Thursday, October 12, 2006

Grand Opening!

"The Center" - as it looked before Posted by Picasa
We opened our center! It is officially called "Educational and Informational Center for Children and Parents," but I will probably continue to refer to it as "the center." It sounds more fun and psychiatric that way - like we've painted everything white, installed the shakles, and padded the walls. Fantastic. So, as you can see above, I've posted a picture of how it looked before we "centered" it up. You were probably looking at it thinking, "What is so special about THAT place?" Hehe. It's perfect for torturing kids is what. Before, people... this is the BEFORE picture. And not even quite that because this is after we cleaned all the trash and other crap out of it. I will soon provide a link of the progressional pictures we put up in the center for the opening. These pictures show a chronological understanding of how far we've come. I told people that they would be amazed with what we were able to do with $4931.86 (+ A LOT of help from other donors and specialists who were willing to work for practically nothing), and boy were they! I'm still amazed at what we've accomplished. It's a fantastic place.
So, as I told you all before, I wasn't feeling well the first part of this week. It turns out that a bunch of us volunteers and trainees fell sick up at a training this last week. We're still not sure if it was something from the hotel or what, but a funny story has come out of it. If you think it can't get funnier than vomiting, chills, bowel issues, etc., then just wait! So, Peace Corps, being the responsible organization that it is, decided to contact the National Epidemiological Service to let them know something may be amiss. Again, PC isn't pointing the finger at the hotel. They just wanted the matter looked into. Right away they were contacted by the media for a comment. Since they declined to throw a bone, a tabloid here decided to publish a story with the following: 20 Americans - Volunteers from Peace Corps - were poisoned, said the manager, but it's not from the food - they were drinking until 4 a.m.! Awesome.
Anyway, back to our lovely, fantastic, knock-your-socks-off, super-duper center. We had the opening ceremony yesterday, and I was SO sorry that I couldn't help my colleagues get ready for it because I was feeling under the weather. They cleaned up everything and prepared a bunch of hors d'oeuvres... er, appetizers. Does anyone really know how to spell that word? My colleagues joked that the free-for-all, help yourself style was a "Tsiganska-Amerikanska" table - referring to the partial mix of ethnicities we have in our office. So anyway, I missed out on all the preparation of that. I could only come and be amazed at how much food there was.
We had quite a few guests - teachers from various schools, representatives from various organizations, government officials, the media... it was great! Like I said, the Peace Corps Country Director came with his secretary and personal translator (she's great!). Our SPA project coordinator came, and so did our Community Outreach Coordinator. They all were pleasant, smily, and congratulated us the appropriate number of times. Hehe. I think they really liked our project and were really impressed by what we had accomplished. I knew they would be. The SPA Coordinator even said it's the largest scale SPA she's seen. We did a lot for just under $5000. My colleagues were especially excited to have Peace Corps representatives there. They asked the Country Director to speak and afterwards they kept asking me (even though they well knew because they talked to them), "What did the people from Peace Corps have to say? Did they like the center?"
We had a few people speak: Peace Corps Country Director, the Vice-Mayor of Rakitovo, the head of the town council, and then we had three groups dance for the crowd. Sometime in there, Valia read the history of how the center came about. They mentioned me by name and many in the crowd cheered and clapped. I could only blush. They give me WAY too much credit.
After the program, we had a small, traditional Bulgarian ceremony to open the center. A ribbon was placed in front of the entrance and the Country Director and the Vice-Mayor cut it together. Right after that, Ani threw water on the ground. This is a Bulgarian tradition for good luck. Upon walking in, guests were given chocolates and traditional bread to dip in savory spice. Once inside, they were given the tour of the center. We had a board up where I had developed and posted the chronological pictures I talked about earlier. People were excited to see themselves represented in photos and posted for all to see. I think that was probably the biggest hit just because people could really tell how far the center had come. After seeing all the rooms, people were ushered into the kitchen where they were poured wine or soda to toast with and snacks to fill their stomachs.
Soon after this, I left to have lunch with our Country Director and Brandy. Once a year, the director makes a visit each site. We actually missed him the first time he was scheduled to come because we were in Spain, but now we had the opportunity to have lunch and charge it to Peace Corps. I took advantage.
Afterwards, I went back up to the center just to hang out and talk with people some more. In the evening, I went and had a drink with Brandy to celebrate, and then I met Valia and Angel to have a drink and watch the news. They showed our center and talked a bit about it. Part of the Country Director's speech and Yanko's interview made the news. Brandy and I were shown briefly in the crowd. I ran into quite a few people today who had seen it. I was randomly trying to give away some of the snacks I was given to take home. I couldn't eat them all myself. And the people I met said that they had seen the news and heard about the center. Giving cookies away is kinda weird and very random, but it's a good way to meet people.
Unfortunately, somewhere in all the excitement, our foundation's video camera was taken. A friend of ours had filmed the entire ceremony and our guests touring the center. Afterwards, there was a miscommunication of some kind, and now the camera is gone. We are still hoping that someone took it by accident, but to lose something like that is HUGE - especially in a poor neighborhood like the one I work in.
Today, other than giving away cookies, I've been in the center trying to help the women clean up from yesterday and figure out how I want to schedule my English classes. In the past, I've had to compete with extracirriculars such as drama, ecology, arts and crafts, etc. Now, we have a bunch of rooms for everything. Plus, my colleagues tell me that our main donor isn't allowing us to use our budgeted money for these things, so I'm free to program my English and computer classes. Crazy, huh? So now I'm starting to recruit all those bright-eyed kids who think they want to learn English with me. I'm told that parents want to come as well. Hopefully, I will be busy. I look forward to that.
We finally have our center! It's ready! Yay! Thank God for that. From here-on-out, I hope to refer to it as a typical place where I hang out and get a lot of work done. It's still going to be challenging, but good stuff. I'll try and post pictures soon.

1 comment:

vassi said...

Congratulations Apryl!! That's a big accomplishment and it's cool that you were able to get something back for all the work you've put into making the youth center a reality. Way to go! Can i come see it sometime?