“Ecology of the Soul” brings together teenagers from different cultures in Plovdiv

At the end of July 2021 in the International Youth Center in Plovdiv Association "Bridges - Eastern European Forum for Dialogue" gathered 15 young people from different places in Bulgaria, belonging to different religions and cultures in the fifth edition of "Bridge-inter-cultures" interfaith youth camp. Through the power of art and their unique talent, the participants sent a common message of friendship to their peers from Bulgaria, Europe and the world.

This year the theme was "Ecology of the Soul" and was a part of the "Heritage" program of the official program of Plovdiv-European Capital of Culture, co-financed by the Municipal Foundation Plovdiv - European Capital of Culture 2019 / Plovdiv 2019 ECOC. Within five days, participants had the opportunity to meet with various religious leaders and learn more from them. And the afternoons were dedicated to art, ecology, emotional intelligence and sports workshop activities and trainings.


27.07. - Arrivals, Ground rules of the forum, Program, Partners, Ice breaker
The first day of the camp began with the official opening at the International Youth Center. Angelina and Svetlana got acquainted with the program day by day, partners and sponsors, as well as the ground rules of the forum was set up. Afterwards, BRIDGES youth leaders of Silvia and Emma, ​​"broke the ice" with fun exploration games and handed out colored garbage bags to each room.
The day continued with a walking tour in the Old city and a visit to the Armenian Apostolic Church "Surp Kevork" (St. George). There, the group was welcomed by the hospitable Hripsime Erniasyan, our old friend and deputy chairman of the Plovdiv branch of the All-Armenian Charitable Union (UABS) "Parekordzagan".

28.07. - Christianity, Ecology, "Mosaic of Faith", Evening of talents
On the second day, participants had the opportunity to visit places associated with two of the Christian communities in Plovdiv.
The Orthodox church "St. Paraskeva" is a place where there are no guests, and everyone is at home, as the parish priest Father Emil Paralingov says. Hidden from the noise of the big city, from peoples’  eyes and the vanity of the day in the precipices of the hill, which the masters "cracked" to build the church. The smallest Orthodox church in Plovdiv, built entirely of stone, detached from the rock on which it is located. In the 1970s, it was closed, abandoned and slowly turned into a garbage dump in the area, with traces of arson in its center. In 2007 the restoration of the church and its return to the status of a parish church began. One of the biggest landmarks are the icons. A bishop's throne inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory is also unique. There used to be a spring that dried up in the years of desolation. The priest and the laity hope that it is their duty to clean it, and God, if He chooses, will return the water again.


In the Catholic Cathedral St. Louis (Sveti Ludvig) in Plovdiv, the participants of the camp had the rare opportunity to be welcomed by Monsignor Stefan Manolov, Vicar General of the Diocese of Sofia and Plovdiv. As a sign of the good relations between the denominations, Msgr. Stefan received the book of one of the members of the "Bridges" Dr. Petar Gramatikov "The Council of Philippopolis (Nicene Orthodoxy and Arian Heresy)", published in Plovdiv in 2019.

The young people got acquainted with the history of the church and the dogmatic differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but mostly with the similarities that make us one in the big Christian family. The musical instruments used during the liturgy aroused interest.

On this day we had the honor have with us as a volunteer Assoc. Prof. Adriana Lubenova from the University of Plovdiv, who with her remarkable knowledge of art told and showed interesting facts about one of the emblematic sites in Plovdiv. The Episcopal Basilica of Philippopolis, the ancient predecessor of today's Plovdiv, is the largest early Christian church in the country. A coin of Emperor Licinius (308-324) discovered during the excavations gives grounds for the hypothesis that the basilica was among the first to be built in the Roman Empire after the legalization of Christianity in 313.
The size, decoration and central location of the church near the forum of the ancient city testify to the large and influential Christian community in Philippopolis. The basilica occupies a central place in modern Plovdiv. It is close to the central square and the Catholic Cathedral "St. Louis ”- an eternal example of the continuity of spiritual ideas that are passed down from generation to generation through the centuries.


In the early afternoon BRIDGES youth leaders Silvia and Emma held an educational eco workshop. It consisted of a presentation and a fun interactive quiz on "Plastic Waste Pollution". Inspired by this year's theme of the Ecology of the Soul camp, the girls introduced us to environmental issues and introduced us to alternative ways to reduce our use of plastic items. All participants were impressed by the workshop, but at the same time quite embarrassed by the huge amount of plastic that humanity consumes daily. Their appeal to the young participants is to think more in a natural way!
After the workshop on waste, plastics and pollution, camp participants redirected their experience and knowledge to another field.
In the creative workshop "Mosaic of Faith” they made a mosaic panel of bottle caps on a pre-designed concept of Atanas Kameshev, a lecturer at NHG "Tsanko Lavrenov" - Plovdiv.

“The Little Prince” of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and how to create harmony from chaos, how to create beauty from waste by reaching the most intimate corners of the human soul - this is what the participants thought while working on the panel. It symbolically depicts the eternal search, life and love, the vastness of the human spirit and the power of the little heart that sees the essential.


