Social Inclusion ProjectThe World Bank research supports the stance of many organizations around the world advocating for early childhood development (ECD) programs.

The Bulgarian government has been working to ensure increased educational opportunities for its youth with programs such as the Social Inclusion Project which was completed at the end of 2015.

The Project was designed to increase school readiness in children under the age of seven to ensure equal life choices, targeting low-income and marginalized families. The initiative has reached over 20,000 youth and the country’s kindergarten enrollment rate currently stands at 83 percent.

“Giving people the same life chances requires investments in early childhood development, providing kids, as one says here in Bulgaria, with their proper initial seven years,” said Markus Repnik, World Bank country manager for Bulgaria, in his address to the Minister and the government.

Repnik went on to say that “the project will provide these proper initial seven years for the most vulnerable children through pre-school training and services – so that these kids enter school at an equal footing, allowing them to successfully progress in their later education and life.”

Educational achievements correlate significantly with future employment opportunities. Productivity is declining in many Eastern European countries because many working-age people lack sufficient education to participate in the labor market.

Investing in ECD programs equips a generation to be conscientious, responsible and resilient especially during difficult economic conditions.

The Social Inclusion Project invested in infrastructure, building kindergartens and children centers and in services such as medical screenings, speech therapists, physiotherapists, pediatrician checkups and parental training.

This initiative was possible because stakeholders, policy makers and international partners decided to make a commitment to ECD.

By partnering with the World Bank, the Bulgarian Red Cross, UNICEF, the Bulgarian Pediatric Association and many other supporters, Bulgaria has equipped young people to pursue better jobs and ultimately have the ability to provide for future generations.

Emily Ednoff

Photo: Flickr

As recent events in the Ukraine have shown, former soviet satellites continue to struggle for self-determination and modernization. Often torn between ties to the European Union and Russia, the former Eastern Bloc lags behind the rest of the continent in major areas of development—and none more so than Bulgaria.

Even though Bulgaria is now a member of the E.U., the nation still struggles with high rates of unemployment and catastrophic pollution. As of 2013, the European Environment Agency reports that four of the top six most polluted cites in Europe are in Bulgaria. The tremendous amount of air and water pollution is particularly damning for Bulgaria’s most vulnerable citizens, who are forced to brave the environment in order to scrape by.

In fact, it seems that poverty itself is fueling pollution, creating a perpetual cycle. Old, fuel-inefficient cars, outmoded factories and desperate fuels sources for warmth in the winter (such as raw coal and tires) make Bulgaria’s air the most polluted in Europe.

Beyond environmental factors, the transition to free markets has had troubling societal impacts that often break along ethnic lines. Corruption and organized crime have a firm grasp in the cities, Britain’s Daily Express reports, while the Roma minority lives on the outskirts in abject poverty. The scenes described in the Express from outside the capital city of Sofia bring to mind the most abysmal realities of poverty from across the globe.

The Roma, an ethnic minority, have long been persecuted on the continent, and their living conditions in Bulgaria attest to just how much the country struggles to keep up with the times.

Unemployment in Bulgaria is reported at 12 percent. The BBC suggests, however, that it may be much higher than that. A number of sources claim that governmental corruption is so pervasive that very little of state provided data can be trusted.

In response to the depressed economic conditions, a rash of self-immolations were reported. Several men of varying ages are said to have lit themselves on fire in protest of their living conditions.

For the E.U., these catastrophes hit close to home. The fact that the E.U. has now incorporated Bulgaria has turned Europe’s attention to the humanitarian crisis on their doorstep. With major Western news outlets now reporting on Bulgaria’s woes, perhaps international support will be able to generate some relief for the ailing nation.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Express, Daily Times, BBC
Photo: Plastic Pollution Coalitio