17th Children’s Roma Festival “Open Heart” – a tale of tolerance, friendship and peace

We lived in fear of a pandemic for two years. For months we have lived (and continue) in the turmoil of a fratricidal war. A war that only opened new paths for division between people. New reasons to dispel hatred and destroy the lives of thousands of people in Europe. Lives of children.

It was at this time that we needed hope more than ever. And this ray of light gave us in the first week of June the 17th edition of the Open Heart Festival. Not just a festival, but a celebration of tolerance, kindness, culture and art, skillfully led by hosts Natalia Tsekova and Valeri Lekov. And most of all a children’s holiday. Nearly 1,500 students from about 80 schools across the country created a colorful tale of music, dance, art and friendship. Children from all over the country, from different ethnic groups, with different destinies, problems and successes sang and danced together, holding hands, proving that when hearts are open, there is no division.

On June 3 and 4, 2022. Marno Pole Park in Veliko Tarnovo was filled with children’s laughter and adorned with hundreds of sincere smiles, collected from the annual Roma Open Children’s Heart Festival, organized by the Amalipe Center for the 17th time. The event was opened by the wonderful Letisia Trifonova from Sеcondary school “Hristo Smirnenski” – Gulyantsi, who sang the Roma anthem “Gelem, Gelem” with all her heart. At the opening, the participants welcomed HE Martina Feeney – Ambassador of Ireland and Coordinator of the Ambassadorial Group on

Roma Affairs, Veliko Tarnovo Regional Governor Lyudmila Ilieva, Yana Malasheva, MES Representative, Penka Ignatova – Director of the Education, Youth Activities and Sports Directorate at Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, Director of Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities Lalo Kamenov, eng. Rozalia Licheva, Head of the Rеgional department of education Veliko Tarnovo and others. Congratulatory addresses were sent by the Presidency of the Republic of Bulgaria, Academician Nikolay Denkov – Minister of Education and Science, Ivan Krastev – Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Prof. Kostadin Angelov, MD.

While the festival program ran and presented the culture of three ethnic groups – Roma, Bulgarian and Turkish, the entire park was decorated by many studios. Something was happening in every corner. Many schools brought materials made in the activities of interest – jewelry, knitting, paintings, photos of activities that showed and gave to passers-by and spectators. In another part of the park, the masters from

Byala Slatina cooked delicious traditional fried snacks, each of which could be tasted for free. Against them was set up a “Lawyer’s Studio”, where legal advice was again provided free of charge by professional lawyers. A little further down on both days, a queue of children could be seen waiting impatiently for the faces and hands of our student volunteers to be painted. Visitors who continued to walk visited the “CEICSEM Corner”, which collected materials prepared by schools on projects funded by

the Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities. And reaching the stage, everyone could get acquainted with the Open Heart Festival from its very beginning in 2003 so far through the “Alley of Time”, which has collected photos from all editions held until 2019.

During the seventeenth edition of the event for the first time a mobile laboratory was established, created by students and professionals from the Secondary School of Agriculture “St. Georgi Pobedonosets ” in Suvorovo within the project“ Dream road – Danube Region for Better Access, Empowerment

and Development of the Roma ”, funded by the European Union under the Danube Program. The laboratory was created by an old bus, which they are renovating beyond recognition so that online lessons and seminars can be held there. In the back of the bus is the medical capsule, made again by the students with the help of Vladimir Ivanov and under the expert guidance of the principal eng. Mariana Velikova. The capsule can connect us to a doctor, psychologist and social worker. In the capsule we can check your weight, temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar and more. This happened during the Festival, as the bus was positioned at the entrance to the park and every passer-by could take advantage of the innovative activities that students from Suvorovo offer.

As always, there were side events. A round table on “Roma culture in education: a bridge between generations, between traditional and modern” was held on June 3 at 15:00 in parallel with the festival program at the Allegro Hotel, dedicated to the 20th anniversary of its establishment. of the Amalipe Center. It was attended by HE Martina Feeney, Ambassador of Ireland; deputies from the Committee on Education and Science at the 47th National Assembly – Antonia Dimitrova, Denitsa Sacheva and Kostadin Angelov; the Deputy Mayor of

the Municipality of Veliko Tarnovo Prof. Georgi Kamarashev; Lalo Kamenov – Director of CEICSEM; the regional governor of Veliko Tarnovo Lyudmila Ilieva, the head of the Head of the Rеgional department of education Veliko Tarnovo – Rozalia Licheva; representatives of non-governmental organizations, school principals, lawyers and educational mediators. The aim of the meeting was to present various forms of intercultural education, in which students and adults, educational and cultural institutions participate; to raise the question of how Roma culture to meet the modern challenges of the digital environment and social networks in which young people live, to adapt and develop without losing its uniqueness, specificity and color, etc. The round table is implemented within the project “DREAM – an approach to participation in the educational environment to overcome discrimination against young Roma in the new media”, funded by the Erasmus + KA2 program. Roma actress Natalia Tsekova shared the path to success and the problems she has faced and continues to face. Experts working in the field shared their impressions and recommendations to the deputies, who could help to change the conditions for development for Roma children.

