To make a summary: I have been ten months in Bulgaria working for a NGO called “Youth Tolerance” from Gorna Oryahovitsa. I carried out many activities, such as teaching Spanish, working on a theater group, helping children with disabilities,... And those experience have been really good for my self-realization and I do not regret at all for having done them... Completely the opposite!
However, the supervisor, the leader of “Youth Tolerance of Gorna Oryahovitsa” tried to make my life miserable during my time in Bulgaria. Why? I do not know. I think she simply did not like me and she though that an EVS project is like a job: if she didn't like me (as a worker), she may fire me...
But an EVS project is not that: I was a volunteer, I wasn't a professional, and I tried to give all my best. I had never taught anything, I had never worked with disabled, I had never played a role as an actor,... Everything was new for me, and I tried to do as best as possible.
I am modest, and I also think that it is not a good idea to valuate myself... The most important thing is that I went to Bulgaria in order to help. And I did it.
But, according to this person, I did nothing...
First of all: who is her?
Her name is Violeta Panova. She is more than 50; she can not speak any language, but Bulgarian (her mother tongue); and she is the leader of the NGO “Youth Tolerance of Gorna Oryahovitsa”, together with her husband.
Secondly: what is “Youth Tolerance”?
“Youth Tolerance” is an organization set in Gorna Oryahovitsa (Veliko Tarnovo region, Bulgaria) which works with youths and for youths: at the school, at the theater, at the disabled center, etc. They usually have 3 foreign volunteers every year.
And, finally: what is EVS?
EVS means 'European Voluntary Service'. It is a grant (supported by the European Union) that youths receive in order to have an experience abroad by helping in a non-profit organization. Another non-profit organization from the country where the volunteer is from (the SENDING organization) have to agree with the organization that the volunteer is going to work for (the HOSTING organization).
I went to Bulgaria on 21st September 2009. I suppose, Violeta Panova chose me after watching my application. We signed an “Activity Agreement”, a type of contract with the tasks that I would carry out. I may write a book with all the things Violeta did to me: exploitation, disrespects, lies to my Sending Organization, etc. But I am just going to make a summary with the biggest ones, and the most easy to prove.
THE GERMAN VOLUNTEER
One of the reasons why it is probably that she did not like me is “the German volunteer”... What do I mean? There was a German volunteer one year before I arrived, who worked in the same role than me. Although he was German, his father was Bulgarian, thus, he was 50% Bulgarian: he improved Bulgarian really fast and Violeta loved him because of this.
I received more pressure than my coworkers concerning the language... I am Spanish and, in my country, we speak only Spanish (maybe Galician, Basque or Catalan... but we are very bad with foreign languages). Anybody who has met some Spanish people before may understand what I am telling. It is a shame, but it is true: Spanish people are REALLY bad with foreign languages.
Anyway, I think I learned quite Bulgarian language, more than other volunteers who I met in Bulgaria. Of course, people from Slavic countries like Poland, Serbia or Russia could speak almost perfect Bulgarian. But people from countries like Spain, France, Germany, UK, Sweeden,... had more difficulties to learn Bulgarian.
Violeta started to be angry at me since the first month in Gorna Oryahovitsa because, according to her, I did not want to speak Bulgarian (by the way: Violeta Panova could not speak any foreign language, in spite of the fact that she leaders an organization which works with foreign volunteers). I should say that, in my country, obliging someone to speak a language is found very fascist. Franco (the fascist dictator in Spain during 1936-1975) did that to Catalans, Galicians and Basque people.
VOLUNTARY SERVICE? OR FOR FREE MANPOWER?
One of the things that I was worried about was the possibility to do nothing. I mean: sometimes this kind of projects usually promise and promise and promise many thing to do and eventually the volunteer does nothing... Or maybe just little jobs like make coffee or photocopies. However, as soon as I arrived, Violeta gave me the opportunity to teach Spanish language at the school. A bit later, I started to play at the theater and attend weekly to the disabled people center. I was very grateful about this and I appreciated this very much, as I had been working abroad before in a project in England and, as I said, I only made coffee and photocopies... But the pressure came soon from Violeta.
