Emilia Shusharova, Convivium leader of the Slow Food Community of Kurtovo Konare and member of the Chitaliste ”L. Karavelov”- Kurtovo Konare, is full of enthusiasm as we talk about the solidarity initiative she started with other community members during the first lockdown.
The Slow Food community normally works on several fronts: protecting local vegetal biodiversity, supporting local producers and sustainable livelihoods, strengthening the organizational capacity, self-confidence and cultural identity of producers in Kurtovo Konare. They did not back down during the pandemic and helped many local members to overcome this difficult period through two separate projects.
During the first wave of the pandemic everything shut down from March 13 to May 13, 2020. People were very stressed, stayed in their houses and observed the safety measures strictly. At that time, we did not have many sick people in the area. In the summer, the measures were relaxed, and we even managed to hold our annual festival, Kurtovo Konare Fest, in September. During the second wave of the pandemic from November to December 2020 we already had a lot of sick people. Some people lost their jobs, some closed their companies, there were people on unpaid leave and many families were short of funds.
Our Slow Food Community has a strong connection with the Community Centre (Chitaliste) ”L. Karavelov – 1897” in Kurtovo Konare. Together we have always been aware of the problems of the community. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, after almost a year of monitoring the situation and research through local institutions, we decided that we could not be indifferent, and we prepared different projects to meet the needs of the local people. The main group is composed of four volunteers and involves different shops such as pharmacies and groceries.
The first project was “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed”, funded by the IRIS program, through which we helped 30 families at risk.
Most of them were single parents, people who’d lost their jobs, those who were working part-time or had taken long leave due to the pandemic. Over three months we helped 30 families in Kurtovo Konare (including 70 children and 41 parents) with food, medicine and disinfectants. We helped three families by paying some of their electricity, phone and internet bills for February, March and April. Over these three months we also distributed food, diapers for families with young children, masks and medicines. The families were selected after consultation with representatives at City Hall, the kindergarten and the school.
The support we got from the Workshop for Civic Initiatives Foundation and Bulgarian Charity Forum was very important.
Additionally, most of the children in the local school do not have computers and so lag behind in their education, despite the efforts of teachers and mediators. For this reason we organized a Summer Academy for 24 elementary school students to improve their reading, writing and mathematics skills in July 2021, with breakfast also being provided.
This year, the project was implemented over a six-month period from February 15 to August 15 in the village of Kurtovo Konare by a team of employees and volunteers from the Community Center with a clearly-written epidemiological plan in compliance with the procedures of the national organization for child protection.
Solidarity in difficult times is very important for community cohesion. And it’s not always easy. I have to admit, we were worried about having contact with so many people, but, motivated to help, we got to work with our masks on and in compliance with health & safety measures.
At the same time, we also tried to think about the elderly. With the project Solidarity and Tolerance we worked with 50 residents of Kurtovo Konare aged 65 and over.
These are all retirees living on small pensions, and the pandemic has further complicated their situation. Many of them are in a state of stress; on the one hand they are afraid for their health, and on the other by a life indoors which affects their psyche. Social isolation, lack of contacts, the severance of intergenerational ties: these are all problems that affect our community. Since the lockdown we have been working with 15 children and young people from the village in order to build a bridge between the generations through cultural and educational activities that help the elderly overcome their isolation.
We are fortunate because we have the support of numerous partners in our projects, such as the City Hall of Kurtovo Konare, who assist and participate in joint activities, the school who help with the participation of students, and the Association for the Slow Food Presidium of the Kurtovo Konare Pink Tomato, who help with culinary participations.
Among the activities that we will run through October this year, we have organized:
- Training sessions for using Facebook, e-mail, Messenger, Viber, as well as media literacy: recognition of fake news, conspiracy, online fraud, fake profiles, etc.
- Three meetings with creative people whose roots are in Kurtovo Konare
- A visit with a lecture in Krichim Park
- Ten meetings for studying songs from the region with the help of a music specialist and preparation of a folklore program for participation in the local festival – with ten adult women from the village and children from the local school
- The distribution of books in the homes of elderly people and readings at their request
- A competition to collect old photos from the past of the village, accompanied by a short story in which children from the village will participate
- Five videos with popular local recipes. The dishes will be recorded from the homes of elderly women and will remain as a memory for future generations
- During Kurtovo Konare Fest there will be a special tent with local dishes prepared by grandmothers and grandchildren
We will continue to work in this direction but as we go forward our efforts will be directed towards another goal too: to diversify their daily lives and help people return to normal life through a series of educational and cultural activities. We will also collect recipes from the local cuisine and prepare them during Kurtovo Konare Fest and elsewhere.