Natalia Dreharova: Because of the joy in the eyes of the people
By Maria Dimitrova – Pichot, September 2013. http://bnr.bg/sites/en/Lifestyle/Profiles/Pages/040913NataliaDreharovaBecauseofthejoyintheeyes.aspx
Social worker is not a profession but a vocation, says Natalia Dreharova, Head of the Social Assistance Directorate in the town of Harmanli in Southeastern Bulgaria. This small community not far from Bulgaria’s border with Greece and Turkey is among the poorest in the country. That’s why social problems are not a rare occurrence. One wonders how this 46-year-old energetic woman finds the strength to be good and smiling amidst the vast sea of human suffering. She speaks slowly, calmly and immediately inspires confidence in the person she talks to. “Helping people is in my blood,” she says, recalling she is a descendant of the legendary Baba Iliytsa, the brave Bulgarian woman who helped the revolutionaries in the Botev detachment in the struggle for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. Agronomist by training, Natalia soon abandoned this field focus on social care, which is in her heart.
She says all people and cases she works with are difficult. A recent case included a Turkish citizen married to a Bulgarian woman. The man developed cancer and the family mortgaged the house to cover the cost of treatment. His wife went to earn money in England, and he in Germany. The children stayed with the grandparents. However, in Germany the husband prolonged his stay by nine days before returning to Bulgaria. And now the authorities insist on extraditing him to Turkey as a Turkish citizen. If this happens, the children will be left alone in Bulgaria.
“The children have grandparents on the maternal side, but they are ill, disabled and can no longer care for them. And how could you separate the children from their father who suffers from cancer when no one knows how much life he has left”, says Natalia.
She adds that the economic emigration abroad of many people in this region creates a lot of social problems. Children remain in the care of their grandparents and many elderly people are totally abandoned to their own devices in remote villages without any support from a loved one. They are one of the social groups in need of assistance not only materially, but also in terms of time devoted to them through the Home Assistant program.
“We somehow compensate for the lack of family for these lonely elders. We send people to clean for them, to buy them food, to wash their clothes etc. The situation in Bulgaria is such that the majority of their relatives have gone to work abroad and the elders remain in their homes all alone. It is particularly difficult for them in the countryside.”
Another vulnerable category is that of people with disabilities who are not able to properly tend to their needs. Several specialized programs come to their aid, such as House Assistant, Social Assistant, and Support for a decent life through a personal assistant.
“These are great programs financed by the EU, says Natalia Dreharova. In order for a person to be able to look after a permanently disabled relative, they have to leave the labor market. The idea is that a person can continue to work and still have their relatives taken care of by a person sent under one of these programs. We assess people with disabilities whether they are able to be independent. Because there are those who are in bed, but there are others who can still walk on their own. The municipality appoints a personal or social assistant to take care of them part-time, depending on their condition.”
The most problematic social group is the Roma minority in the region pressed by poverty and illiteracy. First and foremost, the children are at risk. And they are almost always born by underage mothers, a practice that continues to exist in Roma communities.
“Underage mothers are the main problem because they have no sexual education. They give birth to children but they have no experience in raising them, so they abandon them to friends and relatives. The majority of them come to us and say they cannot and do not want to take care of their child, they have no money, clothing, housing and family support. Thus, the child falls into a specialized institution for orphans. We are now looking for a better option. We try to accommodate these abandoned babies in foster care or if they have relatives and friends who want to take care of them, we accommodate them in their family environment”, Natalia Dreharova explains.
The return to the family environment among the Roma community, however, is a delicate issue. It takes a lot of serious study and then work for the acquisition of appropriate parenting skills in their own family or that of relatives.
“Reintegration is a bit tricky. One must very carefully assess whether the child should be returned to his or her family, because this is not always the best thing for the future of these children. In their biological families there are quite risky circumstances in some cases. Sometimes for these kids it is better to be even in a home of parentless children or any other form of child care, but not return to their biological family environment. Our job is difficult, but it is noble”, Natalia Dreharova concludes with unconcealed pride.
English version: Rossitsa Petcova