#Back2School in the district of Varna - start of the challenge
The joint initiative of UNICEF, Astra Forum Foundation, Access to Rights Foundation (ARF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – #Back2School was launched in August. The campaign targets Ukrainian refugee families and involves providing reliable and detailed information on the administrative and health requirements for enrolling a child in the education system in Bulgaria. Organizing and conducting this large-scale outreach was a real challenge for all of us, not only because of the tight deadlines, but also because of the high goals we set ourselves. Thanks to all the partners with whom we embarked on this adventure for their enthusiasm, professionalism and team spirit.
The idea was implemented by holding information meetings in locations across the country where the largest number of Ukrainian children are registered – on the Black Sea coast. The cause took us initially to the district of Varna, to the Golden Sands resort, where a total of six sessions were held over three consecutive days. All meetings took place in the second week of August. On 16.08 we visited the hotels Magnolia 1 and Magnolia 2. On 17.08 we were at Berlin Green Park Hotel and our last meeting with Ukrainian refugees in the Golden Sands resort was on 18.08 at Dana Palace Hotel. The people who attended these discussions, mostly mothers who are willing to find a place for their children in Bulgaria, took a keen interest in the topic. They wrote down most of the information they learned, they took an interest in the details and asked a lot of questions.
Before the assembled parents we discussed important details concerning enrolling in nursery, kindergarten and school in the upcoming school year.
In this mission, we had the support of the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) of the Republic of Bulgaria which were represented by experts from the Regional Health Inspectorate (RHI) and the Regional Directorate of Education (RDE), Varna Region.
In the hot summer days we reminded that autumn is coming soon and it is important for parents to think about how to continue their children’s education. Regardless of the situation in Ukraine, they need to have a chance to enjoy a normal childhood and affordable education. This will enable parents to start working and gradually integrate into Bulgarian society.
Astra Forum Foundation’s participation in the campaign is tied to a very important cause for us, namely – providing a safe environment in childcare and educational institutions by maintaining high vaccination coverage in the country.
Dr. Anna Baeva, a doctor from the Regional Health Inspectorate in Varna, who was present at all the sessions, explained in detail the health requirements for enrolling a child in nursery, kindergarten and school. She briefly talked about the mandatory vaccines administered in the country, noting the differences between the immunization calendars of Bulgaria and Ukraine, which can be accessed here (link to the table comparing the two calendars). One significant difference is that there is no mandatory pneumococcal vaccination in Ukraine. A live vaccine is administered against polio, whereas in Bulgaria a killed vaccine is administered.
There are minor differences in the timing of individual vaccines. The procedures for proving the vaccination status of Ukrainian children were explained. Depending on the vaccines administered so far, an individual immunization plan is to be prepared for each child, according to which the remaining immunizations will be administered. Such an immunization plan can be prepared by the child’s personal physician in Bulgaria (if available) or by the doctor at the relevant Regional Health Inspectorate.
All guests received a brochure (link to the brochure) disclosing the necessary health information so that they can easily and quickly retrieve the information when they need it or share it with other parents.
The time for questions and free discussion was spent in lively conversation, there were countless questions for the experts from the Regional Health Inspectorate and the Regional Directorate of Education. Regarding health issues, Ukrainian parents were mostly interested in the procedure of finding a personal physician, as well as the system of health insurance in Bulgaria. They also had questions about the immunization calendar, as well as the possibility of receiving the vaccine against COVID-19.
At the suggestion of the Ministry of Health, a sign-up list was circulated for parents who wished to start the mandatory vaccination procedure as soon as possible. Depending on the number of people who want to receive the vaccine, there will be a possibility to organize mobile vaccination sites in the localities to make it as convenient as possible for the mothers, most of whom have several children.
The three days in Varna district came and passed and were filled with a lot of work, emotions and meetings with wonderful people. Mostly children are staying at the hotels where the Ukrainian refugees are accommodated. They need the support of all of us in order to stay here and to be safe. Education and integration are an important step so that Bulgaria would become their new home.
* Astra Forum Foundation would like to thank Dr. Anna Baeva from the Regional Health Institute Varna for her professionalism, good communication and assistance. Special thanks to Daria Lugovska for her flawless translation from Bulgarian into Ukrainian