Bulgaria: Highlights and Lowlights
Bulgaria is on the brink of EU accession with over 15 strengths in its favour. The country boasts a track record of fiscal prudence and modest external demand ratios, which have benefitted its economy. Bulgaria’s military power is ranked in the top half of countries considered for annual global reviews. Additionally, the government is attracting investments from EU funds, supporting its projected GDP growth. Though Bulgaria has several challenges, it is clear that its strengths position it for continued success and progress. Optimistically, Bulgaria is poised to enjoy the benefits of EU membership and thrive in the global marketplace.
Bulgaria faces several long-term structural challenges that continue to impact its social and economic well-being. Negative demographic trends, coupled with institutional and governance weaknesses, pose significant obstacles to the country’s growth and development. Organized crime persists as an issue that undermines public trust and stifles progress. Addressing labour and skills, as well as the ageing population and high mortality rates, present additional challenges for the country’s future. Economic growth is also hindered by the need to improve the quality of institutions and fight corruption.
Bulgaria’s future looks promising as it experiences a general flourishing of an entrepreneurial spirit that bodes well for its economic growth. The World Bank Group is preparing a new partnership strategy for the country, highlighting its commitment to supporting Bulgaria’s development. Additionally, Bulgaria’s co-founding role in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation provides opportunities for regional collaboration and economic growth. Despite facing political challenges and struggling to implement EU policies, Bulgaria’s recent adoption of The Energy from Renewable Sources Act suggests a willingness to prioritise sustainable development. Bulgaria’s future looks bright with a supportive environment for entrepreneurship and a commitment to sustainable practices. As a small satellite country, the success of Bulgaria’s future is the success of the whole region.
Our visit to Nadezhda, Sliven Bulgaria
Our visit to the Nadezhda slum was a sobering experience. The House of Hope team explored the poverty-stricken area, and we couldn’t help but feel a deep sadness for the people living in such dire conditions. The cramped and unsanitary living conditions were overwhelming, and the sight of children playing in dirty streets without shoes or proper clothing was heart-wrenching. Clearly, the people of this slum were struggling to survive, lacking access to basic necessities like clean water and healthcare. We left with a heavy heart, burden, and sadness by the immense. At the same time, we are challenged to strategies and put constructive efforts for the betterment of the lives people of Nadezhda.
The House of Hope team observed the below problems in Nadezhda.
Overpopulation: The House of Hope team observed the overpopulation in Nadezhda. We learn that over 35,000 people live in less than one square kilometre; Nadezhda slum is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. This leads to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and higher risks of disease outbreaks.
Inadequate Housing: The residents of the Nadezhda slum struggle to find proper accommodation due to the lack of affordable housing options. They are forced to live in cramped and unsafe spaces, often sharing a single room with multiple family members. Most of the housing in the Nadezhda slum is makeshift and constructed from whatever materials residents can find. This leads to cramped living conditions, insufficient ventilation, and a lack of proper sanitation facilities.
Poverty: Nearly 70% of the population in the Nadezhda slum lives below the poverty line, struggling to meet their basic needs. Lack of access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities makes it difficult for residents to break the poverty cycle.
Poor Sanitation: The lack of proper sanitation facilities in the Nadezhda slum poses a severe threat to the health of its residents. Contaminated water and improper waste disposal practices put them at risk of contracting various diseases.
Limited Access to Healthcare: Healthcare in the Nadezhda slum is scarce. The residents are often forced to rely on overburdened public healthcare facilities or go without adequate medical care.
Environmental degradation: The slum has limited access to safe drinking water, and waste disposal services are non-existent. This leads to an increase in pollution and makes it difficult for residents to maintain good health.
Education Struggles: Children living in the Nadezhda slum face significant challenges regarding receiving a quality education. Access to schools, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of financial resources makes it difficult for them to thrive academically.
High Unemployment Rates: The residents of the Nadezhda slum face severe economic hardships due to high unemployment rates. They struggle to find employment opportunities, making providing for themselves and their families challenging.
