According to the World Bank, almost 15% of young people in Bulgaria (between 15 and 29 years old) do not study, do not work and do not want to do so. Thus, they fall into the popular acronym NEET – Not in Education, Employment or Training. The problem is global and is therefore one of the priorities of the European Economic Area’s Youth Employment Fund, in which Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are investing nearly € 61 million. The aim is to help as many as possible of those nearly 14 million young Europeans who seem to have lost their way. We chose to visit one of the supported projects – “L.I.K.E. – Life Investments is the Key to Employment”, hosted by the leading implementation organization -“Association for Progressive and Open Communication” (SPOC). They are partners with organizations from Hungary, Latvia, Italy, Iceland and Norway working on the same topic. “We always try to catch all stakeholders and work together. Our goal is not to compete with others. For me, this is the way. If we do not join forces, we will be unsustainable.” said Albena Drobachka, chairman of the association and project manager.
Precisely for this reason psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, specialists in ethnic issues and others are united behind the cause of the project in Bulgaria. They have a creative role in the first stage of the project. With the help of sociological research, interviews and exchange of experience with partners, selected, successful and suitable for our society activities have been selected, aimed at young people from the target group who have or have gone through a mental problem. You may already be imagining endless hours of conversation on the psychoanalyst’s couch, but the reality is very different. Art, sports and animal activities, gardening, meetings with employers and much more are organized. It is even better that the project and the young people have a home – the so-called “Hidden Likes” youth house. It is located in the center of Sofia, an old and beautiful house from 1930 in a hidden courtyard shared with many cats. The house was opened in the fall of last year and almost 80 people have already become part of the various initiatives of the project. In 2021, such houses will open in Latvia and Hungary.
Reaching out to young people themselves and including them in the program remains the biggest challenge. Public opinion plays a big role in notoriety. “We have to get to the point of not worrying that if they see you going to a center like that, if you say you have a problem like that, they’ll call you crazy,” Albena said. The frequent open days and the help of relatives and friends of the young people are of big help here.
Dr. Yuri Katsarov, a project expert and clinical psychologist, tells us what happens when a young person first comes to the house. “We start with a so-called psychodiagnostics interview or assessment of the problem, in which we collect information about the history of the young person. Then we present the different activities, most of which are easily accepted, according to the individuality of each young person. We see them as the path to change.” The ultimate goal is to start a job, internship, or education. Mentors are also involved in the help, and working with the whole family is extremely important, says the project team.
Another important task of the project is the focus on vulnerable groups, including Roma. The aim is for them to be at least 10% of the young people involved, and this brings additional difficulties. The nearly 10-year history of the SPOC association, the established contacts and the good communication in places with mediators, volunteers and parents come to the rescue.
It’s easy to feel safe and secure in the “Hidden Likes” youth house. The team has carefully selected the furniture and colors and creates a cozy environment that remains after a good first impression and cheerful smiles that greet young people. The project will last until 2023 and the ambition of all is to continue the activities as a proven and successful approach to solving the problem. The help of experienced specialists from donor countries and the creation of good partnerships are the solid foundation on which the project team is still building.
An article by Garo Manukyan of the National Coordination Unit for the Implementation of the EEA Financial Mechanism and the Norwegian Financial Mechanism in Bulgaria