Thursday, 22 May 2014 08:24

Helping Syrian Refugees in Bulgaria

A Student Led Initiative at the Anglo-American School of Sofia.

When Syrian refugees started coming across the Bulgarian/Turkish border last summer, there was a lot of talk about how best to help them. They were coming in by the hundreds and there was a lot of uncertainty on how best to help them when watching and reading the news here in Bulgaria. 

That all changed with a music lesson. A song was played. Images of children fleeing the violence of their homeland were shown. Tears were shed. Then upset feelings turned to action. “What can we do about it?” So began a year-long project led by Grade 4 students here at AAS. Our children wanted to help those Syrian refugees who had found -- and are still finding -- their way to Bulgaria and are living close to our community.

The first step was to find out how we could help. Our Elementary School Principal contacted the Bulgarian Red Cross. Food drives were organized, cuddly toys were collected, packs of goodies were filled in time for Christmas. Spurred on by this whole school action, Grade 4 decided it was their turn to act.

As part of a unit on economics and trade, Grade 4 students were set a challenge. Students needed to organise a bake sale independently, which included cooking, advertising, calculating costs and profit margins, and most importantly making enough money to pay back their parents. They decided that all profits would go to the Red Cross. One of our parents, himself of Syrian descent, offered a great incentive. He would match every Leva our students made in profit. The stakes were high but students were very motivated. Not surprisingly, the sale was a big success. Everything sold out.

Meanwhile, our Grade 4 Student Council representatives had inspired their peers to get involved. The Student Council began organising Spirit Days. Elementary school students were encouraged to dress up and donate to our cause. The community spirit within our school began to grow, and it was all student led. In the end, children raised a whopping 4,800 leva (2,400 Euros) over two months.

After consulting the Red Cross, we were advised to purchase baby clothes and materials for pregnant women living in reception centres around Sofia.  We managed to fill forty-five bags with newborn clothes, blankets, medical supplies, toys...and chocolate! Each of our students filled a bag and included a message to the mother. They were so pleased because it was all their own work!

So what next? Grade 4 children want to maintain this connection, but they want it to become a more personal relationship.

We hope to visit one of the reception centres in Sofia so everyone can develop a greater understanding of what it is like to live there. After that, some of the refugee children will come and visit our campus for a picnic and games.  Being a refugee is an experience we all hope no one will experience, and there are a lot of uncertainties as to what the next steps will be. 

Next year...who knows where our children will lead us, but they’re committed to doing whatever they can to help out those who have experienced such displacement.