend. This has precarious implications for the nation’s economy, and increasing access to credit is a viable solution to stymie population loss.

Particularly concerning is the fact that young and educated Bulgarians constitute the bulk of those leaving the country. In most cases, they leave to find employment elsewhere in the E.U. Some dubbed this phenomenon a “brain drain,” and studies confirm that it hinders economic growth and development. Experts at the Institute for Market Economics in Bulgaria argue that political stability and economic growth are the surest ways to dissuade young people from leaving the country; in other words, the overall outlook for the country must be bright.

Credit Access in Bulgaria

One possible way to address Bulgaria’s population problem is to increase access to credit. With increased credit access, impoverished Bulgarians can secure the funding they need to start a business, purchase a home or own a car. Expanding credit for small businesses could be due to economic growth. Furthermore, a 2006 study found that increased credit access in Bulgaria had a strong correlation with total factor productivity. Credit access has also led to growth in both the manufacturing and service sectors. A Georgia State University study found that access has led to a 0.34 percent annual increase in value for both sectors. These sectors account for 83 percent of Bulgaria’s GDP.

By further developing access to credit, Bulgaria has a brighter economic outlook. Despite its population decline, the GDP has increased by $52 billion since 2000. In order to reverse the brain drain and address national poverty, financial institutions and the Bulgarian government should continue to invest in credit access. Credit access will allow young entrepreneurs to remain in the country, helping the economy grow and encouraging Bulgarians. Economic growth, according to the Institute for Market Economics, remains Bulgaria’s best chance at recovering its lost population.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

Romani People in BulgariaIn the 1400s, Romani people migrated from Northern India to Eastern Europe. Upon first arriving, Eastern European natives supposed they came from Egypt, thus calling them “Gypsies.” While the term “Gypsy” refers to a single ethnic minority, the Romani people came from numerous tribes. They lived as nomads and traditionally worked as craftsmen.

During this time, Eastern Europeans commonly used “Gypsy” as a derogatory term. They discriminated against Romani people, treating them as less than. Due to this history, the term “Gypsy” is avoided today for its negative connotation.

Romani People in Bulgaria

However, in some Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, citizens still discriminate against the Romani people. This discrimination results in poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. As a result, they are isolated into ghetto-like neighborhoods that are covered in trash and lack clean drinking water. Additionally, the infrastructures and sewage systems of these neighborhoods are in need of repair. In Bulgaria, 40 percent of Romani people live below the poverty line.

The schools in the Romani neighborhoods of Bulgaria are of low quality, both in the quality of curriculum and resources. Because of this, many Romani parents view school as pointless and instead keep their children home. Other parents keep their children home to work for extra income. Some parents need older children to watch their younger siblings during the day. If possible, some Romani parents send their children overseas to school, in hopes they can achieve a better future.

This lack of high-quality education among Romani people in Bulgaria has led to:

  • 22 percent of Romani people in Bulgaria being illiterate.
  • 91 percent not receiving a secondary education.
  • a direct link between the lack of schooling and teen pregnancy, resulting in 6,000 babies being born to underage Romani mothers in 2016.
  • many being unable to speak Bulgarian.

Forming the Set Free Foundation

After acknowledging discrimination against Romani people in Bulgaria not only causes poverty but also makes it nearly impossible to escape, the Set Free Foundation was created. Established in 2000, this nonprofit works to fight for Romani rights in Bulgaria. Their vision is to create a system integrating Romani people into Bulgarian society. In doing so, Romani people would become functioning members of Bulgarian society and receive the same rights and opportunities as Bulgarians.

In order to accomplish this successfully, the Set Free Foundation has created the Renascence Programme which consists of the following components:

  • a 14- to 30-day program that transitions Romani people who have migrated to other parts of Europe back to Bulgaria,
  • a space for Romani people to rest and reflect,
  • assistance for Romani people seeking permanent housing and a job,
  • teaching Romani people how to budget finances, and
  • training for Romani women to ensure they have the necessary skills to enter the job market.

The Set Free Foundation Helps Romani People in Bulgaria

Beyond implementing the Renascence Programme, the Set Free Foundation has accomplished numerous projects to help end poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. For example, they have built a house in Bulgaria called the Liberty House. This house temporarily houses Romani families in financial crises in need of housing. It consists of three working toilets, three showers and three water basins. The Liberty House can shelter four to six families at a time. And the Set Free Foundation hopes this house is the first of many.

The Set Free Foundation has also partnered with Valley Church to build a garden outside the Liberty House. The garden provides guests with fresh produce during their stay. In addition, Valley Church has donated numerous suitcases full of feminine hygiene products to the Set Free Foundation for Romani women.

The Set Free Foundation encourages supporters to spread the word about poverty among Romani people in Bulgaria. It also welcomes donations to help continue their work. Donations help Romani people gain access to better education and enter the workforce, ultimately resulting in their ability to leave poverty and lead more fulfilling lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


There are no concrete numbers or official statistics that show how many people are homeless and what is the real situation with homelessness in Bulgaria. However, there is a trend that can be observed – the numbers are increasing. As of 2013, as many as 1,370 people have been registered in temporary accommodation facilities. The real number is likely much higher since this only accounts for people with government-issued IDs who have signed up in those facilities.

