Connecting the Award: How Award Ambassadors in Bulgaria used the pandemic to create positive experiences

During the lockdown Bulgarian Award Ambassadors Mikaela and Dimana launched a project they had long been planning: to connect as many Award participants to each other as possible, regardless of which country they were based in. With the pandemic forcing everyone to connect online, now seemed like the perfect time to make the dream a reality.
“Connecting the Award” is a project that managed to win the hearts of 30 young people from five different European countries by giving them hope for a better tomorrow.
Here, Mikaela Ivanova, from the Award in Bulgaria, tells us all about the project and what it meant to those involved.

How do you unite young people during Covid-19?

To be honest it hasn’t been easy, but when you have a goal set, you have to do all you can to achieve it. This is exactly what the Award teaches us. So we gathered energy and started working online to build the concept of our project. After a lot of discussions and long nights, the idea for the project “Connecting the Award” was born. The idea of an international project that unites young people from 5 countries – Bulgaria, Germany, Türkiye, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

Our main goal is to create a whole new community, where Award participants can get to know peers from around the world through participating in a challenge remotely, but together. “Connecting the Award” is a project through which participants challenge themselves and exchange their Award activities. And during this challenging time, it gives young people the chance to share experiences, get to know another culture and build unforgettable friendships. So how did we make it happen?

Everyone who wanted to participate had to share their interests with us, through a survey. There were questions on various topics – from “What do you like to do in your free time?” to “If you had a magic wand, what would you change in the world?”. The survey helped us to group the participants into teams, so that they have common interests and find their “twin” from another country. In the end, there were several groups, each consisting of 2 – 4 people.

Our first meeting was on 28 August 2020, and gave us a chance to get to know each other and have fun before starting the project.

“Connecting The Award” managed to unite 30 participants from five countries into nine teams. Each participant had to communicate with young people from other countries and had to choose one of their activities in the Award and do it for 4 to 6 weeks. Some of our friends decided to try one activity or skill, but there were others who tried 2 or even 3 activities. Some of the activities that participants exchanged were: zumba, polka, belly dancing, folklore dances, and yoga, to name but a few. And for the Skills section they could choose from learning another language, creative writing, drawing or cooking – like participant Helena Pechova from the Czech Republic who challenged herself to try and cook a traditional Bulgarian dish – Moussaka.

For us it was very important that each of the participants was having fun during the project. They were free to make their own decisions for the whole duration of the project. Let’s not forget that from the start of the project, you automatically become a mentor for the person that has chosen your activity. This is how our participants looked through the eyes of their assessors and Award leaders, even if it was for just 2 weeks. For some, it was challenging to use social media and virtual platforms to teach or to learn with other young people but in the end the young people were ambitious, persistent and strong.

Everyone shared photos or videos and what they learnt throughout the experience which encouraged the participants to keep going when things got tough!

Bulgarian Award participants

“The Award gave me something to look forward to, it made me excited. I felt like what I was doing really mattered and it made me feel important. Also, maintaining social connections is crucial in a time like this and thanks to the Award I was able to meet many incredibly inspiring people who have shared their own stories me and gave me the motivation to keep going and never give up.” – Sophia, Bulgaria

“The “Connecting The Award” project was very valuable. I experienced new things and it was a very enjoyable project for me.” – Berkay, Turkey

“It was interesting to find out hobbies of people from another country and pretty challenging as well. For example it took me 2 weeks to get henna in my country and I loved painting with it and also I tried belly dancing for the first time” – Klara Benesova, Czech Republic

“I made a new friend without leaving my house. This was a very comfortable and social activity. We had many common points, so I enjoyed the process very much. Thank you and all programme coordinateurs.” – Ayse Aktas, Turkey

“I became an Award Ambassador, and part of this project, at the beginning of the world pandemic. And I think this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being an Ambassador brought variety in my day to day life during the lockdown.” – Selin, Bulgaria.

We, the Award Ambassadors in Bulgaria believe we have to use the hard times to motivate ourselves. The hard times that we go through build character, making us much stronger people. So we are happy that we managed to bring smiles to these 30 young people. With enough faith in tomorrow, love of life and motivation, everything can change. Don’t forget that the “Little things make big days”.

Special thanks to Mikaelaa, Dimana and the Award Ambassadors who contributed to this project.

Bulgarian Award participants