Volunteer Summer 2023: Roma students bring medical science to residents of Roma neighborhoods

In the summer of 2023, the small projects of the students of the "Scholarship program for students of Roma origin studying health specialties" started earlier than usual, at the beginning of the month of June. The season of active volunteer activities was opened in three locations - Parvomai, Sliven and Saedinenie.

In Parvomay, our scholarship recipient Krasimira Krasimirova (6th year, Medicine at MU-Plovdiv) and her mentor, Prof. Ani Kevorkian, were welcomed at Krasimira’s former high school. A few days later in Sliven, Bozhidara Ivanova (2nd year, Nurse at MU-Varna, Sliven branch) and her mentor, Prof. Elena Zheleva, visited the local high school for textiles and clothing. Both visits were related to the desire of the students to talk with the young people about various aspects of the prevention, protection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Motivated by their own observations and impressions accumulated during their work experience in medical institutions, Krasimira and Bozhidara share a conscious responsibility for disease prevention through education and building a good health culture among teenagers.

These events were followed by the meeting of students Sara Angelova (3rd year, Assistant-Pharmacist, Medical College-Plovdiv), Kuncho Bogdanov (5th Year, Pharmacy at MU-Plovdiv) and their mentor, Master Pharmacist Bozhidarka Hadjieva with parents and children from the Roma community in the town of Saedinenie. The occasion was the survey that Sara and Kuncho conducted among representatives of their communities in relation to nutrition and the intake of probiotics with a focus on children's health and eating habits. Under the guidance of their mentor over the last year, the students collected and processed the data that Sara later presented, along with guidelines and advice for building healthy habits among children. In addition to their use for the purposes of the information event, the data also serves as the basis of a scientific publication that is in the process of preparation.

The interest from the community was extraordinary, especially from the youngest, who knew Sara and were excited about her path through university. A number of mothers shared their dreams and hopes for their children's future as university students.

Volunteering is the main reason behind the meetings of young people like Krasimira, Bozhidara, Sara and Kuncho with Roma children, young people and parents from different communities who are determined to pursue high educational achievements with the guidance and courage given by students on the path to graduation.

Formal or informal, volunteerism and role models have a transformative power for communities where the next generations dream and achieve even bolder goals than those before them. The Youth 2022[1] study conducted among students from vulnerable communities shows that youth from these communities exhibit a high degree of civic engagement and willingness to participate in volunteer activities, in fact, at levels significantly higher than those among adult citizens and comparable to those in the most developed European countries.

The activity of the participants in the current program since its inception in 2018 shows a high energy and desire for activism and volunteering, especially by using the knowledge and skills gained at the university in the health care field. The key to turning this desire into actions with a larger effect and reaching one class, one school, one neighborhood, are both the support and guidance of mentors, as well as the mutual motivation and exchange of experience and information among students.

We observe that students who receive recognition and the opportunity to share their experiences with others, show a sustained commitment and willingness to implement multiple initiatives over time. Students build leadership, communication and organizational skills, make contacts and gather impressions – skills and advantages that will make them better professionals and even brighter role models after university graduation.

[1] Conducted by Amalipe Center and Open Society Institute-Sofia