Happy sweet sixteen, YDCMA

They say, time goes by very fast when you do the things you love. Apparently, that is what happened with the YDCMA organization, which today happens to turn 16!

At such age in some countries of the world you might be allowed to drive a car and you might be a high-school student, but if you are one of the many European organizations participating in the Erasmus+ projects, you might have been able to achieve so much more than that and at such a young age!

As volunteers currently working for the organization, a simple “happy birthday” sounded too much like a cliché but, due to the current unfavorable circumstances we are living in, we were not able to party the way we wished to. We are stubborn people, though, and we were not willing to give up so easily. So, for the occasion, me and my colleague Marta Valverde had the chance to catch up with some of the volunteers from the previous editions and they were kind enough to share their emotions and experiences with us and all of you.

Here are their stories.

Marián Barta, Slovakia

My experience as a volunteer in Kazanlak took place 6 years ago… It’s quite a long time ago but it’s still in my mind like it was last month! The project was about preparing an ecological festival and organizing several other events in Kazanlak and in Koprinka (about our countries, environment, culture and so on). It was an amazing experience due to several reasons. Firstly, I hope we helped the local community improve environmental awareness. We organized some events in local schools about this topic and later we gathered a lot of garbage from the lake and its surroundings. Then, it was very good for us and also for the local people because we could present our cultures and show each other how people in different countries are living. Of course the experience was very good for myself because I improved a lot my English. I also traveled like never before and finally, I could meet amazing people and made some friendships. It’s incredible how many adventures we had during our time in Bulgaria. Definitely, I would recommend everyone to come here as a volunteer. It’s an amazing country, with amazing people and amazing food.

Liudas, Lithuania

My name is Liudas and I am a Lithuanian who has done EVS in Kazanlak from 2011 March to 2012 February. Initially my project was combining work in the daily care center for children with disabilities and kindergarten in Arsenal. Even though I had been fulfilling my duties in both places, I quickly found myself participating in more “side hustle”, that being helping out at the Eco Festival at Koprinka dam, together with Peace Corps volunteers providing English practice classes to language high school students or endless amount of travelling and enjoying my presence there. Looking back now, after nearly 10 years, I would say that the biggest difficulty for me was getting used to the local life tempo. Everything seemed to be moving the way I am not so familiar with. Although this was rather frustrating in the beginning, I quickly found myself living pretty much the same way, thus leaving with a bittersweet feeling. I fell in love with Kazanlak and Bulgaria from the bottom of my heart. I still carry a piece of it everywhere I step. So, it will not come as a shocker, that I absolutely and utterly recommend the rose valley and YDCMA. It gave me an opportunity to become a part of a community far away from home and I hope everyone will find themselves in the same comforting shoes as I found myself in.

Patryk Zalasinski, Poland

My volunteer project was in 2013, I was part of the international team who prepared the third edition of the Eco Festival in Koprinka and many more local activities in the Kazanlak area. The topics were mostly about ecology, as well as about social inclusion, cultural exchange… In general, spreading the European Union and ecology values. It was a very fruitful period, which influenced my life for many, many years. It is all about your state of mind, crossing your own limitations. The project gave me a lot of self-confidence and soft skills, for instance: I became a more team player, I got used to solving the problems and conflicts in the group, and I learned how to cooperate with others. Difficulties? Not so many, it is mostly about breaking the ice inside of you, and between the team that you have and coordinators. It is most definitely team work,  so the sooner the better to catch the vibe and connection with partners. Without any doubt, I would recommend everyone to come here as a volunteer.  The city – Kazanlak, is very well located. With rich cultural and historical heritage, friendly, sunny weather, breathtaking nature, plus plenty of activities around, could help you settle down. As well, it is a great gateway to explore Bulgaria – the real Bulgaria, not from all inclusive trips to Sunny Beach or whatever. And last but not least, the whole YDCMA crew and Kazanlak inhabitants are very helpful, open-minded and  full of smiles.

Ana Penalva, Spain

My experience in Kazanlak started in 2015 and lasted for a year. I went there because a previous volunteer (Lourdes) recommended the experience and I will always be grateful for that. It was definitely an experience that will always stay in my heart and in my mind. I learned so many things not only about Bulgaria and Kazanlak, but also about myself and the important things in life. I was lucky to work in two of the elderly centers in Kazanlak, where I met amazing people who taught me a different life lesson every day, and I also had the opportunity to work in the center for children with disabilities; where I learned that there is magic everywhere and I had the incredible chance to be part of it. Even though that five years have already passed since then, I still remember the experience as one of the most amazing years of my life. I will never be able to give back what all the people I got to meet there gave to me, and that’s why I will always carry a part of each of them in my heart.

