In the first week of February 2013, ENIL representatives traveled to Bulgaria to meet with local authority officials about the current situation of people with disabilities in Bulgaria and about the progress being made toward Independent Living there. ENIL also held a training session on Independent Living for young people with disabilities who are living in a sheltered house in Lukovit, Bulgaria. There are ten young adults between the ages of 20-28 living in this sheltered house, they had all previously been living in different institutions or could no longer live with their families.
ENIL and CIL Sofia organised a meeting with local authority representatives in Lukovit. This meeting with the local authorities focused on the sheltered house for young people with disabilities and on the concept of social housing. At this meeting, ENIL were represented by Jamie Bolling, Executive Director of ENIL, Kapka Panayotova, Executive Director of CIL Sofia, Peter Kichashki, South Regional Coordinator for ENIL and Mitko Nokolov, National Coordinator for CIL Sofia. The local authorities were represented by the Secretary of the Municipality, the Director of the Sheltered House, local NGO representatives and social workers from the Social Assistance Directorate.The ENIL team presented the concept of social housing ie housing that is run and organized by the people living in the house. The main idea is that the resident of the house organizes their own everyday living and arranges the work of the house, for example recruiting and managing staff. The Independent Living concept was presented and related to the concept of social housing which resulted in a valuable discussion by all at the meeting. This discussion was positive and showed the willingness of the local authorizes to engage in new types of services. New services should first be implemented on a national level.
Unfortunately, there is still much stigma regarding disability issues on many different levels in Bulgaria. One example of this was when a representative from an NGO working on a local level stated that the “children” (the young people living in this sheltered house are ages between 20 and 28) living in the sheltered house are incapable of leading an independent way of living and they are unable to rule their own housing service. We say different! One can be master of one’s life and this is something that we have to show to the authorities across Europe!
ENIL then followed up this meeting with training on Independent Living for the young people with disabilities living in this sheltered house. All were invited to attend the training and six of the residents participated in the training.
The same ENIL and CIL Sofia representatives organized and delivered this training with the addition of Vanya Pandieva, CIL Sofia, Independent Living Activist. The training covered the key concepts of Independent Living with ENIL’s definitions on Independent Living underpinning all of the training. The history of Independent Living in Europe along with the current situation in Bulgaria in relation to Independent Living and what can be done to improve this situation were all topics that were discussed in detail.
In order to help participants visualize an Independent Life in the future they were asked to create personal action plans, based on what they had learned in the training. With the help of the ENIL and CIL Sofia trainers they prepared these personal action plans and presented them to the whole group. Each participant had their own dream for the future. Some of them wanted to be free and independent and go to university to attain a degree in different academic areas. Each of the participants were encouraged to make the necessary steps to follow their dreams and make them a reality. The participants prepared group pledges to committing to fulfilling their future dreams, they decided they wanted to be more responsible, more independent and more demanding of their human rights.
Training Sessions on Independent Living such as this one are vital for the progression for the Independent Living Movement all across Europe and ENIL will continue to engage and support more and more people to seek an independent life for themselves. The support to the young residents of Lukovit must continue as the effects of institutional care have impacted upon them. ENIL hope that these young people know that we are continuing to campaign for their rights and that they are not alone.
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