The Bulgarian school in Groningen, which has just started its third school year, faces serious financial problems and it is on the brink of shutting its doors for all Bulgarian children eager to learn Bulgarian language, culture, and history.
The teacher, Milena Prodanova, is absorbed in listening to the child who is struggling to pronounce the words into chunks. The other children are listening dreamily. They know that once the fairy tale “The most precious fruit” reaches its end, the teacher will ask them questions. The final sentence is read and the kids are vibrantly raising their hands and discussing the new Bulgarian words they have just encountered. The teacher is repeating the moral of the story – the most precious fruit of all is knowledge. Invigorating children’s laughter is filling the room and a feeling of comfort is flowing in the air.
However, this cordial laughter is about to be muffled. Boyka de Boer, the founder of the school, has to discuss a serious problem with the children’s parents – they do not have enough finances to maintain the school anymore. They need to move the school to another place by the end of the week. Or shutter its windows. For good.
All parents are murmuring: “Isn’t there a way to solve this?” De Boer has heard this question many times before. The school has been having problems, mainly financial, since it was set up. Actually everyone at the school is so used to being at a deadlock that they will not know what to do in a situation without financial difficulties, De Boer laughed bitterly.
The main financial support of the school is the tuition fees that the parents pay. This, however, is not so regular since some of the parents cannot pay the whole tuition fee at once. All school materials such as notebooks, textbooks, and handouts for the art classes are provided by the parents, the teacher – Prodanova, and de Boer.
During the first school year, they got most of their ABC books as donations from other schools in Amsterdam. That first school year was “a destitution”, de Boer recollected. “We kept registers in paper notebooks, we were counting the pennies.” Unfortunately, things have not changed a lot since then.
The idea for a Bulgarian school in Groningen came from a mother at a Bulgarian Christmas party that Boyka had organized and transformed into an actual place keeping the Bulgarian language and culture alive 2000 km. away from home.
The school has a certificate issued by the Bulgarian school in Amsterdam “Българско училище АБВ” and by virtue of this the diplomas that the children receive are recognized in all schools in Bulgaria.
The educational programme is focused on learning Bulgarian language – the children mainly practise speaking since most of them were born in the Netherlands and they can barely speak Bulgarian. Apart from this, they read fairy tales, do math exercises, but most of all – enjoy their time. “Because this is what makes me go on with this school – the pleasure of being here,” Prodanova explained.
The main pillars of the school that do not give up on their idea of keeping the Bulgarian traditions alive in Groningen are de Boer, the teacher – Prodanova, and the volunteers – Dimitar Kostadinov and Ina Kokalcheva. What unites them is their love for children and for their motherland.
Kostadinov, who is presently a student in Groningen and a volunteer working with the kids in the preschool group, wants to help Bulgarian football once when he gets back to Bulgaria.
Kokalcheva, who is a young mother, also volunteers at the school and helps Kostadinov with the little pupils.
Prodanova travels 175 km. every Saturday in order to teach at the school because she believes that every Bulgarian child should learn Bulgarian language no matter where they were born.
And de Boer. Her dream is that “one day there are going to be as many kids in this school as possible.”
During my stay at the school, I noticed another common feature between these full of ceaseless enthusiasm people – their endless modesty. Everything they do is for the sake of the school – no media attention, unnecessary popularity, or financial benefits appeal to them, they only hope that the spirit of the Bulgarian school will not be broken.
What is coming next for the school and the ones working and studying there is unclear. De Boer is doing her best to find a building where they will not need to pay a rent. The parents are determined to keep the school no matter what.
Prodanova is explicit: “Despite all the obstacles every year, we move on! We move on, this is what we have decided.”
Note: For everyone whose heart was touched by the spirit of these kind-hearted people fighting for the cause of spreading knowledge and who would like to help in whatever way they deem reasonable, please, contact Boyka de Boer – +31 6 55994770.