Raminta, Lithuania

The project was under the broad topic of environment/ecology –  so I was able to try myself in so many different activities. I was involved in building a playground from old tires (I hope someone is looking after it), organized Koprinka clean up fest (very happy it became an annual event), some educational workshops, etc.. When I look back on it – all these projects ain’t that important – it seems the best thing I’ve implemented in Kazanlak was “planting” optimism. And if it survived in the people – I’m happy and proud. Bulgarian experience was the time of my life, the BEST! The biggest treasure is the people that I’ve met there. These friendships are still very much alive and still I love them and learn from them. There’s no other explanation for the feeling that fills me up when I’m in Bulgaria. A part of me is Bulgarian – definitely.  That’s why the hardest time was the time when it was over and I had to leave. Good bye Liutenica, goodbye Bob Chiorba, will miss you dear Banica, see you soon beloved Mountains and all the lovely Babas. Kazanlak has so much potential – so much could be done for and appreciated by the community. Any volunteer who’s looking for an adventurous and meaningful volunteering experience should definitely consider Rose Valley. If I could – I would repeat. Cestit Rozden den YDCMA! Thank you for opportunity to be a little bit Bulgarian.

Alberto, Italy

I was a volunteer in Kazanlak from May to June 2013, under the project Ecology Development III. I am Italian and from my little subrented room in Berlin, two days after an injury where I flipped my ankle so bad that I had to quit my job, I read a post of my friend Maria Di Cesare, who left two weeks before for Bulgaria: “we are looking for an Italian substitute for our project”. With a mere intent to poke a reaction, I replied: “Here I am, I’m free”. That joke changed my life for good: two hours later I was buying my ticket and thirty six hours later I landed in Sofia. As soon as I arrived in Kazanlak I was pushed into a vortex of new people and situations. I had to also catch up with the project that at that time revolved around the preservation of the ecological integrity of the Koprinka lake, the realization of a festival to promote among the residents the good practice, and the value of this unique place.

After seven years I still remember those eight weeks as some of the most valuable experiences of my life so far: Patryk, Laci, Joanna, Justina, Marika, Veronika, Ilaria, Diana, Maria, Jana, Vladimira, Tatiana, and all of the other who revolved around the project, with them I had the opportunity to explore most of Bulgaria, strictly hitch-hiking. My main responsibility was to take care of the logistics, somehow I was the only one who remembered to take the driver licence with. I also contribute to a cultural infusion, introducing the correct receipt of the Tiramisù. I like to think that in 100 years people in the Valley of the Roses will still make Tiramisù in the manner of “that Pilgrim who came from the North-East of Italy”.

Laci, Slovakian

My voluntary stay in Kazanlak was in 2012 for amazing 8 months. Since it was not so easy to start the professional life and I got a chance to return as a mentor the next year for a short-term project, I was back for another 2 months. Wow, it was so long time ago, that some of my memories might be wrong, but I will try to do my best… We were 3 volunteers involved in a cultural project called “The new beginng” and you might wonder what does it mean. The fun fact behind the project name is that originally it had to be ” The new beginning”, but a tiny mistype happened. Our main task was providing help in the local Historical Museum and besides that, we were organizing different events for the local youth. Another great mission was editing our magazine called DOBROVOLTSITE. During our stay, we were involved also in a short-term ecological project which was about the legendary eco-festival Koprinka. During those days I have experienced things that gave me a lot and helped me to become the person I am.

After finishing university I realized that the theoretical knowledge that I received was not enough for me, so I was hungry for some real experience. A good friend of mine told me about the EVS projects and I wasn’t hesitating for long. I started to search for opportunities without any specific aim. I have to admit that I was extremely lucky because the only project for which I applied was the one that I am writing about now. A few months later I left my homeland for a long-term first time in my life and found myself in a new place and slightly different culture. A few minutes after my arrival I was sure that it was going to be the biggest adventure of my life. Now I can confirm it, I was not wrong. For the first time in my life, I had a chance to live in a multicultural environment and that gave me a lot. One of the most beautiful feelings of my life was realizing that we are all the same regardless the nationality, religion, and culture. Thanks to our activities I could develop many new skills and I become tolerant. Our organization took the main role in this progress. In summary, it was an unforgettable experience and since then there hasn’t been a day without having a throwback to the EVS times. As far as I remember, I didn’t have any remarkable difficulty. Bulgaria, Kazanlak, and YDCMA organization became a very pleasant part of my life and I am always happy If I see, hear or read anything about it. I would recommend these adventures to everybody!

Happy belated birthday, YDCMA!

Francesca Giarrusso

Marta Valverde

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