Crime and Violence: The poverty and overcrowding in the Nadezhda slum make it a hotbed for crime and violence. The slum is notorious for its high crime rates, with theft, robbery, and assault common occurrences. The lack of law enforcement and significant police presence only exacerbates the issue. Residents often face threats from gang activity and are forced to live in fear for their safety.
Socioeconomic Inequality: The above challenges faced by the residents of the Nadezhda slum contribute to widening socioeconomic inequality. The lack of resources and opportunities means that residents struggle to break out of the cycle of poverty, and their livelihoods remain precarious.
The challenges faced by the Nadezhda slum are complex and multi-faceted. It has long been known for its widespread social challenges. However, despite these daunting problems, there is a reason for optimism. House of Hope is committed to launching initiatives to improve the living conditions of residents in the slum. We also wish to start community-led efforts to solve social challenges, i.e. vocational training programs and microfinance initiatives to help residents earn a livelihood. The House of Hope initiatives will provide hope for a better future and offer a promising path forward for the residents of the Nadezhda slum.
Challenges of Bulgaria
It is heartbreaking to see Bulgaria’s challenging situations in many areas. The people’s struggles affected by these issues can be overwhelming and painful to witness.
It is frustrating to see so many people facing such hardships despite progress in other areas of society. It can be challenging to imagine what it must be like to live on the streets, struggle with healthcare access, or face discrimination as a refugee or a prisoner. The people of Bulgaria deserve better.
We must recognise the need to take action and help those who need it most. House of Hope cannot address these problems alone. Citizens can play a critical role in helping raise awareness about the issues Bulgaria faces, supporting House of Hope where possible and advocating for systemic change. Collectively, we can create a better future for those struggling in Bulgaria and work towards improved living conditions, health, and wellness for all.
All these factors have contributed to social problems like rising addiction rates, worsening mental health conditions, and a general feeling of hopelessness among Nadezhda Sofia’s residents. The issues faced by the people of Nadezhda Sofia demand urgent solutions and investments in basic infrastructure, job creation, and social services.
Practical solutions must be prioritised, such as providing affordable housing, critical infrastructure upgrades, improved healthcare access, and job creation initiatives. Without addressing the root causes of the district’s problems, the residents of Nadezhda risk experiencing more substantial social and economic issues that could hurt future generations.
HOPE IN THE MIDST OF CHALLENGES
Pillar 1: Children & Youth
Bulgaria faces several challenges regarding the welfare of its children and youth. The country has many children living in poverty and lacking access to quality education, particularly in rural areas. There are also child abuse and neglect issues, and many children are placed in institutional care due to family problems.
- Another concern is the institutionalisation of children, with Bulgaria having one of Europe’s highest rates of institutional care. Around 5,000 children live in institutions, including orphanages and other forms of residential care.
- Access to quality education is also a problem in Bulgaria, particularly in rural areas. The country has one of the highest rates of early school leaving in Europe, with fewer than half of students completing upper secondary education. In 2019, just over 50% of Bulgarian students passed their matriculation exams.
- Child abuse and neglect is also significant issue in Bulgaria. In 2020, the National Child Protection Agency reported over 6,000 cases of child abuse or neglect, with some of the most common forms of abuse being physical violence, emotional abuse, and neglect.
- According to UNICEF, Bulgaria has one of the highest child poverty rates in the European Union, with more than 1 in 4 children at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, with many families facing job losses and reduced income.
- Mental health issues among children and youth are also rising in Bulgaria. A recent study found that almost one in three teenagers aged 13-17 report symptoms of depression or anxiety. Overall, Bulgaria faces significant challenges in ensuring its children’s and youth’s well-being, with many areas needing improvement.
Pillar 2: Prostitutes
Prostitution is a complex and sensitive issue in Bulgaria, with official statistics not always reliable due to the underground nature of the industry. However, some sources suggest that it remains a significant social problem. Prostitution is illegal in Bulgaria but remains a persistent issue, particularly in tourist areas. Some estimates suggest that as many as 15-20,000 individuals work as prostitutes in the country. Some of these individuals may be victims of human trafficking, which is also a problem in Bulgaria.
