Author: Reni Hristova
Have you ever heard of a world where the sun never sets even at nights? Is there a place where everyone shares knowledge, unforgettable experiences, efforts and energy without expecting any rewards? Do you know of a place where people can easily bring love and happiness, make friendships which last for their entire lives and where people change the world into a better place just with one honest gesture done by heart?
Yes, this world does exist and its name is the world of volunteering.
My name is Reni Hristova and I am a twenty-four-year old Law student at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria.
In fact, my first experience as a volunteer dates back to 2004 when I participated in the preparation and organization of the national Special Olympics Games in Bulgaria. I was taking care of children with intellectual and physical disabilities. I supported and helped them in their attempts to show their best in the sports games. This was really a life-transforming experience to me.
Every year since then, I have dedicated a month of my life and have spent many sleepless nights doing voluntary work. Now I am a part of the team organizing various Special Olympic sports events in my home country – Bulgaria. I am in charge of trainings and campaigns which aim at attracting more people to voluntary work.
My biggest success managing such campaigns was at the 2009 National Summer Games in Bulgaria when I was to take care of 90 volunteers. In fact, I did extremely well with this challenge.
Being a volunteer and helping disabled children brings me a lot of useful experiences. I can meet amazing children who are talented; children who are dreamers, who never give up, no matter how difficult it is for them to reach the final line of the playground. They believe that if you keep your hope alive and try your best, you are already a winner even if you finish last. This is actually the meaning of the Special Olympics spirit: “Let me win. But if I can’t, let me be brave at the attempt”.
By being a volunteer I have taught a lot. As a result, now I pay more attention than before to people’s thoughts and feelings; I show great respect for them despite their physical differences. I have also learned how to speak in public and how to communicate with different media which promote our campaigns.
Being one of the leaders of the Bulgarian Special Olympics team in the World Forum part of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho, USA 2009 I met a lot of volunteers, celebrities and internationally-recognized sportspeople. I remember that several hours before our flight to the United States I had been playing basketball with one of the children in our team, but unfortunately, I broke my leg badly. Immediately I was taken to hospital where I had my broken leg plastered. The doctors advised me that I should spend the following two weeks lying in bed. However, I could not do that! I had already taken the responsibility to lead the Bulgarian Special Olympic team and no matter how strong my pain was I was not willing to give up.
During one of the sports events I was participating in, I saw a child staying aside and watching the other children play and laugh. At that moment I asked myself why he had not joined them and then I realized that he was deaf. I felt great responsibility because of the fact that he was not playing with the other children. Yet, neither did “I” know “his” sign language, nor could he speak “our” language. At that moment I wished I knew how to communicate with deaf people so that I could “talk” to such a person. Gradually my desire to learn the sign language turned into reality. I put a great deal of efforts into learning it and as a result, I know now how to use the sign language. Since then I have had the chance to meet many people with hearing problems and with some of them we have become friends.
As I had a lot of experience as a volunteer and my goal was to help deaf people, an idea came to my mind – to make the first online TV channel in Bulgaria addressed at people with hearing disabilities. Moreover, there would be video-clips with subtitles in English so that a lot of people would be able to understand them. With the means of such a TV channel I believe that deaf people could be integrated in Bulgarian society. The project is currently being developed only on a voluntary base until we find funding to realize it.
Recalling all my experience as a volunteer I could say that volunteering has become an important part of my life. Sometimes it is difficult for me to find time to prepare for tests at university but I always find some to help society in a way.
In Bulgaria there is not a single law promoting voluntary activities. Neither has a volunteer some privileges when applying for a job or school. Let me ask what Bulgarian volunteers win. What stimulates Bulgarian volunteers to participate in different charitable activities sacrificing their time and energy despite the fact they will not receive any reward?
Despite these difficulties volunteering to me and many friends of mine who volunteer is a question of honour and good will. I believe that we can be open to other people and ready to work in a team together helping each other. We should know that we can make a change and we can prove it with our actions.
I am glad that I have had the opportunity to be a volunteer. I sincerely believe that the more people will try to volunteer and see how charitable activities can change their lives the better.