First of all, she started to criticize my way of working. That is not bad. I am not a professional, so it is normal to have mistakes. But I found her attitude quite rude. I got worried about it, and I asked teachers about how to do it better, and they gave me some advices. I also met two Spanish teachers (from Spain) who worked in Veliko Tarnovo (the nearby city) and they helped me too.
Meanwhile, I also received critics from Violeta about my Bulgarian language and she got really angry at me because, according to her strict rules, I was not allowed to upload pictures from Bulgaria on my Facebook (I will talk about this on next articles). Moreover, she gave me and gave me more things to do, more than I was able to carry out. However, I did not complain as I though of my experience in England and I tried to appreciate the Bulgarian one.
The next activity she ordered to me was a video about the organization. Actually, I had to make two videos: one about the disabled children center, and another one about the NGO. I studied media and I though this would be a great chance for me to do something related to my occupational field. However, I didn't suspect she was taking advantage of me... Making videos was something not written on my Activity Agreement but, as I said, I didn't mind as that was a good opportunity for me. On the other hand, making a video for the disabled children (for their parents, actually) is a collaboration... But, making a video for promoting the organization is a way of having something for free. Violeta Panova got a video without paying any cent and she would use it to get collaborations and, who knows?, money from public institutions...
I had worked making videos before, and I had never been so pressured like Violeta made me be: she ordered many changes, she wanted the video ready on time,... I really felt I wasn't working for a NGO at all.
My EVS: with horses in Arbanasi (Bulgaria). Part 1/2 from La Fabriquilla C.A. on Vimeo.
My EVS: A day with horses in Arbanasi (Bulgaria). Part 2/2 from La Fabriquilla C.A. on Vimeo.
My EVS: Promotional video of the organization from La Fabriquilla C.A. on Vimeo.
I stood and stood all these things until the end of the project. I reported to my Sending Organization in Spain and to the Bulgarian National Agency of EVS, but I didn't get anything. It seems to me that Violeta have some friends who work at the Bulgarian National Agency and they didn't put too much effort to solve these problems.
Anyway, the activities I carried out were really nice and I would have them written on my Youthpass, which is great. But, what a Youthpass is? Youthpass is a document which contains all the activities that the volunteer have done, as well as the points or competences that s/he improved, such as language skills, computer skills, etc. So that, I would have a really good Youthpass, I though... But I didn't.
The Youthpass have to be written by the volunteer and his mentor. I had a mentor during my stay in Bulgaria. She was a girl who collaborated for “Youth Tolerance”. That wasn't allowed... A mentor has to be a person who has nothing to do with the Hosting Organization; someone totally out of the project. However, Violeta broke this rule and chose a subordinate of her... As you can imagine, I had everything to lose. But the point was that she decided to write the Youthpass herself. Not me, not my mentor,... She, the supervisor, the leader of the NGO, would write my Youthpass (another broken law). And what did she write?
Here you have some examples:
After a hard negotiation between "Youth Tolerance" and my Sending Organization, Violeta Panova promised to make the Youthpass that I wrote myself. She made me sign a kind of document to assure that I wouldn't complain any more. But, she did the same thing again and send a Youthpass with negative things like the followings:
When I came back to Spain, I got in touch with some organizations and some EVS volunteers working for them. One of the volunteers in my city, a Belgian girl, had problems with the organization. After she left the project, the Spanish National Agency didn't allow this organization to have volunteers and started an investigation. However, as I understood, Violeta Panova is going ahead with her organization to exploit volunteers and get money from the EU. Nobody stopped her although I made one million complains... Where is the fairness here?
My Sending Organization, the Spanish National Agency, the Bulgarian National Agency and the European Commission in Brussels eventually ignored my last emails. I just hope they can read the articles I am going to write here. Ban on using my Facebook, ban on travelling around Bulgaria, accusation of a fire,... The list is endless. That is why this article is just the first one.