Sharing my experiences on self-advocacy in Bulgaria

by Ann Marie Mc Dermott, Self-Advocate

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I was invited to go to Bulgaria by Mr John O’Gorman who works with the Bulgarian Association for people with an intellectual disability, to meet other people who wanted to learn about self-advocacy. I took the trip with Grainne Lee; we are both members of a self-advocacy group in Monasterevin. We were asked by John to go to Vidin in Bulgaria to tell people there about how we got started and what we do over here and why self advocacy is important to us.

Their seminar was held on 23 September 2009; it was opened by the Director of the Regional Department for Social Support for Vidin. We talked about our experiences and we used lots of photographs. We listened to Natalia Vitkova and Ivan Parvanov from Bulgaria about their lives and hopes for the future. Things we all thought were important were about the choices people wish to have in their lives and the help they need to make things happen. There was time to talk about how people from Vidin would like to develop their own self-advocacy group and how we could help them in the future.

Our advocacy group think it is a good idea to set up a partnership with the group in Bulgaria. It is good to meet other people and especially people from another country.

It was nice for us to visit their country and see how they live. Our group would love to help people learn more about their rights. This will help people have more confidence in themselves. We enjoy as a group supporting others and raising awareness about self-advocacy.

We decided to help get this group started and that we would collect money every week at our own local group. This money will help them get started. When we started first with our group we had no money either, but we got a small amount of money for training. It is important to get some help when you are starting. It would be good to use the money to get some training on committee skills and also to get a good venue. It is also important to get some good support for the group. We are lucky with our group here, as we had the same people supporting us for the last few years.

I enjoyed the new friends I made over in Bulgaria—like Natalia and Ivan—and how they told us about their lives. Natalia wants to move out on her own in the future, which is something I also plan to do in the new year. This made me think about how we had something in common. When I do move I would also like to share this experience with Natalia in Vidin. I would like to be able to help her with this also. Some people want to get married and to have children.

We were warmly welcomed to Vidin by everyone we met, especially by the members of the Bulgarian parents association and Mariyana Branzalova, who acted as our guide around Vidin. We walked along the banks of the Danube and I took lots of photographs. I returned home tired from the travelling, but very happy with the sharing and making memories.

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