- According to a 2020 report by the International Labour Organization, Bulgaria has one of the highest rates of “vulnerable employment” among women in the European Union, with more than 1 in 4 women working in informal or unprotected work. While this covers a range of professions and work arrangements, a significant portion of these women is believed to be involved in prostitution.
- A 2020 report by the Center for the Study of Democracy estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 women in Bulgaria are involved in prostitution, with the majority being Bulgarian nationals rather than foreign victims of human trafficking. The report also found that over half of the respondents in a survey of men in Bulgaria had paid for sex at least once in their lifetime.
- The same report noted that many women involved in prostitution in Bulgaria face violence and exploitation, with some being coerced or forced into the industry. There are also concerns about the spread of sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV, among the sex worker population.
Pillar 3: Drug addicts
Bulgaria has a significant drug addiction problem, particularly with amphetamines and opioids. The country has one of the highest mortality rates due to drug overdoses in Europe.
- Drug addiction is a significant social problem in Bulgaria, with recent statistics indicating a concerning trend. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Bulgaria has one of the highest rates of drug-induced mortality in Europe, with 97 deaths per million population in 2019, which has been increasing in recent years.
- The main drugs of concern in Bulgaria are amphetamines (including methamphetamine) and opioids (mainly heroin). EMCDDA data suggests that Bulgaria has a higher prevalence of amphetamine use than most other European countries, with methamphetamine, in particular, an emerging concern.
- While data on the number of drug addicts in Bulgaria is not always clear-cut, a 2020 report by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior suggested that there may be up to 20,000 problem drug users in the country.
- The same report noted that needle sharing and other risky injecting practices are common among drug users in Bulgaria, with associated risks such as the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Treatment options are also limited, with only around 10% of drug users in Bulgaria receiving treatment for their addiction.
Pillar 4: Homeless
Homelessness is also a problem in Bulgaria, particularly in urban areas. Most of the homeless are men, and many suffer from mental health problems and substance abuse issues.
- According to a 2020 report by the National Statistical Institute, there were over 5,400 homeless people in Bulgaria in 2019, a significant increase from the previous year.
- The majority of homeless people in Bulgaria are men, with around 70% being aged between 35 and 54 years old. The majority are also in urban areas, with the most significant numbers in Sofia and Plovdiv.
- Homelessness in Bulgaria is often associated with other social problems such as mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty. A 2020 survey of homeless people in Bulgaria found that around 80% had some form of mental health problem, with almost 60% having a history of drug or alcohol dependence.
- The same survey also noted that homeless people in Bulgaria often face stigma and discrimination, with around 40% have experienced violence or abuse in the past year.
Pillar 5: Prisoners
Prison conditions in Bulgaria have been criticised by human rights groups for overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and inhumane conditions.
- According to the Council of Europe’s Annual Penal Statistics report for 2020, Bulgaria has one of the highest rates of prison overcrowding in the European Union, with prisons operating at around 131% of their intended capacity. In 2020, there were over 10,000 people in Bulgarian prisons, with about 40% of these individuals in pre-trial detention.
- Conditions in Bulgarian prisons have also been criticised for impacting physical and mental health. A 2020 report by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee noted that prisoners often face long periods of isolation, poor medical care, and inadequate access to hygiene facilities.
- While progress has been made to address these issues, such as increasing prison staff numbers and investing in infrastructure, there are still significant challenges facing Bulgaria’s prison system. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of addressing overcrowding and other issues in prisons to prevent the spread of infection.
Pillar 6: Refugees
Refugees and migrants have recently been a relatively small but contentious social issue in Bulgaria, with statistics reflecting a mixed picture.
- According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of the end of 2020, around 6,600 refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria, around half of whom were accommodated in some form of state-run facilities. This represents a significant decrease from previous years when the country saw many asylum seekers crossing its borders.
- While Bulgaria is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, there have been some concerns about the treatment of refugees and migrants in the country. Reports by human rights groups have highlighted instances of forced returns to Turkey, poor conditions in reception centres, and mistreatment by border security.
