Vasilitsa 2023 – a bridge between children, institutions and traditions

For another year, hundreds of students, educational mediators and teachers from nearly 20 schools across the country travelled to Sofia to deliver their messages on the occasion of the Roma holiday Vasilitsa. They were welcomed by the Ambassadors of the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, USA, Poland, Germany, Spain, India, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, by the Deputy Prime Ministers Pekanov and Lazarov, by the Ministers of Education, Culture, Health, Deputy Speakers of the National Assembly Nikola Minchev and Kristian Vigenin, MPs, the Ombudsman and others. The events were organized by Amalipe Center as part of the campaign “Rebuilding the bridges between us”.

The schools recreated for the hosts the richness of the Vasilitsa holiday, celebrated by many Roma as the beginning of the new year, its rituals and symbols, as well as the messages behind them. Namely:

  • The Roma in Bulgaria are an ethnic community with their own culture and tradition, which are part of the national cultural treasury,
  • today’s Roma youth value education and at the same time their traditions and identity;
  • culture and intercultural education are bridges that bring all ethnic groups together and make children friends.

They recreated the legends behind the Vasilitsa celebration and especially the legend of the bridge, wishing the hosts to build bridges between countries and citizens. In addition, they made specific requests to national institutions for better policies to support the efforts of schools, teachers and educational mediators, reiterating some of the most pressing issues:

  • The position of educational mediator has not yet achieved sustainability: mediators are appointed from project to project, for 6 months or a year; they are still on minimum salaries, despite the contribution that everyone acknowledges them for the retention and motivation of children from vulnerable communities; there are schools where the retention of mediators depends not on the outcome and efficiency of their work, but on whether a place should be found for “one of their own”.
  • Reform of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues is still a wish that has not gone beyond the St. Vasil’s Day calls.
  • The state aid regime, which inexplicably continues to be applied to the work of NGOs with vulnerable groups, deprives working organisations of opportunities for real participation
  • The need for the Ministry of Culture to support the work of Roma community centres and centres working to preserve Roma culture and identity.

12 January 2023

The celebrations started on January 12. The initiative got off to a flying start with the participation of students from the Vocational School of Agricultural Mechanization in the town of Septemvri in The Ministry of Culture. Prof. Velislav Minekov received students from 8th to 12th grade from the Vocational School of Agricultural Mechanization. They were accompanied by their teachers Pavlinka Tabakova, Kostadinka Mihova, Marina Kadijska, as well as assistant director Fanka Baylova and Silvia Stancheva, regional pedagogical coordinator of the Center “Amalipe”. The children wished the Minister and the team of the Ministry of Culture health, well-being and prosperity in the New Year. They shared their love for the folklore of different ethnic groups, their dreams and hopes, and presented two festive dances. The costumes in which the students were dressed, especially those of the two Kukeri, were very colourful. Silvia Stancheva stressed the need for the MC to promote Roma culture and folklore as part of the national cultural treasury, to support Roma community centres, festivals and other events related to Roma culture: for example, every year in Veliko Tarnovo we organise a Roma children’s festival “Open Heart” with the participation of over 1000 children from all over the country. “You moved me very much, you made me cry. In turn, I also wish you to be very healthy, what you have shown us today is magic!”, Minister Minekov addressed the children and their teachers. He joked that he felt really happy in a ministry full of officials like him, as he had not had such a nice colourful visit before.

The program continued with the visits of the students from the Primary school “St. Cyril and Methodius”, Ihtiman. The students visited the

Embassy of the Netherlands and the Trust for Social Achievement. They sang songs wishing health and happiness for the new year to Ambassador Simon van der Burg and the Embassy staff. They all thanked the children warmly and wished them success in school and a happy new year 2023. The students also congratulated the TSA team on the occasion and wished them a happy, healthy and fruitful year. The coordinator of Center Amalipe – Zhanna Vassileva thanked the foundation for the overall support for the development of the network “Every student will be a winner”, which unites nearly 300 schools and for the support for the network of educational mediators. She stressed that the support of TSA to Amalipe Center is invaluable because thousands of children from the Roma community manage to complete their education. Ognyan Isaev, the project coordinator from TSA, also expressed hope for the fruitful cooperation in the future and thanked the students for their wishes.

