Impressions from Plovdiv 2019: Magdalina Rajeva and the Mobile school Stolipinovo.
Curated by Daniela Veneri
“Another basic principle in our work so far is the respect and recognition of the individuality and uniqueness of each person. We know that our work in Stolipinovo is to teach children skills that will help their personal development and social integration, but at the same time we are also learning from the local community. Encouraging intercultural values and diversity makes our program extremely lively, flexible and consistent with the everyday life in the neighbourhood.” - Magdalina Rajeva
Which projects are you currently working on and which excite you most?
Since the beginning of January 2018 we have started a two-year educational project, “Mobile school Stolipinovo”, part of the cultural program of Plovdiv 2019. The focus of the project is on educational initiatives through architecture, art, science and play with children from 6 to 16 years old in the neighbourhood of Stolipinovo – the biggest Roma district in Bulgaria. The aim of the activities is to equip the children with cultural and social capital and self-confidence to socialize outside their segregated community, thus overcoming the barriers of exclusion. Acquiring skills for cultural expression is seen as a powerful tool for empowerment and breaking social segregation. The open format of non-formal education directly implemented in the communities where children live, and the involvement of parents, interested locals and schools are key elements for the success of the project. With the ongoing field work of an anthropological team we succeed to reach and collaborate with children and parents who face the greatest struggles. One of the things that excite me most in this project is to find how to engage the locals in the working process in order to integrate and respond to the priorities and the needs of the community, as well as to pass on our experience and knowledge to future trainers from the community. We believe that the development of a professional network (teachers, artists, social workers, volunteers, representatives of the local community) and the training for artistic educational work with children will yield sustainable results. We want to generate opportunities for the multiplication and spillover of the project results through series of presentations and an international workshop, which will be organised this autumn in Plovdiv, where different organisations working with children living in poverty are invited.
What values and principles are guiding your work?
Right from the beginning of the project, we have focused our work and efforts on helping the most deprived children. Our team of anthropologists working in the neighbourhood for the last 3 years has chosen a location to conduct our exercises and make sure that we could reach as many children as possible who do not attend school and live in extreme poverty. Working on the streets, in the immediate vicinity of the houses where children live, allows us to give equal opportunity to everyone to be involved in the educational process - from young children aged 2-3 to young people aged 16-19. At the same time, our presence directly in the neighbourhood allows parents to get acquainted with our activities and actively engage in the process. The family is one of the most important institutions among the Roma and its participation in the education of children is crucial for their success.
Another basic principle in our work so far is the respect and recognition of the individuality and uniqueness of each person. We know that our work in Stolipinovo is to teach children skills that will help their personal development and social integration, but at the same time we are also learning from the local community. Encouraging intercultural values and diversity makes our program extremely lively, flexible and consistent with the everyday life in the neighbourhood.
What excites you most about your work for Plovdiv 2019?
The positive atmosphere is the thing that excites me most about my work for Plovdiv 2019. Their team consists of young, smiling and enthusiastic people who, despite the bureaucracy, managed to work and realize the rich program of the European Capital of Culture. It is always a pleasure for me to communicate with them and to share my project experiences. The Foundation also has a very well-developed network of contacts and helps connect people and organizations with common goals and ideas.
What specific challenges and opportunities does the local context offer?
Stolipinovo is a quarter in the eastern part of Plovdiv, on the south bank of the Maritsa River. It is the largest Roma district in Bulgaria with nearly 40,000 people - Christians and Muslims. We can say that Stolipinovo is a town in the city, where the inhabitants of the rest of Plovdiv rarely walk. The widespread view is that the neighbourhood is dangerous and the law is not respected, and the information disseminated in recent years by the media focuses mainly on rubbish and emigration. For a year and a half my colleagues and I have been in the neighbourhood every week and we have worked with children directly on the streets. People gradually became accustomed to us and realized that every week we would be there to teach children art. They gradually began to trust us and to offer us help. I have never felt in danger. It is true that at times garbage takes over the meadow where we work, but it is also true that people are trying to collect it in certain places but nobody comes to get it out of there.