- At the same time, there has also been public hostility towards refugees and migrants, with some incidents of xenophobic attacks and far-right activism. One survey in 2020 found that around 1 in 3 Bulgarians had negative attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers.
- While the situation facing refugees and migrants in Bulgaria has improved in recent years, there are still significant challenges in protecting their rights, providing adequate support, and combating xenophobia and discrimination.
Pillar 7: Sick
Bulgaria’s healthcare system faces challenges due to underfunding and a shortage of medical professionals. The country also has high rates of some diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Bulgaria’s healthcare system faces a range of social problems, which recent statistics have highlighted.
- One of the main challenges facing the system is underfunding, with Bulgaria spending a lower proportion of its GDP on healthcare than most other European countries. This has led to issues such as a shortage of medical supplies and equipment, a lack of investment in infrastructure, and low salaries for medical professionals.
- Bulgaria also faces challenges in terms of access to healthcare, particularly in rural areas. A 2019 survey by the National Statistical Institute found that over 30% of Bulgarians had not visited a doctor in the past year, with the highest rates of non-use being among those aged over 65 and those living in rural areas.
- At the same time, Bulgaria has a relatively high incidence of some diseases, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. In 2019, Bulgaria had the highest rate of TB incidence among EU countries, with around 22 cases per 100,000 population.
- While there have been efforts to address these issues in recent years, such as increasing salaries for medical staff and investing in new medical technologies, there is still a long way to go in improving Bulgaria’s healthcare system. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted some of the challenges facing the system, with concerns about shortages of medical supplies and strained healthcare workers.
A BLUEPRINT FOR CHANGE
Pillar 1: Children & Youth
House of Hope in Bulgaria is dedicated to improving the welfare and opportunities available to children and youth.
- Providing access to education: We work to provide quality education to children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly in rural areas or in communities affected by poverty. We also wish to provide supplementary education programs like language courses or after-school activities.
- Combating child abuse: We focus on preventing or addressing child abuse, mainly through support programs for victims of abuse or neglect. We will also offer counselling services for families or individuals experiencing challenging circumstances.
- Promoting youth engagement: We seek to encourage young people to engage in social, political, and civic spheres. We will offer programs that teach leadership skills, promote volunteerism, or provide opportunities for youth to participate in decision-making or advocacy at the local or national level.
- Addressing mental health issues: We are committed to addressing mental health concerns among children and youth, including depression, anxiety, and other disorders. We will also offer counselling services, support groups, or other resources to mitigate the impact of mental health issues.
- Empowering marginalised groups: We will focus on empowering marginalised groups, such as Roma children and youth or those living in poverty. We will ensure access to education, healthcare, and other resources, address discrimination and promote positive social change.
In a nutshell, House of Hope plays a critical role in improving the well-being of children and youth, addressing systemic challenges and promoting social justice.
Pillar 2: Prostitutes
House of Hope is devoted to improving the well-being and rights of sex workers. We will provide a range of services, including legal advice, healthcare access, and educational and employment opportunities for prostitutes. Here are some of the main goals:
- Building safe spaces for sex workers: House of Hope offers safe rooms for prostitutes to socialise and access resources such as medical care and legal support. These spaces can be places to find community and solidarity among peers, an important factor in improving their well-being.
- Legal advice and representation: We will ensure that sex workers know their rights under the law and can receive legal assistance when needed. This includes advocating on behalf of victims of human trafficking or assisting with providing necessary documents such as residence permits or proof of age.
- Education programs: We will provide educational opportunities for prostitutes, ranging from basic literacy classes to vocational training programs such as hairdressing or hospitality skills development. This can help empower women by equipping them with the skills to pursue other job opportunities outside the sex industry if they choose to.
- Access to healthcare: House of Hope will provide medical care tailored to sex workers’ needs, such as HIV testing and treatment, regular screening for STDs, contraception counselling, or psychological support services. The goal is to improve not only the physical health of individuals but also their mental health and overall well-being.