13 January 2023

On January 13th, coordinator Silvia Stancheva accompanied students from Secondary school “Hristo Smirnenski”, Koynare and “Otets Paisii”

Primary School, village of Lozenets, municipality Dobrich at the Embassy of Great Britain. After the very warm welcome, the students presented a reenactment of the legend of Bango Vasil and the restoration of the bridges between the people. Amidst music, dancing, survakane (traditional greetings ritual), gifts and treats, the smiles grew bigger, the mood more festive, the motivation to work and learn greater. After greeting the children, a lively discussion was held in which the children showed curiosity to learn more about the UK and what it is like to be a diplomat, and the Ambassador found out more about the challenges and opportunities for young people in Bulgaria.

The UNICEF team welcomed on the occasion of Vasilitsa pupils from “Otets Paisii” Primary School, village of Ravna Gora. The children told what is the custom and the legend of Bango Vasil, congratulated the holiday and performed the survakane ritual of those present the attendees. The coordinator of Amalipe Center thanked the organization for the long-standing cooperation in support of children and for the involvement in the initiatives of Amalipe Center. The UNICEF management promised that they will participate in the initiative “Ambassador of Tolerance”, which Amalipe will organize on 8 April, as a reward for the winners of the competition “My opinion matters”.

Together with the students from Secondary school “St. Kliment Ohridski” Simeonovgrad we were

also guests of the Embassy of the Republic of France. H.E. Mr. Joël Meyer received the children at the French Institute in Bulgaria. He received the students very warmly, who greeted him and his team, who in turn made them aware of some of the French customs and gave them some of the traditional delicious French macarons.

Little survakars from the United school “Neofit Rilski” in the town of Samokov visited the Representation of the European Commission in Bulgaria on the eve of the Roma New Year. The hosts thanked the children for the wonderful emotions they created by presenting the customs associated with Bango Vasil. As a finale, the students wished everyone health, prosperity and success.

At the US Embassy H.E. Mrs. Hero Mustafa, Ambassador of the USA to Bulgaria, welcomed the students from the Professional High School of Chemical and Food Technologies from Pazardzhik. At the beginning of the event, Her Excellency Mrs. Hero Mustafa welcomed everyone

present, thanking the Amalipe Center for the great work it continues to do in Bulgaria. Atanas Atanasov, representative of the Amalipe Center, thanked Ambassador Mustafa that for another year the tradition of the US Embassy in Bulgaria hosting an event dedicated to the Roma New Year was observed. “There is something symbolic in the fact that for the Roma, the new year begins with the restoration of a bridge. We all need to restore and build bridges to others. I hope that we will continue to cooperate in the new year, and what better continuation than to be your guests for another year with the wonderful children and their wonderful program,” said Atanas Atanasov. “We also thank you for the support you provide us within the framework of the “Intercultural Academy for Civic Participation and Tolerance” project, which is financed through the US Embassy in Bulgaria,” Atanas added. The extremely talented children from HS CFT Pazardzhik showed all the guests the New Year’s tradition related to Vasilitsa by presenting a short thematic skit. Students sang songs and danced to welcome the coming of the new year. And at the end of their program, they wished health and success to all present.

