Fulbright scholar donates academic award to support TSA’s mission

Danielle Jacques, a Fulbright scholar who studied food culture in Bulgaria while also volunteering as an English teacher for TSA’s project “A Step Toward Success: Access to English for Youth in Roma Communities” has just donated an award received for her Master’s Thesis to support TSA’s work.  She is now a PhD student in Sociology at Brandeis University in the United States.

Growing up on a family dairy farm in rural Maine helped to foster Danielle’s interest in agriculture, especially in terms of the ability of families like hers to survive and keep their farms. Danielle’s main areas of interest include the disproportionate impact of environmental problems on vulnerable populations, the unequal distribution of basic needs like food and housing, and social movements that form in response to food, housing, and environmental injustice.

Danielle’s story in Bulgaria started when she visited in 2017 and discovered a deep fascination with the country and its food. This inspired her to do her Master’s Thesis research on the idea of “Bulgarian national cuisine.”  She returned to Bulgaria in 2021 as a Fulbright scholar to observe how Bulgarians decide which foods qualify as “Bulgarian”, how Bulgarians tell stories about food, and what this means for people who are not defined as Bulgarian.  Following her return to the United States, Danielle won the Distinguished Award for a Master’s Thesis from the Graduate Association for Food Studies (GAFS) for her thesis titled, “Rural Voices at the Margins: Place and Power in the Emerging Heritage Narratives of Bulgaria’s Food Tourism.”

This is when she decided to take her story to a different level by donating the award, saying, “the prize money wasn’t mine to keep. So many people in Bulgaria contributed to making my research possible. They told me stories, helped me navigate trains and buses, were kind to me when my language skills were lacking, and shared their food with me.  Living in a new place where you don’t know anyone is really hard, especially during a global pandemic!  Teaching English with TSA quickly became the highlight of my week.  The students always put a smile on my face, even when I was having a hard time.  This donation is my way of thanking them.”

During her time in Bulgaria, Danielle was based in Plovdiv.  She she joined a group of English teachers working with 100 Roma high school students participating in a project developed and implemented by TSA in five locations – Lom, Kyustendil, Lovech, Sliven, and Peshtera.  In addition to leading online classes, Danielle visited Peshtera to conduct a cooking class in English through which students learned about ingredients and steps in cooking.  Danielle brought homemade American cookies for the students.  “After the lesson,” Danielle recalls, “a student’s family brought me sladko ot tikva (pumpkin jam) and it was such a precious gift!”

When asked about her strongest impression of Bulgaria, Danielle doesn’t hesitate to share that it was her students.  She continues, “For example, at the camp in Blagoevgrad, a group of students from Peshtera – where I taught – presented on air pollution in their town. In Peshtera, the majority of the population is Roma or Turkish, and they explained that the factory there incinerates garbage to power its operations and releases polluted air.  This was really powerful for me, because I relate to it personally.  I’ve had a similar experience in my hometown, where local factories polluted the land and water with chemicals.  I was so impressed by how passionate they were about making Peshtera a safer place for their friends and families to live.”

Danielle admits that in many ways, the students became her teachers. She learned so much from their brilliance, curiosity, and deep care for their communities.  She shares her dream of returning to Bulgaria and continuing to conduct research, this time with a focus on environmental or housing issues.  Danielle hopes to be a conduit of information for her colleagues in the U.S. to learn about Bulgaria.  Her goal is to become a professor at a university, and she hopes to organize an exchange program for American and Bulgarian students to visit and learn from one another and to solve problems together.

Danielle’s donation reflects her belief that we can achieve a world where all individuals, including the Roma children with which she worked, can reach their fullest potential and where all families can have access to the resources they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

“I believe in a future where my students in Peshtera can breathe clean air. Change is slow, but it is possible if we all choose to build the world we want to live in. I strongly believe in all of the great work TSA does, and I’m grateful that I was able to be one small part of it.”

TSA deeply appreciates the time, energy, and resources contributed by our volunteers.  Should you wish to contribute, please visit the “Donate” section on our homepage.