Thus, we will play an important role in supporting the rights of sex workers by providing essential resources and building supportive communities, thus empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their lives while promoting social justice within Bulgarian society.
Pillar 3: Drug addicts
House of Hope is committed to improving the well-being and prospects of individuals struggling with drug addiction. We offer a variety of services, including educational and employment opportunities as well as access to healthcare. Our main goals are:
- Treatment and rehabilitation: House of Hope will offer treatment programs for drug addicts, such as detoxification, counselling, and aftercare support. We will also provide relapse prevention services or assist in accessing other health care related to substance abuse.
- Education programs: House of Hope provides educational opportunities for those affected by drug addiction, ranging from basic literacy classes to vocational training programs such as hairdressing or hospitality skills development. This can help empower individuals by equipping them with the skills to pursue job opportunities outside the industry if they choose to.
- Access to healthcare: We will offer medical care tailored specifically for individuals dealing with substance abuse, such as HIV testing and treatment, counselling for mental health problems, or harm reduction services like needle exchanges or overdose prevention education.
- Advocacy and social change: We work on raising awareness about drug addiction and supporting public policy initiatives that can help improve people’s lives in this area. This includes advocating for better access to health care services as well as promoting positive attitudes towards those struggling with substance abuse within Bulgarian society at large.
House of Hope has an essential role in improving the life prospects of individuals affected by drug addiction while also reducing stigma and promoting social justice within Bulgarian society at large.
Pillar 4: Homeless
Homelessness is a persistent problem in Bulgaria, and House of Hope has taken it upon us to make a difference in the lives of those who are living on the streets. Here are our goals:
- Providing access to basic necessities: One of the primary goals of Housse of Hope is to provide homeless people with access to basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. We run soup kitchens, food banks, and homeless shelters to ensure that people on the streets have access to the resources they need to survive.
- Offering medical assistance: We aim to provide access to medical care and assistance to help the homeless population with their health needs.
- Creating opportunities for education and employment: We will work hard to provide educational programs and job training skills to help homeless people find employment. By providing these opportunities, they can restore dignity and self-worth to those currently facing homelessness.
- Offering emotional support: We work to provide emotional support services and counselling to help homeless people overcome their challenges and build a better life for themselves.
- Advocating for policy change: We will support and assist to change policies and laws that contribute to homelessness. We advocate affordable housing, better access to health care, and more employment opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in Bulgaria.
We are confident that House of Hope will play a significant role in providing much-needed support and resources to the homeless population. Through our efforts, we work to end homelessness and create a brighter future for those currently living on the streets.
Pillar 5: Prisoners
While prisons are designed to reform offenders, the process can also negatively impact their lives when they leave. House of Hope is working towards bettering the lives of prisoners and their families upon their release. We are committed to:
- Providing educational and vocational training: We work towards providing educational and vocational training to inmates, allowing them to learn and gain work experience, which will help them when they reintegrate into society.
- Supporting social and psychological well-being: House of Hope focuses on providing mental and emotional support through counselling services, addiction treatment, and support group meetings. These services can contribute significantly towards an inmate’s successful reintegration into society.
- Advocating for rights and opportunities: We will assist in securing legal counsel for inmates, advocating for improved prison conditions and better treatment for prisoners.
- Supporting families of prisoners: We aim to support their families, providing counselling and emotional support. We also help children maintain contact with their parents and provide practical assistance, including financial support.
- Fostering community reintegration: We work to achieve that every prisoner is a part of society once more by supporting inmates to reintegrate back into society by mentoring and providing assistance to secure accommodation, employment and social opportunities.
We will work hard to ensure prisoners have access to appropriate services and opportunities. Through a multi-faceted approach to care that encompasses education, welfare, advocacy, and emotional support, these organisations aim to improve the lives of those affected by the prison system. As a result, we hope to foster successful reintegration into society, lay the foundation for change and reduce recidivism rates.
Pillar 6: Refugees
House of Hope works towards improving the lives of refugees through various initiatives,
- Advocating for refugee rights: We work with the authorities to ensure that refugees have access to their basic needs, such as medical care, education, and housing. We also advocate for fair treatment and appropriate legal representation for refugees.