Urban Nomads

There are many reasons and circumstances that lead to people losing their home. The most vulnerable groups of people that end up without shelter are refugees, the Roma minority, elderly people who have become a burden to their families or young adults who have previously been in foster home facilities.

Most of the participants of a survey that Urban Nomads, a project that is aiming at improving living conditions for the homeless in Bulgaria, conducted stated that what they really hope for is a job and a place to stay, contrary to stereotypes some still believe in. The organization believes in the value that homeless people can give to society and are dedicated to helping them by constructing tiny portable houses from recycled materials. People do not just choose to live on the streets and those who are in that situation have been through a lot to end up like that.

Government Addressing Homelessness in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. According to Eurostat statistics from 2015, 40 percent of the country’s citizens live at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2013, there were 13 centers for temporary accommodation in the country that served 442 people, as well as six shelters and 13 centers for homeless children.

The policies designed to tackle the problem operate mainly on the municipal level but there are problems that prevent their success. The major issue with the social services available is the lack of adequate funding and good financial management. To add to this, the coordination and project management also need improvement. As a result, the needs of people exceed what is provided by the country, affecting homelessness in Bulgaria.

Initiatives that Help Homeless People in Bulgaria

Winter, the most difficult time for people who live on the streets, is here,  and there are several initiatives that aim to alleviate homelessness in Bulgaria in these times. Caritas is a nonprofit organization that works with homeless people in Bulgaria. Their goal is to help those who are most vulnerable: refugees, migrants, the elderly and the homeless are helped to lead a fair and dignified life. Along with social centers in major cities they provide mobile services- domestic care for elderly and support for people on the streets. Caritas has helped over 4,000 people in Sofia and provides food, hygiene kits, medicine and assistance.

There are also other initiatives. In Sofia, a restaurant will donate food to those who are in need during the winter. Volunteers from the Bulgarian Red Cross opened a winter dining room in the town of Ruse. They expect to provide warm meals, a bath and clothes to around 40 people in need every day. In Pernik, two rooms from the hospital will be given to homeless people during the cold months, according to the mayor. Dobrich opened the doors to its house of temporary accommodation. The house for homeless people will be open 24 hours a day and has the capacity to house eight people.

These organizations and initiatives, along with government activities, help people who do not have access to the basics of living a dignified life and improve the situation of homelessness in Bulgaria. And truly, everything to make these people suffer less helps, but the issue of homelessness should be tackled on a more structural level by reintegrating these people into society and helping them find a sustainable way of providing for themselves.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe, neighboring Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Romania to the north, Greece and Turkey to the south and the Black Sea to the east. The country has been a member of NATO since 2004 and the EU since 2007. After its transition from Soviet control, it has sought to deepen its ties with the West. Bulgaria has improved a lot in its post-communist period from 1990 up to today, yet it still ranks near the bottom of EU lists on life expectancy, income per capita and several other areas. These are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria you should know.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bulgaria

  1. Rural regions are underdeveloped – There is a disparity between rural and urban populations with poverty being prevalent among the former. A lot of people live in cities, the urban population is 74.6 percent because rural regions in the country are very underdeveloped. Nearly two-thirds of poor Bulgarians live in the country and rely on agriculture for jobs. Nearly 26 percent of the workforce in rural areas is above working age, compared to 17 percent in urban areas.
  2. Life expectancy is low –  Life expectancy at birth has increased, but it still remains below the European average by almost 6 years, partially due to the high maternal mortality rate. Bulgaria takes the second to last place with its life expectancy of 74.7 years.
  3. The population is aging – Even though life expectancy is rising, birthrates are low, and Bulgaria’s population is aging along with other European countries. Bulgaria is one of six EU countries where the proportion of people over 65 years old has passed the 20 percent mark. Most elderly live in remote rural areas where access is very limited. They rely solely on pensions that do not meet their needs. More than half of these pensioners live below the poverty line.
  4. There is a lot of emigration – The aging population is one of the reasons for the 12 percent decline in the overall population of Bulgaria from 1990 to 2012. Another reason is emigration, which leads to lower productivity. Factors such as the low income per capita, high unemployment and income inequality push Bulgarians to move to Western countries, resulting in a brain drain.
  5. The transport system is in a good shape – Even though intercity roads are not in top condition, there have been improvements in the transportation system. Large urban areas are connected by public transport networks, and Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, has been continually extending the subway line to connect different parts of the city. Bulgaria is accessible by land, water and air with the Danube river being a transport channel used for commercial purposes.
  6. It is not expensive to live in Bulgaria – Even though the median wage in Bulgaria is significantly lower than other EU member states, the cost of living is low. Sofia ranks 92 out of 105 countries in terms of cost of living. But, to counter that, the minimum wage is roughly 260 euros per month, which is amongst the lowest of the EU member states. Households in Bulgaria have only about half of the purchasing power of other EU countries.
  7. The economy is growing despite doing so slowly. The GDP during the second quarter of 2018 increased by 3.4 percent compared to the same quarter in 2017, according to the National Statistical Institute’s adjusted data. Exports of goods and services grew by 1.7 percent. The unemployment rate in the country decreased from 11.3 in 2013 to 7.2 in 2017.
  8. Bulgaria is ranked 51st according to the Human Development Index (HDI) – Bulgaria’s HDI is higher than its Eastern Europe neighbors Macedonia, Albania and Serbia. The index measures a country’s development based on factors such as life expectancy, the standard of living and education. Bulgaria’s HDI value had an increased 17.1 percent, from 0.694 to 0.813, between 1990 and 2017. It is now in the very high development category.
  9. Children In Bulgaria Face High Poverty Rates – The population of Bulgarians living below the poverty line was 23.4 percent in 2016 with children facing the highest risk of poverty and social exclusion among E.U. member states. Data from 2016 shows that 527,000 children (or 43.7 percent) live in low-income households.
  10. Access to health services remains limited to some groups in the country. Around 12 percent of citizens do not have insurance, and the high costs of out-of-pocket payments limits access for low-income people, the elderly and the Roma minority. Additional barriers to health services for people with low income are traveling distance and the availability of doctors.

