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 door 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 and read them correctly. The other children are listening dreamily, trying to comprehend the meaning of the words. 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 a bit hesitatingly and the kids are vibrant, raising their hands and discussing the new Bulgarian words they have just encountered. The teacher is beaming and heartily repeating the moral of the story – that the most precious fruit of all is knowledge. Invigorating children’s laughter fills the room and a feeling of comfort and inner happiness flows in the air.
However, this cordial laughter is about to be muffled. Boyka de Boer, the founder of the school, has gathered all parents at a meeting because she needs to discuss a serious problem with them – they do not have enough finances to maintain the school anymore. The school, which was the fruit of her eagerness to carry on the language and traditions of her motherland – Bulgaria, does not have enough money to keep paying its rent. The whole school needs to move out. 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. De Boer admits that they (she, the parents, and the people working at the school) are so used to being at a deadlock that they will not actually know what to do in a situation without financial difficulties, she laughs 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. At the same time, all school materials such as notebooks, textbooks, and materials for the art classes are provided by the parents, the teacher – Prodanova, and de Boer. Furthermore, the white board is a present from one of the mothers and the handouts with the exercises are prepared by Prodanova herself.
During the first school year, they got most of their ABC books as donations from other schools in Amsterdam and they are grateful for that. That first school year was “a destitution”, de Boer recollects. “We kept registers in paper notebooks, we were counting the pennies,” she sighs. Unfortunately, things have not changed a lot since then.
The idea for a Bulgarian school in Groningen came as a suggestion by a mother at a Bulgarian Christmas party that Boyka had organized and it transformed into an actual place to keep the Bulgarian language and culture alive even 2000km 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 when they graduate are recognized in all schools in Bulgaria. For one whole year, the school in Groningen was a branch of the Bulgarian school in Amsterdam and everyone is forever thankful for what Elitsa Yordanova and Kameliya Stefanova, the managers of the school in Amsterdam, have done for them. But now the school in Groningen does not have enough children so it cannot keep being part of “Българско училище АБВ”.
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 explains.
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, Prodanova, and Dimitar Kostadinov and Ina Kokalcheva, who are volunteers at the school. What unites the four of them into one whole is their love for children and 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 – a young mother whose care and love for children can be felt even by the tone of her voice, 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 the Bulgarian language, no matter where they were born.
Last but not least – de Boer. The person who goes from one place to another, looking for a new building for the school that might be rented for free so that the school can keep existing. Her dream is that “one day there are going to be as many kids in this school as possible.”
During the time spent in the school on that Saturday, another common feature between these full of ceaseless enthusiasm people stood out – 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.” Her hands give a shiver.
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.