- Providing necessities: We endeavour to provide needs such as food, clothing, and shelter for refugees. We set up shelters that offer short- and long-term accommodation and distribute food and other essential supplies. House of Hope seeks to guarantee the well-being of refugees in the country and support them as they seek asylum.
- Ensuring access to education and employment: We try to improve employment opportunities and provide refugees with the relevant job skills they require to secure employment. We also promote access to education and job training, enabling refugees to attain qualifications and successfully integrate into the new society.
- Providing health care and counselling: We offer counselling and psychological support to help refugees navigate their challenges. We also provide medical care services for refugees who require medical attention.
- Fostering community integration: We seek to promote social integration by collaborating with local communities and providing the necessary support to refugees. This includes language training services and opportunities to engage with local groups.
House of Hope is working tirelessly to improve the well-being of refugees in the country. Through our efforts, we aim to reduce the challenges faced by these individuals and offer support to help build a better future.
Pillar 7: Sick
House of Hope is playing a vital role in improving the health care system in Bulgaria; our goals are:
- Advocating for policy reform: We advocate for policy reforms to ensure the healthcare system becomes more equitable and accessible. We push for better staff training, improved infrastructure, and financial support to better meet the needs of patients.
- Supporting vulnerable populations: We identify vulnerable groups, including the elderly, disabled, and impoverished. They provide healthcare and support services to ensure these individuals receive the necessary care and assistance.
- Offering healthcare services and support: We provide healthcare services such as medical check-ups, surgeries, and medication to individuals who can’t afford it. We also offer vital support services such as counselling and social work to help patients deal with their health conditions’ emotional and mental impacts.
- Providing educational resources: We work with communities to provide information on healthy lifestyles, chronic disease management, and preventative care. Our goal is to educate youth and adults on health management and promote awareness about the risks of various diseases.
- Collaborating with health practitioners: We work alongside local health resources and practitioners to improve patients’ quality of care. We collaborate by providing staff training on medical procedures, helping with referrals and providing patient advocacy services.
House of Hope plays a vital role in the healthcare system by filling the gaps that the government may not entirely meet. Our work spans advocacy, direct healthcare support and education. By striving to make healthcare more accessible, equitable and affordable in Bulgaria, we hope to create a brighter future for the country’s health system.
OUR ROADMAP FOR BULGARIA
We have a concrete road map for the challenges of Nadezhda Sofia. We have our team in Bulgaria, and we wish to,
- Upgrade housing infrastructure: We wish to upgrade and repair existing housing which can contribute to better living standards, safety, and social cohesion.
- Focus on Job Creation: We will assist and generate jobs to help address the unemployment problem and alleviate poverty in the area. Job creation initiatives will focus on creating long-term employment opportunities with competitive salaries, benefits and relevant training to improve job prospects.
- Improve Educational Infrastructure: House of Hope will invest in the educational infrastructure of the district to create powerful opportunities for young people. Increasing access to education, improving resources and facilities, and extracurricular program expansion are essential steps in empowering students with the tools they need to thrive.
- Enhance Healthcare Access: We will support with our resources and local partnership enhancing healthcare access to ensure that patients receive quality care for their health issues. Providing essential healthcare services such as vaccinations, birth control, family planning, diabetes management and mental health services can curb the spread of disease and improve overall wellness.
- Promote Community Support Initiatives: We would initiate community support programs such as neighbourhood support groups, volunteer organisations, and charity programs that can significantly impact Nadezhda Sofia’s communities. These initiatives provide support and essential services that people need most, including food security, clothing donations, and other necessary supplies.
Implementing these strategies calls for collaboration between the House of Hope, government, and citizens to create a comprehensive plan that empowers the area with the needed improvements. The strategies aim to create a healthier, more secure and more vibrant community for the residents of Nadezhda Sofia.
HOUSE OF HOPE PICTURES TAKEN ON OUR EXPERT TOUR
Impressions from Bulgaria
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