Traipsing, travel and scorched trachea's...

Trip Start Dec 07, 2009
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Trip End Dec 19, 2009


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Where I stayed
House of Joshua

Flag of Bulgaria  , Stara Zagora,
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Well we have had a very long day today, so long in fact that it is not now today, but the day after the day after today. Rewind...

The day started 07.45 with our empty vans making the swift journey over the mountains to Sofia to rendezvous with Tedy at our warehouse. With Mimi and Rich at the wheels we carved our way gracefully through the Sofian rush hour like a pair of dancers giving a prize winning performance on Strictly. Actually we got stuck in every jam, tussled with BMW driving, cigar smoking Mafia types and played chicken with trams and trolley-buses as usual.

After loading the vans with 550 Christmas boxes we set out for the city of Stara Zagora, some 250km away. After bouncing half across Bulgaria we were to meet up with our friends at World Without Borders, our partner organisation in SZ. Gancho, Milena, Marika and Toni gave us a truly warm welcome (as ever, this includes rakia- a double distilled whisky that can be 60% and you must not even inhale if you want to drive and will take out the back of your throat unless sampled with care) and told us about the Roma community in the city. There are 32,000 people living in an illegal settlement at the edge of the city, all Roma, many living in desperate poverty. Time being against us we did not have much time to look around but the WWB team told us some very disturbing things about a community that preys upon itself with the most vulnerable members being exploited by the criminals that live amongst them.

There are some really startling figures that WWB have collected about the community. They know that at least 26 babies were born to twelve year old girls, over 80 to under sixteen's. In Roma society girls are only valued in the context of marriage and having babies. A girl who is over 20 years old and is unmarried is often treated as if there is something unusual about her and men may well consider her too old to marry. Many young girls are forced into prostitution and so there is a very high rate of STD’s and abortions. These procedures are usually carried out in secret without medical assistance. Of 100 women WWB surveyed all of them had had an abortion with 13% having had three or more. 100 boys surveyed with the question "What do you want to do for a job?" gave a result of 76 claiming that they wanted to pimps. How does this community even hold together? The pimps, drug dealers and money lenders live amongst the people they exploit; their houses are easy to spot. Big gates, nice cars (nearly always black) and huge size compared to the run down houses and shacks that are home for most of the residents.

WWB run health care programs for the members of the community. Women in particular are targeted in order to break down the mistrust that exists between Roma and regular Bulgarians that all too often means that Roma women do not seek or receive the medical care that they need, especially when pregnant. Many women do not visit a doctor at all during their pregnancies and as a result many complications and problems are left unresolved, leading to a higher infant mortality rate than the regular population.

How can a few Christmas boxes make a difference here, in this place? The truth is really that they are the means to an end. WWB is a local organisation, made of people who have either grown up in the area or lived there many years. These boxes will help them to show their neighbours that they care and lead to further contact and help for vulnerable families and individuals contacted during the distribution which will take place quietly over the run up to Christmas. The WWB team were tremendously touched by the generosity of the people of Salisbury and want to say a big “thank you” to those who made up gifts. In the weeks to come we will bring you pictures and stories from Stara Zagora and The Trussell Trust will continue to support WWB in their efforts to turn the impossible tide...
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