On the occasion of the Roma New Year, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Labor and Social Policy Lazar Lazarov received the

survakars from the Primary School “Captain Petar Parmakov” in the village of Gradec, Kotel municipality. The students presented the rituals related to Bango Vasil, performed the survakanе ritual to the political cabinet of the MLSP, and the 6-year-old Vasko, who had a name day, created a dance battle in traditional Bulgarian folk dances with the Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister also congratulated the team of the “Amalipe” center for the long-term work to prevent children of Roma origin from dropping out of school. “Thanks to your efforts, more and more of them manage to complete their education, which gives them a chance to find a job and have a full-fledged work experience,” he added. Teodora Krumova from the Amalipe Center once again raised one of the most pressing issues that are in the portfolio of the Minister and Deputy Prime Minister: the problem with the state aid regime, which continues to apply even to organizations working with vulnerable groups, as well as the issue of the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, which continues to need major reform. After the official program, the students from the village of Gradec greeted, according to the Roma tradition, the social partners, who at that time were holding their regular meeting with the MLSP team. They saw in the symbolism of Vasilica a good omen that would help ministry teams, trade unions and employers’ organizations more easily build the bridges between each other, which they all need.

On the occasion of celebrating the Roma New Year, the Embassy of Poland was visited by students from the

United School “St. Cyril and Methodius”, Devene, together with Angela Miceva – senior primary teacher and Iskra Velcheva – educational mediator. The welcome from the Embassy team was extremely warm and motivating. Once again, they showed support for the Roma community. The Embassy of Poland has confirmed that it will attend the Open Heart Festival, which will take place in Veliko Tarnovo on (June 9-10).

“Bakhtalo tumaro Vasili, Bakhtalo Nevo Bresh!” – wished the students from Secondary school “Vasil Levski” Yablanitsa to the representatives of the Embassy of Germany in Bulgaria. The visit began

with a presentation of the activities of the Amalipe Center. Ms. Yonka Danova, who accompanied the group, also emphasized the important role played by the non-governmental organization in the introduction of intercultural education, in popularizing the lifestyle and traditions of the ethnic groups in Bulgaria, as well as in the advocacy activities for the integration of the Roma before state institutions and representatives on a diplomatic mission. The program of the group from the city of Yablanitsa included a dance performance, which the students performed in the background of a popular Roma song. For its performance, they were prepared by the choreographer Radoslav Tsanov – a long-time head of dance formations. The symbolism of the dogwood branch and its colorful decoration of wool and dried fruits aroused great interest in the embassies’ team. The students presented gingerbread boxes made by the skillful hands of the cookery chefs, cards with archival photos from participation in the Amalipe Center’s campaign “Vasilitsa in Institutions”, wooden dolls with clothing typical of Roma women in the area. Eng. Ivanka Stoyanova – deputy director and Dobri Dobrev – pedagogical advisor, who accompanied a representative group, also handed out official invitations for the upcoming school jubilee, which will be officially celebrated on May 24. Those present thanked the children, their teachers and the organizers from Amalipe Center for the visit and wished all those celebrating a successful and healthy new year. Yonka Danova from the Amalipe Center thanked the Embassy for the long-term support, especially the ambassador, whose mandate has just expired H.E. Christoph Eichhorn, who was awarded by the Amalipe Center with the honorary plaque “Ambassador of Roma Integration”.

The students from “Nikola Vaptsarov” Elementary School – Selanovtsi village did not miss to congratulate this year Executive Agency Program for Education, accompanied by the mediator from the town of Shumen, Angel Angelov. He thanked the Agency that in the previous years

the Operational Program “Science and Education for Intelligent Growth” (OP SEIG) financed the appointment of over 900 educational mediators and social workers in schools. He recommended that the new system project, which will be launched in the coming weeks, complement the National Program for the support of educational mediators, so that the payment of field workers is increased. Another recommendation was related to the abolition of the “state aid” regime for operations aimed at educational integration: this is an important prerequisite for the real participation of the civil sector. The employees of the Agency recognized Angel as one of the persons of the “Support for Success” program, whose work was presented on BNT within the OP SEIG media campaign.

The visit of the students from Selanovtsi to Sofia continued with their visit to the Center for Educational Integration of Children and Students from Ethnic Minorities (CEICSEM). Over the years, CEICSEM established itself as the institution that purposefully finances projects of schools and kindergartens for the introduction of intercultural education, work with parents, desegregation. The teachers gave thanks that, even in the last working days of 2022, the Center invited and funded the long-awaited annual project competition. They wanted the budget of CEICSEM to be increased in order to support more projects of schools and kindergartens.

