On 24th April, a team from Equilibrium provided an audience from the Bulgarian capital with an insight into recent developments in the work we do with families.
We also explained why our repertoire is evolving in the direction of working with very young children, their parents, educators and childcare professionals to encourage exploration of Developmentally Appropriate Practice.
The event took place in the European Parliamentary Building (Дома на Европа) and the Bulgarian MEP Momchil Nekov was our chairman for the day. Mr. Nekov recently helped raise funding for Equilibrium and he is a fan of the things we do.
The audience was made up of our peers from the world of childcare and included government experts. The Danish embassy was represented by Vasya Naydenova, the administrative deputy to the Danish Ambassador. Our focus on early childhood practice and education is supported by the Velux Foundations from Denmark and – together with Scotland – the Scandinavian region leads Europe in finding ways to allow children to learn as they are designed to learn, through free play and exploration. We are following their influence.
Equilibrium works with children of all ages and they come in all shapes and sizes. Many have complex special needs. The day was designed to allow us to convey the deep truths that lie below the surface of all the work that we do. To help us do this, we were helped by a group of children from Ivan Vasov elementary school ( JuJu, Lexi, KaKa, Soppy and Him-Over-There) together with our own young ambassador, Rooooooumi. (David is part of their gang, hence the nicknames.)
Children sometimes say things better than adults. This time, they did it using the technique known as shadow theatre (see the photograph). They showed audience members the contrast between grumpy and negative parental responses and the warm and positive reactions that all children deserve. They also ended the event with a rendition of their song, “These are our Rights” that has become the new Equilibrium anthem.
The event had joint facilitators – our technical experts, Elena (director of programmes) and Galya (our chief executive) who cleverly weaved together the themes and storylines introduced by the other speakers. Milena revealed what happens inside the newest of the ten social services we manage. It is a centre that combines intensive, 24 hour medical care for babies and infants with profound special needs. However, we focus on doing everything that is needed to ensure that – one day soon – these children will be with their families. We also provide daycare for young children with special needs and support their mums and dads.
Valeria told the story of Alec one of the children from the new centre. Behind her, a series of images showed how he has transformed in our care. The transformation in Sylvia who lives in one of our small-group homes is equally wonderful. Her story was told by Valeria.
Arguably, the closure of large institutions for children with intellectual disabilities was provoked by exposure of the tragic condition of those children living in the notorious home in Mogilino. We have cared for a number of those children. As young adults in our care, they are now robust and happy. They live fulfilling lives as demonstrated by the images we shared.
After audience members had been asked to provide a single word inspired by the idea of early childhood, they watched a short clip from Harvard University that reveals the damage caused to the brain’s neural pathways caused by “toxic stress” suffered by young children. David picked up on the theme – “What does it mean to ‘empower’ a child?” Using contemporary know-how in cognitive psychology and child development, he explained the uniqueness and potential of every child and the impact of stress on fulfillment of that potential. A major factor in creating stress is deprival of rich and varied opportunities for learning through free play. Early years care and education should not contribute to this stress. Too frequently they do because they fail to use Developmentally Appropriate Practices. Equilibrium aims to promote those practices in Bulgaria by creating the country’s first Early Childhood Resource Centre.
Recent work with Roma communities focuses on bringing children, parents and professionals together through play. We presented a film showing how our actions are inspired by the teaching of Friedrich Froebel. We are bringing Froebelian practice to Bulgaria from Edinburgh. We think Froebel would have approved of the actions shown in a film made in our small-group homes for young adults. We show the contrast between the things the youngsters say make them happy compared with the dark and intimidating experiences they grew accustomed to in institutional care.
We may specialize in working with children at risk but we are champions for all children.
Loads of thanks to Theo, our multimedia expert from Arena Media and to our driver who showed eternal patience.
Many thanks to Vanko and Tzetso for their organizational support.