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The final external evaluation of the Voice of Adversity Project was carried out in the period June-August 2022, with the participation of the Equilibrium Association team, heads of partner organizations in five pilot districts of the country (Vidin, Plovdiv, Ruse, Sofia and Shumen), mentors and people whose voices are heard – children, youth and parents involved in the project due to the need for support from the child protection system, social services and programs. A team of evaluators from ISUO Consult conducted on-site and online interviews and analyzed theoretical, methodological and applied documents developed and implemented in the project. The team was joined by consultants Daniela Yaneva and Radka Mladenova who worked in the field in two areas. The team attended two public events for general discussion of the results.

About the people and the products: at the end of the project, we gathered the opinions of 58 participants from 7 locations in the 5 pilot districts. 29 children, young people and parents met with the evaluators and shared “first hand” who heard their voice and how this listening impacted them. We spoke – in person and remotely – with 19 mentors and 6 managers of partner organisations across the country. We deepened the opinions with the reflection of 4 Equilibrium team members – about the context of the project, the role of the personal story’s method and the perspectives for the development of activism and social capital. We learned about the project’s know-how documents (methodology, tools for recording and analyzing personal stories, training materials, feedback, online platform, publications) and other documents of the team for working with families, helping and decision makers.

About the analysis and conclusions: we analyzed exciting, sincere, in-depth opinions:

  • To children, young people and parents: the value of listening and encouraging personal voice and activity – in the family, in the protected environment of social services, in the community.
  • To the mentors, partners and project team: about the need and power of free human communication that follows the narrative of the sharer, explores the resources of the storyteller and the helpers with ideas about resources, possible solutions and steps for change.

The memorable main conclusions are related to:

  • Participation of the vulnerable. “The Voice of Adversity” is a unique project for Bulgaria, targeting enduring socio-cultural attitudes that place barriers to people’s activism and keep them in a vulnerable or passive state, highly dependent on access to support.  By participating in the project, each child, young person and parent walks, with the support of a mentor, their own path – from the role of a ‘vulnerable person’ to the role of a ‘storyteller’ of a personal story, a ‘co-author’ of shared knowledge about the difficulties faced by families and a member of a mutual support group. Along the way, participants develop their skills, increase their belief in their own strengths, and seek solutions and supporters.
  • Professionals learn from personal history and experience. Listening to the narratives of children and families – an original method of the Equilibrium team – enhances the competence of mentors, helpers and partner organizations who learn from the shared difficulties of families in a particular city.  The 385 stories gathered bring authentic knowledge about problems and possible solutions in key areas of life: family support, education, health, social support and services, housing, employment, transportation, recreation and leisure.
  • Personal stories-“compass” for quality. “Equilibrium and its partner organisations use personal stories as a tool to assess the quality of support received by families. Progress is found in stories of change-for the individual and the family.

Sharing and empowerment. The transition from sharing personal stories to empowerment is a process of continuous development – of individuals and groups. It is an ongoing journey with many steps and with support through mentoring, training, advocacy preparation. Project participants have walked a varying number of steps together. Together the journey continues!