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Bulgaria: A country profile -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Bulgaria: A country profile

By Shala Carlson. Photos by Steffan Hacker.

This time of year, the cold and damp Bulgarian winter approaches. Crowds make their way along the modern streets of ancient Sofia, a bitter wind wrapping itself around the warmth of the city lights. A heavy blanket of snow will soon cover this corner of southeastern Europe, creating a pristine postcard whose close-up reality is icy sidewalks and village lanes, frigid nighttime temperatures, and families struggling to stay warm and healthy in too-often crumbling and crowded housing. Active since 2001, Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria works to improve housing conditions from the capital city to the countryside, in partnership with local organizations and microfinance institutions.

Sofia / Renovations to aging apartments

Six-year-old Paulin Nikolovi plays on the floor of his family’s newly renovated apartment. Paulin’s father, Petar, was born here and inherited the declining flat from his father. Through a Habitat Bulgaria partnership with local microfinance institution Microfond, Petar took out a small, low-interest loan to perform much-needed renovations. With help from friends, he upgraded the apartment’s bathroom, replaced decaying pipes and wiring, and installed snugly fitted window frames that more effectively keep out the cold. Petar also was able to reallocate the family’s living space, creating a better kitchen for his wife, Violina, and — for the first time — a separate bedroom for Paulin and his 6-monthold sister, Toni.


Koilovtsi / Housing improvements

Yaroslav Milanov built his house in this village outside the community of Pleven more than 40 years ago for his growing family. Now retired, his children grown with children of their own, Yaroslav and wife, Iliyana Mihaylova, have struggled to maintain the house. When the roof began sagging three or four years ago, Iliyana constantly worried that it would collapse on the heads of her visiting grandchildren. After hearing from family members about the partnership between Habitat Bulgaria and the Pleven Community Fund, the couple took a small loan to buy materials, then happily repaired their roof with help from a neighbor.


Sofia / Improving accessibility for families with disabled children

When Antoaneta Petrova and her son, Dobi, first moved to Sofia, their apartment was on the 14th floor. On days when the unreliable elevator didn’t work, 19-year-old Dobi, whose muscular dystrophy means he uses a wheelchair, was a prisoner in his own home. After two years of waiting and working, the family found a first-floor apartment and relocated, but there were still at least a dozen steps to navigate at the building’s entrance. Through Habitat Bulgaria, Antoaneta has taken out a housing microfinance loan to make improvements, including the purchase of a ramp that gives Dobi more freedom.


Lilyak / Access to running water

Many families in the small village of Lilyak lack access to running water. Throughout Europe, Roma communities like Lilyak are often excluded from society and struggle for equality of access and opportunity. Here, city services stop short of the Roma community, ending in nearby Targovishte. Residents often walk up to 800 meters to water sources (about a half-mile), bringing back as much as they can carry for their households. Habitat Bulgaria is partnering with the local Club of Non-Governmental Organizations in the hopes that the two groups can work with these families to find solutions. Stefan Nikolov and his wife, Asia Marinova, have borrowed 400 leva (about USD$290) through the partnership, funds the family of five used to connect their house to the closest water main.


Sofia / energy efficiency

A maze of concrete high-rises sits on the residential western outskirts of Sofia. Like so many of its formerly Soviet counterparts, Bulgaria continues to struggle with districts full of these towering — and deteriorating — apartment buildings. With an eye toward helping families make repairs and increase the energy efficiency of their homes, Habitat Bulgaria has begun to assess the need and raise awareness about the types of assistance the organization could provide. Staff members have begun seeking out existing homeowners’ associations, officials from local districts and municipalities, and individual families and groups of families who might be interested in partnering.