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Elena Petkova

You never know who or what will determine your path in life. You cannot assume who your greatest teachers will be. And thank goodness for that!

I’d like to tell you a little about my brother. I can hardly give him the credit for providing my mission in life but bear with me please.

We were born a year apart and were very close although you wouldn’t know it if you saw us squabble.

He seemed to have been blessed by the sun and had beautiful, wavy, blond hair until something strange and tragic happened when he was five. His hair rapidly disappeared and he was left hairless. For my brother and my mum and dad there started and endless round of consultations with doctors, and specialist professors leading to unpleasant treatments. In desperation, they approached herbalists and faith healers but all to no avail. Nothing worked.

My brother started school and you can imagine the taunting, cruel teasing and bullying he endured. It became the normal pattern of his school days.

I was only little and, ostensibly, a representative of the fairer sex. However, I became a battler on my brother’s behalf. I fought with children bigger than I was. I stood my ground in front of teachers, the school principal and school board, I earned the nickname “Mitko Palauzov” – after the famous partisan leader.

In secondary school and as a university student I continued to be combative protesting against unjust decisions by teachers, injustices in the community and in public services. When I became a teacher, I continued to support those who I saw being left out or left behind.

As for my brother, he has grown to become the gentlest and most sensitive of men. There is no hint of bitterness in him. He is constantly kind and helpful to everyone he meets.

Has he taught me anything? Yes, indeed. I often wonder how I would have turned out had I been in his shoes. When I stop in my tracks to try to see things from the perspective of others, it’s my brother I call to mind.

Thanks to my brother, I have come to understand the value of being comfortable in your own skin and being content with the deal life gives you. My brother’s lesson in inner strength is something I try to pass on to the children I work with.