On the eve of the most revered holiday by the Roma – Vasilitsa, the Central Office of the Bulgarian Teachers’ Union (BTU) welcomed survakars from the “Elisaveta Bagryana” Vocational High School for Clothing, town of Byala Slatina, Vratsa region with director Galina Yahova. Wishes for

health, prosperity and good luck were directed by the children to Doctor of Economic Sciences Yanka Takeva, chairman of the BTU and her team. Mrs. Takeva personally greeted each child and presented gifts to the teams. In the darkness and cold of winter, folk traditions have always been a bright ray in people’s homes and hearts. The messages of the Romani rites and rituals touched hosts and guests at the BTU Headquarters, and the talent, smiles and positive energy of the students from the visiting schools turned the day into an emotional and inspiring celebration of hope for prosperous and happy days. Neli Nikolova, representative of the Amalipe Center, thanked Mrs. Takeva for the warm reception and for accepting students from the “Every student will be a winner” Network for another year on the occasion of Vasilitsa. “Elisaveta Bagryana” Vocational Clothing High School, Byala Slatina, is one of the leading schools in the Network and a model for implementing intercultural education. “We perceive your attention as sympathy not only with the work of the school, of the Center for InterEthnic Dialogue and Tolerance “Amalipe”, but also as support for the overall process of Roma integration! Thank you for the overall support that you have been providing to the initiatives of the Amalipe Center for years and for the support for the establishment of the profession of “educational mediator”.

The celebrations of Vasilitsa at the Ministry of Education and Science brought together two events in one – the “Educational Mediator of the Year 2022” ceremony and the visit of students from “Vasil Levski” Elementary School – Karadjovo village. The hosts were the Minister of

Education and Science Prof. Dr. Sasho Penov, Deputy Minister Dr. M. Gaidarova, directors of directorates and experts in the MES, etc. The event was also honored by Lalo Kamenov, executive director of CEICSEM, as well as by Sara Perin and Ognyan Isaev from TSA. In his welcoming words, Deyan Kolev (Chairman of the Amalipe Center) thanked the MES for the overall support for the schools from the “Every student will be a winner” network, as well as for the activities of the educational mediators. He recalled that exactly a year earlier, at the 2021 Educational Mediator ceremony, the Amalipe Center and the Network of Educational Mediators proposed the creation of a national program to take over the salary of the Educational Mediator after the end of the Support for Success project. The then Minister of Education Academician Denkov accepted the idea and the National Program was announced for the period July – December 2022. Kolev thanked Minister Penov for the fact that the National Program was extended in December by another six months, which preserved the activity of nearly 900 educational mediators and the support they provide to nearly 50,000 children. “Now it is important that the NP for support of educational mediators be included in the new NPs, and through the new project of the MES (which will continue the project “Support for success”) to ensure an increase in the salary of educational mediators. Pupils from the school in the village of Karadjovo presented the ethno-cultural Roma holiday “Vasilitsa”. The school received the badge of honor of the Ministry of Education and Science for its contribution to the education of students from different ethnic groups.

An extremely warm welcome, refreshments, gifts, legends, Romani dances and people – all this happened at the Embassy of Spain with students

from “Otets Paisiy” Secondary School in the village of Medkovets on the occasion of Vasilitsa. Mrs. Hayone Cereijo, Deputy Head of Mission and Acting Head of the Spanish Embassy was extremely happy with the presented program. Silvia Stancheva, the regional pedagogical coordinator, was also introduced to the work of the Amalipe Center regarding women’s rights, the work in the direction of early marriage prevention and the active inclusion of Roma women and girls in social life and the guarantee of their rights. Silvia Stancheva presented the international initiative RTransform, within which the Amalipe Center, together with a number of organizations from Spain, Hungary, Great Britain, etc., strives to develop the potential of Roma women in places and their mobilization.

