Protecting Bulgarian crafts, supporting vulnerable people
Do you like traditional Bulgarian products? Are you drawn to the vibrant embroidery, intricate woodwork, beautiful ceramics, creative jewellery and skillful artwork? If so, you will agree that these are worth protecting in a world of global pressures, homogenous products and 21st Century cravings.
The Traditzia Foundation was born out of the idea that there was a vast amount of talent in Bulgaria amongst many vulnerable people who could be supported to promote and protect the Bulgarian craft heritage. The story began in 2002 when the British Ambassador and his wife collected together items they had been given from visits to social institutions, and offered them for sale at a gallery at 36 Vassil Levski Boulevard (next to the British residence). Within five years, Traditzia has developed its work to offer over 4,000 products, and work with more than 400 suppliers across all parts of Bulgaria. Of these suppliers, around 70 percent are vulnerable in some way or another and need support to become economically active.
The concept relies on the two "arms" of Traditzia - project support, and gallery activity. Crafts, which are created through project and therapeutic support, are then offered for sale in the gallery. This provides further revenue both to the artisans and to create more projects to help more people.
The stories of people whose lives have been lifted from poverty and depression speak for themselves. Take, for example, the case of Mitko, a Roma orphan from Burgas. With art therapy support under a Traditzia project, he learnt woodwork and glass painting skills. After leaving the orphanage at 18, Mitko has managed to earn a living using these skills. Or hear the story of Stanka (41), who is physically disabled and cannot leave her home easily. Traditzia's specialist works with her in the comfort of her own home to create products for our range of knitted clothing. Stanka has a small income, a purpose, some company and a product to offer. Her talent is used and lost dignity is regained.
Traditzia feels proud to have achieved a considerable amount already, and to have raised over 75 percent of all its income itself (the rest has come from successful project applications to public donor bodies). But the baton has now passed from the international donors and public project funds to the private sector and local community sources of income to help create a more prosperous civil society in Bulgaria. In the end, everyone benefits. Companies need customers to have money in their pockets to buy their goods. Local municipalities need citizens to engage in making their community more active and less of a drain on the public purse. And humanity generally needs to have a purpose. Creativity in "manufacturing" is still a basic pleasure.
We love to touch and feel something that is made by hand, to admire the skills needed to create a product. So what could be done with a public commitment to supporting civil society in this way? Well, the options are limitless! With the support of the private sector, a regional centre for craft training could be developed, where trained staff engage the younger generations by offering apprenticeships in Bulgarian crafts, such as carpet making, or wood turning. The foundation could travel the country with exhibitions and demonstrations - creating an interest in learning and preserving the crafts. It could create outlets in the tourist areas of Bulgaria and reach more customers or work with more social institutions and provide extended support and therapy to those who are most in need. The Chitalishte, or community centres, could be used to create a "hub" for communities to work together on product creation. More books, patterns for designs and materials could be bought plus equipment for those most in need. And Traditzia could travel abroad with artisans to represent this country's fantastic cultural heritage internationally. Just maybe, it could make a serious dent in those high levels of unemployment that seem so difficult to reduce in the remote regions. It certainly wants to try.
And the foundation can share its experience with other organisations who are working to create a better society in Bulgaria. There is now wide brand recognition for Traditzia across the country, and this will be used to promote any sponsorship and support offered by corporations. Of course, Traditzia and its partner organisations will look to use all funds available (for example, the European Social Fund) but it will always have more effect if the business world becomes engaged in building communities. Like everything in life, we are so much stronger together. Bulgaria deserves to offer all its citizens every chance to live out of poverty and in a fulfilled and dignified state.
Traditzia is very transparent. See for yourself. Come to the gallery (opposite Hotel Downtown). Look around and read the stories behind the products. Consider if you want to volunteer in any way. Tell us if you know of a craftsperson who could supply us with goods. Give us ideas for products we should try to find or even create. Consider your employees spending time with Traditzia. Let us know if your organisation would like to have tailor-made corporate gifts, created by individuals who are in need of support. Join us on one of our numerous evenings in the gallery to share the success and see the results of a certain Traditzia project or a new line of goods. Invite your colleagues to host an event at the gallery. In whatever way you choose, you can make a difference to the lives of people you have yet to meet, but who depend on our support. On 17 May we will hold our fifth anniversary party at the British residence to launch our vision for the next five years. We would love to hear from you if you would like to be part of that vision. A warm welcome awaits you. Please contact Katie Hill or Temenushka Todorova on 981 7765.
* Katie Hill is the chairperson of Bulgarska Traditzia Fondatzia