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WCSU professor brings volunteers to Bulgaria for girls leadership camp

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 00:12

As a female in Bulgaria there are limited opportunities, unless related to having a family early in life and raising kids, said a director for GLOW NGO Tsvetta Kaleynska. She said her future changed when she went to GLOW’s seven-day leadership camp when she was 14 years old.

“Americans played a huge role in my upbringing as an independent young female and they showed me the best of the Western model of life,” said Kaleynska. Kaleynska graduated in the top 10 of her high school class, knows four languages, received a scholarship to St. Francis College in New York and now works as a social media strategist. She said all of the accomplishments were because of GLOW.

The leaders of the NGO are a group of women, the oldest only 28, volunteering their efforts to girl empowerment in their post-communist country.

GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World, was originally established by Peace Corps volunteers in Romania, and then spread to over 60 countries. After the Peace Corps finished their mission in Bulgaria, young camp alumnae continued to run it.

Although Peace Corps volunteers are no longer there, Western Connecticut State University professor and UConn alumna Jean Hatcherson has brought a group to volunteer at the Leadership Academy in Bulgaria for the past two summers, and will continue to this summer.

Volunteers have been university students, professors, professionals and this summer will include high school teachers. Hatcherson said by including high school teachers she hopes they can establish a cross-cultural writing program with the Bulgarian girls and Connecticut students.

GLOW’s goal is to help young Bulgarian girls learn their potential as future leaders, and the volunteers help run sessions on gender, leadership skills and volunteering.

Hatcherson said one of the best skills for them, though, is practicing to speak in English. She said people are not happy with their government, citing student protests from the past weeks, so many people feel to get a good education they need to look outside the country.

“It’s good to get exposure, for anyone including Americans to go abroad and learn it’s only a plus, but for girls in Bulgaria it also enhances their ability to be employed,” said Hatcherson.

Out of 125 girls aged 14 to 18 that fill out an application in English for the camp, only 50 are accepted.

The girls come from their villages to historic town Veliko Tarnovo where they stay in a hotel with the leaders and volunteers.

Hatcherson said that a typical day might include waking up at 7 a.m. for an optional walk or jog with the girls, followed by icebreakers and an information session. After they break into groups to do role-playing and further discuss the topics. The volunteers are with the girls 24/7 during the camp, although they also spend a few days with Hatcherson in the capital city Sophia.

This summer’s dates are from Aug. 3-18, and the cost for volunteers is $1,450, excluding airfare. People interested in volunteering with GLOW should contact Hatcherson at jeanhatcherson@gmail.com, she said.

 

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