The Home of Europe in Sofia Provides a Platform for Youth Ideas for a Better Future in Bulgaria

Over the past four days, the Amalipe Center brought together nearly 80 young people from across the country. These young individuals are proactive, opinionated, and eager to be heard. They don’t wait for someone else to change their lives; they take matters into their own hands. They want others to do the same, as long as they follow the rules. They are active, they have opinions, and they want their voices to be heard too, all in the hope of staying in Bulgaria. They don’t hesitate to defend their positions and argue persuasively in front of those whose opinions they aim to change.

All of these young people come from small towns and villages from all over the country, places that rarely make it into the spotlight. However, during the Leadership Academy for Civic Participatiom and Tolerance organized by the Amalipe Center in Lozen and the Youth Conference held on October 3rd at the Home of Europe, they confidently presented and defended their positions. The event featured participation from Andrea Brouillette-Rodriguez, Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria, Neli Koleva and Rosen Bogomilov, advisors in the political office of the Minister of Education Professor Galin Tsokov, Jacqueline Thomas and Evgeni Todorov from the U.S. Embassy, and Ognyan Isaev from the Trust for Social Achievement.

The Youth Conference, in a non-traditional approach, encouraged participants to share their experiences from the past year, during which they organized peer trainings, campaigns, and activities on how to be civically active, tolerant, and agents of change within their school, in small communities, and in the country as a whole. These activities supported the findings of the report “Civic Engagement and Civic Values among Children and Youth from Vulnerable School Communities,” presented by Boyan Zahariev from the Open Society Institute during the conference. Using the “World Café” method, the young people had the opportunity to ask questions of the guests about their paths to their current positions, the challenges they faced, the skills required, and discuss their views on policies in Bulgaria.

In her words, Her Excellency Andrea Brouillette-Rodriguez congratulated the participants for their courage: “Your voice matters – now more than ever. Thank you for your courage. With your informed participation, I am confident that Bulgaria will become an even stronger leader in the region, in Europe, and in the community of democracies, and an even stronger partner and friend to the United States. …

This youth academy is particularly innovative because it doesn’t teach young students what to think, it doesn’t tell them what to do or dictate who they should be. Instead, it teaches them how to engage their democratic leaders to move their issues forward.”

“Every time we lose our way, it’s worth spending time with young people. In those moments, we remember how smart, alert, and honest they are. And how much they deserve our support,” shared Neli Koleva, an advisor to Professor Tsokov. On his part, Ognyan Isaev, Program Director at the Trust for Social Achievement, emphasized, “This afternoon was one of the most meaningful for me – perhaps in the past year. On one hand, the opportunity to see if what concerns me personally and professionally also concerns them. And on the other hand, trying to respond to quite clear and categorical questions that they pose about the development of Bulgaria and their place in it. I must admit, it was a pleasure, an inspiration, and an honor.”

At the end of the discussion, Chono Ivanov from Sredets town summed up the main message of the entire event clearly, briefly, and precisely: “We often ask whether things will change, but in fact, we are the ones who need to change them. When we unite, nothing is impossible!”

After the event, the young people shared that they were extremely inspired by their conversations with Deputy Ambassador Rodriguez, representatives of the Ministry of Education – Neli Koleva and Rosen Bogomilov, as well as Ognyan Isaev. The students were impressed by the sincere answers and open behavior of the guests, who shared their personal success stories and motivated young leaders to be active, continuously develop, and overcome challenges on their path.

The Youth Conference took place at the end of the first phase of the project “Intercultural Academy for Civic Participation and Tolerance,” implemented by the Amalipe Center with the support of the U.S. Department of State through the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. Its goal was to bring together all active participants to share experiences and achievements and to get to know each other. It contributed to the formation of an informal, active democratic youth community. The project targeted a wide range of high school students, especially those with limited access to services, from vulnerable Roma communities, underdeveloped regions, and more. Its aim was to significantly increase their knowledge, interest, and motivation to be active in various forms of civic engagement. From October 2022 to June 2023, they participated in a series of interactive peer training sessions (including the Leadership Academy), formal education activities, campaigns/simulations, and youth pre-election debates.

We express our gratitude to the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria, which hosted and supported the event at the House of Europe.

The “Intercultural Academy for Civic Participation and Tolerance” project is implemented by the Amalipe Center, the Open Society Foundation – Sofia, the Forum “Citizen Participation” and eleven schools in at least 50 municipalities in disadvantaged regions and communities outside Sofia. The project covers a wide range of high school students, especially those who receive insufficient access to services, from vulnerable Roma communities, from underdeveloped regions, etc., in order to significantly increase their knowledge, interest and motivation to be active in various forms of civic participation. They are involved in a range of interactive peer-to-peer training (including the Leadership Academy), formal education activities and campaigns/simulations. A range of online and other tools are being developed and used within the project. The project is implemented with the support of the U.S. State Department through the US Embassy in Bulgaria.

The project “Intercultural Academy for Civic Participation and Tolerance” is implemented with the support of the U.S. State Department through the US Embassy in Bulgaria.