His Excellency Sanjay Rana – Ambassador of India to Bulgaria welcomed students from

the Professional High School of Chemical and Food Technologies from Pazardzhik on the occasion of the holiday. “Before we give them the floor, I would like to inform you that today, January 13th, the campaign “Ambassador of Tolerance” is launched, in which students from all over the country will be able to compete in different categories. The competition itself is called “My opinion matters”, and the winners will be announced in the month of April and will be able to be “Ambassadors of tolerance” – announced the initiative Atanas Atanasov from the Amalipe Center. The children from Pazardjik congratulated the Ambassador and his team. For his part, H.E. Sanjay Rana introduced the Pravasi Bartiya Divas celebration to all present by showing a special presentation for the purpose. The ambassador also shared that he would be happy to accept children for April 8 as well.

The Ambassador of Ireland, Ms. Martina Feeney, together with her Swiss colleague, Ambassador Raimund Fuhrer, welcomed Roma children from Hristo Botev Secondary School – Gabare village to the residence of Ireland. The

program of the group from the village of Gabare included a reenactment of a dinner in a Roma house – roast goose, ritual bread and fortune pie. The culinary products were prepared by students from the professional classes, for which Eng. Mario Nikolov – director of the school proudly shared the successes of national and regional forums on professions. The children also performed “Vasilitsa” and a dance recreating the beauty of the Romani tradition. Yonka Danova from the Amalipe Center thanked for the support that the Ambassadorial Group on Roma Affairs has always provided on the topics of Roma integration and expressed hope that it will continue to actively monitor the processes related to the most pressing problems.

Students from the first to the fourth grade of the “Hristo Botev” United School in the city of Stamboliyski performed a greeting to the National Assembly on the occasion of the

“Vasilitsa” holiday. The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Nikola Minchev, congratulated the guests who, after the COVID-19 pandemic, again visited the legislative institution on the initiative of the Amalipe Center for Inter-Ethnic Dialogue and Tolerance.

The students presented a musical performance and a folk dance, thus sending a message to the people’s representatives about health and well-being. Nikola Minchev wished the little guests to be healthy, happy and much loved. He expressed his hope that their visit to the National Assembly will leave them with a good memory. The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament emphasized that the legislative institution is called to work for the benefit of society and this is a task that all representatives of the people must follow. The Amalipe Center thanks the people’s representatives for once again showing their empathy and support for the integration of the Roma community in Bulgaria.

Elisaveta Belobradova, MP and member of the Commission for Education and Science, said: “The students performed the survakane ritual to us for

health and well-being. I hope this will bring personal well-being not only to the participants in the hall, but also to the inter-institutional reforms that we have the good will to do this year.”

The students were also received by the deputies from the Committee on Education and Science Krasimir Valchev, Denitsa Sacheva, Dr. Kostadin Angelov, Hristina Georgieva, Hristo Simeonov. Krasimir Valchev was extremely impressed by the work of the art teacher at the Primary School “Saints Cyril and Methodius” in the village of Cherna Gora, Radostina Petkova, and expressed a desire to visit the school and learn more about their work.

Little Survakar girls – students I – IV grades from the “Georgi Stoykov Rakovski” Primary School in

the village of Tarnak, visited the institution of the Ombudsman and called for health, success and prosperity on the eve of the Roma New Year. The children told Diana Kovacheva several legends about the origin of the Vasilitsa holiday, in which Bango Vasil appears as an advocate and protector of the Roma. They recalled the relationship and the attitude of tolerance that people should build among themselves, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, language or culture. The Ombudsman gave her little guests delicious treats and wished them to grow up healthy and smiling, to be very studious, because education in the future will make them independent young people. Zhanna Vasileva – regional coordinator of the Amalipe Center, thanked the ombudsman for the fact that she and the team always respond to the invitations of the Amalipe Center to participate in the initiatives. The Ombudsman, for his part, assured that they will continue to cooperate with the Amalipe Center for the benefit of the children.

On 13.01.2023, on the Vasilitsa holiday, together with the students from the “Hristo Smirnenski”!  Secondary School in town Gulyantsi, we also visited the World Bank, where the children showed their talents – songs, poems and singing. The hosts were fascinated by the magic and beauty of Romani traditions. They thanked Center Amalipe for the good initiative and nice tradition!

