City volunteers tell of how orphanage visit affected them

Jewel & Esk students and staff outside the orphanage
Jewel & Esk students and staff outside the orphanage
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A VOLUNTEERING trip to an orphanage in Bulgaria was designed to improve the lives of the children living there.

But the two-week excursion to the orphanage near the country’s capital, Sofia, has not only changed the lives of the children, but the volunteers who spent time with them.

A group of ten students from Jewel & Esk College have recently returned after helping to renovate the children’s home as part of the Bhagavat Educational Trust’s Living and Learning Abroad Project.

The orphanage cares for around 50 children aged between six and 18, the majority of whom have suffered some form of abandonment or neglect.

The children sleep eight to a room in the “old and tatty” building, and the students were overwhelmed by their positivity despite the conditions.

One student, who is on the college’s HNC course in social sciences, said the experience had made him “re-evaluate his whole life”.

John Beatson, 22, now plans to return to Bulgaria next year to work with street children.

He said: “We were there to renovate the orphanage, which is pretty old and tatty, and work with disadvantaged youths.

“It was really humbling. The children were so positive and content, not what I would have expected at all.

“The place where they were staying wasn’t very nice, it’s liveable but it’s not the nicest of places.

“Four or five of the children still have visitors from the outside but the rest of them are there for life and don’t have anyone.

“To see what they have been through, you just think to yourself that your own problems are so mediocre in comparison.

“It was really upsetting.”

Mr Beatson, from Newcraighall, added: “The whole group has been inspired.

“It really makes you start to re-evaluate your whole life.

“It changed completely what I wanted to do. My plan was to do psychology but now I would like to do youth work.

“I’m hoping to go back to the orphanage and visit.

“I have applied to work with Bulgarian street children in Sofia next year, which is a nine-month placement.”

During the two-week trip, the group took on a number of small projects around the orphanage to try to improve the accommodation for the children, which included painting bedrooms and clearing up the outdoor spaces so that the children had somewhere safe to play.

Lecturer Anita Baggs, who accompanied the group on the trip, said: “This has been a fantastic experience for the students.

“They have the opportunity to really engage with the children, some have been able to recognise the signs of neglect or abuse and have been able to put their learning into practice.

“There have been some laughs and tears along the way but all of the students would agree that it has been a very worthwhile experience that has changed their outlook on life.”

Jewel & Esk College hopes to continue to work with the Bulgarian charity in the future, starting with a Christmas present collection for the children in December.

To make a donation, email Julie Brechin, head of the Centre for Health & Wellbeing at jbrechin@jec.ac.uk.