One of the challenges that we face during our work in Stolipinovo is related to the lack of understanding of the Bulgarian language by most of the children. Many of them do not go to school and are not accustomed to established rules and order, which creates difficulties during our workshops. Over time, I can say that we have gradually managed to meet these challenges and get the recognition of the parents.
Working in Stolipinovo gives us a chance to meet children who are not bored and who really need us. They expect weekly workshops with great anticipation. By keeping up with these activities, many of them reveal skills and artistic talent that give them self-esteem and desire for development.
Who are your most important partners and interlocutors?
The project “Mobile School Stolipinovo” could not exist without the network of partnerships that we have developed. Our main partner in this project is the team of anthropologists from the association “Discovered spaces”, that helps us collaborate with children and parents. Their ongoing field work before and after the workshops with children gives us a useful feedback for the program. We also have a chance to share knowledge and skills with our international partners of the ATD - Fourth World network and create opportunities to implement best practices in other parts of Southeast and Central Europe with similar problems.
Over the last year, in order to improve the communication between the school, the children and their families, we started to conduct every week workshops in two schools in Stolipinovo where, in collaboration with teachers, we developed an architectural program for children as an extra curriculum activity.
From the very beginning one of our main goals was to engage locals in the working process, building their capacity for creative educational work with children. That’s why for us parents, craftsmen and other people from the community who participated and helped us during the workshops are among the most important partners in this project.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from the work you are contributing to in Plovdiv?
The Mobile School Stolipinovo is a step towards removing the boundaries between social, ethnic and minority groups. We see it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between Stolipinovo and the rest of the city thus unleashing the hidden potential of local residents. Initiatives related to the presentation of project results and products created during the activities will take place this autumn in other parts of the city and the country in cultural and educational institutions. As part of the project, our partners from "Discovered spaces" and "ATD - Fourth World" are organising an international workshop in September in Plovdiv where different European organisations are invited to participate.
What is most important for you when working in team?
In this project I have the chance to work with a team that includes people with different education, life experiences and backgrounds. For me, working with these people over the past two years has greatly contributed to my personal development. I think that the most important thing in this case is that each of us puts soul and heart in what we do.
If you were able to change one or two things in the area of responsibility of arts curators, cultural producers, cultural institutions, what things do you think would create the most value and benefit for all?
I think that burdening cultural institutions with thousands of documents, letters and signatures makes the structure heavy and ineffective.
What forms of artistic proposals and contaminations do you think are particularly representative of current transformations and challenges taking place in modern society?
Artistic interventions in the city environment with active collaboration with locals. Art directly engaged with social challenges.
What is one cross-sector collaboration that you find successful, inspiring or interesting and why?
For me including architecture in children’s education is a successful cross-sector collaboration. It is important to communicate architecture to children in order to increase their attitude towards the built environment and to develop their understanding of different cultural tendencies which affect it. It is believed that by building young people’s personal relationship with the city where they live from a childhood age helps them grow as responsible adults. Active citizenship is educated gradually. The creation of a positive attitude towards cultural heritage and an awareness of the relationship between human activity and changes that occur in urban areas would help children understand their role in determining the appearance of cities and the right to require quality urban environments.
Which artistic proposals currently catch your attention and why?
Christo and Jeanne-Claude "The Floating piers".
Olafur Eliasson "The Weather Project" – it is not new but it's one of my favourite.
Can you think of three or five keywords that express your impressions and feelings about the topics we just talked about?
Involvement, community, integration, partnership, collaboration.
Magdalina Rajeva, architect. Born in Sofia (Bulgaria), Magdalina Rajeva received her Masters’ Degree in Architecture from the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia. She runs her own architectural studio “ArchPoint” in Sofia with numerous projects in different fields - Interior Design, Residential, Public and Industrial Buildings. She is devoted to the idea of developing young people’s awareness of architecture, city and sustainable development. In 2011 she co-founded the Children Architectural Workshop, a non-profit organization, meant to inspire and emotionally engage children in architecture derived activities. Since the beginning of 2018 she has been running a two-year project “Mobile School Stolipinovo” part of the cultural program of Plovdiv 2019. Representative of the Union of Architects in Bulgaria in the UIA working program `Architecture and Children` since 2014. Alternate UIA council member 2017-2020 (region II).