29.07. - Islam, Football tournament
The third day of the Interfaith youth camp began with the third workshop, which our youth leaders Emma and Silvia had prepared. The "Network of Life" is an educational game that encourages young people to think about the natural ecosystem, how the elements in it affect each other, and the relationship between everything in the natural world. The consequences of human actions on biodiversity in such an ecosystem are clearly shown. When all participants are present in the ecosystem, it is healthy and strong, but when even just one representative of it disappears, the relationship immediately becomes unstable and broken.

After the workshop, in sync with the current Olympic Games in Tokyo, a kind of "water Olympics" was held at the rowing base in Plovdiv. Through fun games, participants showed how vital and indispensable a resource water is and how every drop counts.


After the Olympic Games, the young people went to the Dzhumaya Mosque, where they were welcomed by Oktay Sheriff, an expert from the Social Policy Department at the Municipality of Plovdiv. He acquainted the participants with the organization Yeshillay Bulgaria and the work of the organization against the dangers of addiction. He highlighted interesting moments in the history of the Mosque, briefly explained the essence of Islam and community holidays.

A challenge for the young people, who are artists, performing with music, dance, speech and paintings, was the football tournamet with the young people from "Botev  Plovdiv” youth team in the late afternoon of the day, which was held at the stadium of the hosts. The ability to deal with the ball and team play despite the 40-degree heat was a test of how well they managed to build understanding and cohesion.


30.07. - Judaism, ZOOM meeting, UN Day of Friendship, Concert and exhibition
On the fourth day of the camp, the young people visited the Zion Synagogue, where they were warmly welcomed by Alex Levy, chairman of the Central Israelite Religious Council in Plovdiv. They got acquainted with the history of the Synagogue, with the peculiarities of Judaism, with the holidays of the Jews and touched one of the old and priceless scrolls, already a museum exhibit. In the youth center at the complex they viewed current exhibition there. In addition, everyone received a copy of the multilingual one educational coloring book "Interfaith coloring book" by BARAZA.

Alex Levy: "One of the worst things in 2020 was the inability to meet one of the most meaningful and important projects in Plovdiv. Thank you for continuing the tradition and the good moments with full force! ”
The final event of the camp was the "Bridge of Friendship" - which took place in two parts. It started with an exhibition in the AK Class of Wine gallery with art works made by Mina Saparevska from Sofia and Veneta Pavlova from Plovdiv, together with musical performances by children from the camp. This part of the event was also held live on ZOOM - as an online meeting with the sister camp in The Hague and URI youth leaders in Ankara, Cape Town, the Netherlands, Germany. Violin performances by Nona Kuteva from Sofia, poetic performances by sisters Nevena and Galena Zhelyazkovi from Tervel, jazz and pop performances by Angelina Saparevska from Sofia and Agleya Kaneva from Plovdiv filled the space of the gallery.


The dance performances took place on the main street in Plovdiv next to the inscription TOGETHER on the stairs of Kamenica. The goal was to attract Plovdiv residents and guests of the city to the message of the camp "Ecology of the Soul" and of the idea to build bridges between us. The ballerine Anastasia Petkova from Stara Zagora opened the series of performances with classics. Cheerleader Ivona Nyagolova from Tervel won the audience with her plasticity and mastery, and the final was with folk music. The talented young people from the town of Tervel brought a breath from the fields of flat Dobrudzha, from the breadth of their souls and the goodness of their hearts. Martin Stoyanov from Tervel blew up the emotions with a bagpipe performance, and the Dobrudzha handkerchief performed by Viktor Doychev and Yasen Radev, representatives of the Children's Folklore Ensemble "Kalinka Valcheva" - Tervel, aroused unprecedented interest.
The event ended the same day with a traditional Bulgarian folk dance HORO, danced by young people on the stairs of Kamenitza at 17.00. A bridge of friendship addressed to people from all over the world.

31.07. - Conclusions, Certificate ceremony, Donation of  "The Little Prince" panel
What did they learn and what will they take with them from the camp-forum of tolerance and understanding? These were the discussions during the last session of the camp.
In the final game "Plums for garbage", which was announced on the first day of the camp and the garbage bags were distributed, all participants withdrew their collected waste in rooms. Agleya, Asya and Alexandra's room had only 83 grams of waste and they received symbolic eco-gifts from the youth volunteers Silvia and Emma for a job well done.

Then each of the participants shared their impressions of the days and the emotions they will bring back home. Many new plans and workshop topics for the next edition of the camp in 2022 in The Hague were outlined with enthusiasm.
"Ecology of the Soul" ended with an official ceremony for the distribution of certificates for active participation of young people in the forum. On this last day, Oktay Sherif from Plovdiv Municipality was with us again. He symbolically received as a donation the art  panel of bottle plastic caps with the image of the Little Prince, which the young people created together. The art panel will decorate a complex for social services "Olga Skobeleva" and will convey the BRIDGES message about the search for the human soul and the strength of the community built on spiritual values.