The Embassy of Austria in Bulgaria once again welcomed dear guests – students from Secondary School “Vasil Levski” in Yablanitsa, who

presented them with the traditions related to the Romani New Year and addressed the embassy team with wishes for health and happiness. The hosts thanked for the presented program, with which they congratulated the attendees and for the beautiful (and delicious!) gifts they presented – made by themselves. The visit to the embassy ended with an informal conversation in which the students had the opportunity to share about their small and big dreams, for which they received a wish for fulfillment from Her Excellency. Andrea Ikic-Böhm – Ambassador of Austria in Bulgaria.

The Roma anthem “Djelem, djelem” and the song Vasilitsa were also played in the Embassy of Denmark

H.E. Ambassador Nielsen, his wife and the entire administration were surrounded by students from the Secondary School “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” village of Devene! The fourth-graders told about their dreams, and His Excellency wished them the fulfillment of each one. The traditional survaknitsa was presented in detail, as well as what it symbolizes. We say “Amen” to the wishes for health, blessing, peace, love and good deeds!

The Embassy of Belgium was also filled with children’s songs and smiles. The students from Secondary School “St. Kliment Ohridski” of Simeonovgrad visited the Belgian embassy on the occasion of the holiday to spread their traditions and customs. We thank H.E. Mr. Frederic Meoris for the warm welcome and positive emotions. The students gave their best wishes to the members of

the Belgian Embassy and told the legend of Bango Vasil. H.E. Ambassador Meoris thanked the children and the Amalipe Center for another wonderful visit.

Pupils-survakars from “Otets Paisiy” Primary School, Lozenets village, Dobrich region, wished health to the team of the Ministry of Health on the occasion of the Vasilitsa holiday, which is celebrated by many Roma groups in Bulgaria as the beginning of the New Year. The holiday is

celebrated on January 14, and on this day dozens of schools and community centers from all over the country organize celebrations where children present the wealth of folklore traditions and life associated with the Vasilitsa holiday.

We thank the Ministry of Health for hosting Roma children for another year on the occasion of “Vasilitsa” and for the good partnership over the years. Let’s wish for more Roma in Medical Universities and working as doctors. We admire the Ministry’s support for health mediators. We would be happy to include measures to include more people in the health insurance system: for example, reducing the number of months a person must be health insured, health insurance status for pregnant women.

On the eve of the Vasilitsa holiday, Mr. Atanas Pekanov – Acting Deputy Prime Minister for the Management of European Funds had an inspiring meeting with students from Vasil Levski Primary School, Karadjovo village. He learned more from them about the traditions of Roma, Bulgarian and Turkish folklore, they shared their dreams and hopes, and he told them about the challenges he faces in his work. “Although they differ from their daily tasks at school, in the end we agreed that both require persistence, serious attitude, common sense and joint efforts in the right direction,” shared Mr. Pekanov. After the tour of the Council of Ministers building, the students greeted him and his health and wellbeing team.

Deyan Kolev thanked for the support that the European funds have been providing for years to finance the policies aimed at the Roma. He pointed out that European funds have been one of the main sources of funding for Roma integration policies for years. However, it is necessary to drop the regime of state aid to operations targeting vulnerable groups: this regime practically limits the possibility of participation of working NGOs, the other EU countries found a way not to apply this regime to measures targeting the Roma, and Bulgaria should also to find such a way. It is also necessary that all EU-funded operations support desegregation policies and provide equal opportunities.

We thank all the wonderful children for the emotions and smiles they brought to the faces of their hosts. Thank you to their teachers and principals who helped make this happen. We also thank all the institutions that accepted our invitation to be hosts of survakars student on the occasion of the Vasilitsa holiday and immerse themselves in Roma culture and history, as well as for always being our partners in our efforts to help the children of Bulgaria have an equal chance of development.

See more:

Photo album Vasilitsa 2023