The big absentee from the Festival, and in particular the Round Table, was the Ministry of Culture this year as well. Despite the invitations, until the last moment the MC could not appoint a representative to participate in the largest and only Roma cultural event of its kind in Bulgaria. It was not clear whether the lack of participation was related to the importance of Roma culture or due to the awkward day of the Festival (traditionally – Friday afternoon). However, this did not stop nearly 1,500 children from having their own happy Friday!

With the end of the round table, the first day of the festival program in Marno Pole Park ended. The participants lined up for the next colorful procession at the beginning of the main street “Vasil Levski” and continued, singing and showing their beautiful costumes, to walk calling for peace and

tolerance around the world. The procession ended with a magnificent dance in front of the building of the Municipality of Veliko Tarnovo.

The program continued in the Rafael Mihailov Exhibition Halls, where the exhibition “CYCLE OF TIME” was opened with photographs by Rosen Iliev, Emil Danailov and Raycho Chaprazov, collected by Hristo Nikolov, telling about Roma everyday life, life and culture from the early 20th century to this day. To these we must add the incredible photographs of Radostina Petkova. Radostina Petkova is a teacher of fine arts at the primary school “St. St. Cyril and Methodius ”in the village of Cherna gora,

municipality Bratya Daskalovi. Thanks to Radostina and the teaching staff of the school, the small Stara Zagora village opens new horizons for children for whom there are no other alternatives. And in “this city, old-fashioned and boring, in which nothing but marriage could happen” Radostina manages to make girls dream by discovering new worlds through artistic photography. She manages in a unique way to incorporate the motives of Frieda Kalo into the ordinary rural Roma girl reality, for the girls flowers, for the rainbow, the books and everything that can happen to you if you have an education. Radostina Petkova’s photographs show the power of feelings and words and their influence on a person.

Theatrical performance was presented there again “The Taste of Life”, a one- man show by actress Natalia Tsekova. The authors of the theatrical production are Zdrava Kamenova and Svetlio Tomov, the music is by Pavel Terziiski, and the scenography and costumes are taken care of by the actress Stefania Koleva. The great show did not leave any of the spectators indifferent and long after its end the audience greeted the actress, and students posed with her slightly worried and excited, sharing that she is their example and inspiration.

The festival of tolerance continued on the festival Saturday – the participating students smiled, had fun and even cried with their performances, proving that “Together we can”, as shared by students from Secondary school “Angel Karaliychev ” from Strazhitsa. Their dance, dedicated to a classmate who moves with the help of a wheelchair, excited everyone and it is no coincidence that they received a diploma for “School – Ambassador” of good. One of the participants in the dance – the ballerina Siana Deyanova, received an individual special award from Lalo Kamenov. He also presented a special award to Leticia Trifonova from Gulyantsi for her wonderful solo performance.

Georgi S. Rakovski Primary School from the village of Golyamo Novo and Neofit Rilski Primary School in Samokov were also awarded as

“School Ambassador” for their presentations.

Vasil Levski Primary School in the village of Karadjovo received an award for instrumental performance. The same was presented to Secondary school “Georgi S. Rakovski” Kotel.

Secondary school “Neofit Rilski” in Tvarditsa excelled in the category of the most artistic group.

Secondary school “Vladimir Komarov” in Veliko Tarnovo were awarded with a special diploma for the youngest and artistic participants.

In the category of the most numerous and artistic group, a diploma was awarded to Secondary school “St. Kliment Ohridski ”in the town of Suhnidol.

In the category for the best costumes were awarded the Vocational School of Fashion Design – Veliko Tarnovo.

Of course, we did not forget to highlight the most attractive studios. The “Best Atelier” award was given to the participants from “St. Paisii Hilendarski” Primary School, Sotirya and “St. St. Cyril and Methodius ”, Staro Oryahovo.

For its attractive performance it was awarded as “Innovative School” Vocational school ” St. George the Victorious”, Suvorovo.

The “Award of the Mayor of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality Dr. Daniel Panov” was presented for overall performance

during the festival days and for active work during the school year of Vocational school of textiles and clothing “Dobri Zhelyazkov” Sliven.

And the award for “Debut” was presented to the students of Hristo Botev Primary School in Alfatar , who have been part of the network of Amalipe Center for only a few months, but on the other hand are extremely active and their performances stand out at all events. in which they participate.

The 17th Open Heart Festival on Saturday afternoon ended with an unplanned joint dance of all participants. The children reminded us that we are happier when we are together. The students proved to us again that children are much wiser than adults and we should take an example from them, living with the motto: “Together we can do more!”

We thank all the students, leaders and principals for their wonderful participation in the Festival!

Thank you to all the guests!

Thanks to all the volunteers!

We thank the Municipality of Veliko Tarnovo, Prosveta Publishing House and thе Trust for social achievement Foundation for their support.

And most of all, thank you kids! You can!

You can see the whole emotion of the Festival in our art gallery here.