SOS Children's Villages started working with children, young people and families in Dren in the spring of 1995. Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in Europe: its population has suffered due to the social and economic changes that the country has experienced in the past two decades. Our organisation is very active in the local community, providing both temporary and permanent support to families in the neighbourhood.
What we do in Dren
SOS Children's Villages provides different kinds of assistance to the local population: support to vulnerable families, loving homes for children without parental care, and youth programmes.
The family strengthening programme provides support to families who are at risk of abandoning their children. In order to reach vulnerable families and elderly people in the neighbourhood, a community outreach programme has been initiated. The family strengthening programme is run in collaboration with the local authorities; we make sure that children have access to essential educational, nutritional and health services. We also help mothers and fathers by giving them advice on parenting and how to generate income. Families in the area are likewise provided with counselling and psychological support at the SOS Social Centre.
Children who can no longer live with their families can find a loving home in one of the thirteen SOS families. They can spend time together in the playground and the sport complex. In addition there is a community centre where numerous activities are organised.
In 2001, a youth programme was established. Young people who are ready to leave their SOS families move into assisted-living flats in Sofia while attending further education or training. With the support of qualified staff, they learn to shoulder responsibilities and make their own decisions. They are encouraged to develop team spirit and build up contacts with relatives and friends, as well as with the relevant authorities and potential employers. The aim is to prepare them for a successful life as independent adults.
Many families cannot stay together
The village of Dren has approximately 2,000 inhabitants and is situated about 45 kilometres south-west of Sofia, in a densely wooded part of the country. The SOS Children's Village is built on a hill above the town, and is surrounded by forests and vegetable gardens.
In Dren there is a public primary school, a college for folk art and also one for tailoring. The nearby provincial capital of Radomir offers good secondary schooling.
Given the economic hardships of the country, a significant number of people have moved abroad in search of work. In some cases the children are left behind and do not receive enough support from their extended families. Children who grow up in single-parent families and in households with many siblings are particularly likely to end up living in poverty.
The need for family-based care persists
The economic conditions for families and children were bad during the transition period after Bulgaria became independent from the Soviet Union. In fact they were so critical that SOS Children's Villages initiated emergency aid programmes on various occasions. We distributed food, medical supplies, baby clothing and winter clothing. In response to these economic and social hardships, our organisation also launched a family strengthening programme to support children at risk of losing parental care and to encourage families to stay together. The more permanent programmes, such as the provision of care and support for families, youths and children, have continued to improve life for many in the local area. Our organisation continues to play an active role in advocacy work, working alongside the government and other agencies, to improve the situation of children in Bulgaria.