The transition from a centralized, planned economy to a free market one has been tumultuous. The country has implemented changes, but it is lagging behind in its development compared to other member states in the EU. These facts about living conditions in Bulgaria focus on what needs to improve and how poverty in Bulgaria has ethnic, gender, age and rural dimensions.

The situation may look pessimistic based on some of these 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria, but despite its challenges, Bulgaria has vastly improved and continues to improve. The cultural environment is rich and diverse and tourism is flourishing in many parts of the country. Furthermore, telecommunications are highly developed with Internet speeds being some of the highest in the world.

Overall, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Bulgaria highlight that, while there is room for improvement, the country has great potential to continue developing into a wealthy, prosperous member of the EU.

– Aleksandra Sirakov
Photo: Pixabay

Girls’ Education in Bulgaria
Girls’ education in Bulgaria is severely lacking in Roma communities, in part due to poor socioeconomic conditions and also as a result of the communities’ social norms. Many Roma children live below the poverty line which creates barriers to achievements in education, even barring some children from finishing primary school.

The Current Situation in Bulgaria

Often families cannot keep up with the costs of schooling. Boys will leave school for work to support the family and girls will stay home to care for children and chores. Women also abandon education because of early marriage or pregnancy.

The majority of the annual 45,000 student dropouts in Bulgaria are of Roma ethnicity. An estimated 130,000 children do not attend school in Bulgaria—most of them are Roma—and 22 percent of the Roma population in the Bulgarian area are illiterate, with only nine percent having reached a secondary education.

Why Roma Women Get Left Behind

In the past, the Roma marriage age was lower (15-16 for girls and 17-18 for boys). However, a small but increasing trend in higher-aged marriages among the young Roma community members has begun to take hold. Now the average marriable age is 17 years for women and 18.9 for men.

The older women get married, the longer they can stay in the education system and finish primary school. Continuing school after marriage for women is almost unheard of as the traditional role of being a committed wife and mother would make further education strenuous.

Certain actions, like dropping out of school and marrying young, are seen by officials in Bulgaria as typical Roma behavior. There has been a reoccurring pattern of Roma girls ending their education around fifth grade and the municipalities do not exercise the statutes that prevent early dropouts.

According to article 36, paragraph 1 of the of the Bulgarian National Education Act, the Municipal Councils are expected to “ensure compulsory school education of children up to the age of 16,” however there is little done to enforce this. Thus, Roma girls in Bulgaria are still leaving school at an early age. There is very little action from social workers, as they see school dropout and young marriages as the cultural Roma norm.

Improving Girls’ Education in Bulgaria

A report from UNICEF suggests strategies that could help alleviate some of the socioeconomic problems surrounding girls’ education in Bulgaria, recommending ways of mitigating the costs of education through financial assistance that will provide free programs and food at schools. Other ways of alleviating high dropout rates are reaching out to communities in isolated areas and either building a school in those places or providing free transport to other campuses.

While financial issues are prominent, social discrimination is another main contribution to dropout rates. UNICEF’s report also provides strategies that may ease the discrimination against and segregation of Roma citizens: providing national and local monitoring to ensure each child is included and progressing through the educational system. Investing in early education could also provide an opportunity for education to people who otherwise would not have had the chance.

The trending increase in marrying age is a good sign, but unless Bulgarian officials come forward to enforce primary education for all, the drop out rate will continue to disproportionately affect young Roma women. With further effort, opportunities to better girls’ education in Bulgaria, especially among Roma communities, will continue to arise.

-David Daniels
Photo: Flickr