lundi 4 novembre 2013

My European generation

On October 20th, I was part of a Transeuropean Walk in Warsaw. This kind of a walk also took place in Barcelona and in Berlin, in the frameworks of the Transeuropa Festival which was organized by the organization European Alternatives. Each in its own way, these three European cities have created something out of a common idea: a walk on the topic of migration. In Warsaw, the group chose a text from the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz's journal.

Translation: Alice Olivier 

Five actors from different origins read the text in their native languages, in five places in the city (you can download this text here). At each stage, a production:  musicians and dancers create a particular situation and atmosphere on the topic of immigrants. Between each stage, about sixty people walk alone or in small groups, talking or in silence.

The language melody changes, each actor has his own history and temperament. But the rope that binds, attaches and separates, the excitement of the discovery, the inevitable amount of violence, the energy of despair, the agitation, the exhaustion... accessories, accents, looks that show that emotions are alike among migrants.

I was suddenly in Argentina, completely alone, cut off, lost, ruined, anonymous. I was a little excited, a little frightened. Yet at the same time, something in me told me to greet with passionate emotion the blow that was destroying me and upsetting the order I had up to now.
Witold Gombrowicz,  Diary (1953-1969)

We begin on a path leading to Ukazdowski Castle, where the Contemporary Art Centre of Warsaw is located. A young Italian guy climbs up a ladder, observes, goes down on the other side and finds himself in an area enclosed by a rope. Some people search him, then play with him. Meanwhile, he says what he has to say.

Further, in an underpass, Noé plays a scene in French. One can see his frightened eyes in the darkness. In real life, Noé arrived in Poland four years ago because he had fallen in love with this country and wanted to found there a “Ludoteka”. He invites people from each age and origin to meet, play and laugh together. What is more natural?

A bit after, on a big esplanade surrounded by buildings, Alvaro, a Spanish guy, tells his story. Alvaro is a good actor. He is also part of the European Alternatives local group which has organized this creative and reflective moment.

The last stage is located a few steps away from the Plac Konstytucji. After a scene which has been around the figure of a Russian immigrant on a basketball court, a young woman tells the text in Polish, its original language. The walking audience takes part in the performance, holding the rope that delimits the show area. In the end, dancers run to and fro, stride over the rope, shove the audience to mix up the borders and to somehow stress the fact that one is never only passing by, that one always has a role to choose.

After the walk, we meet at Cafe MIto, where the walkers are asked to write a few words on a postcard, explaining what they feel towards immigration. Natalia Szelachowska, who coordinates the Transeuropa Festival in Warsaw, explains: « I find it really great that people are here and appreciate this moment, and at the same time think about immigration and write on these postcards. They are not  just here to attend a performance and then leave right after the end, they also give something of themselves ».

                                                                               Natalia Szelachowska, from the Alternatives Européennes local group in Warsaw

As I'm writing my postcard, I'm obviously thinking of these four young actors who have left their countries to settle in Warsaw. For a crush like the crush Noé had, or for economic reasons, Poland being turned out to be a land of welcome and employment for southern Europeans.

I'm thinking also of Ridhi, who lives and studies in Oxford and whose Indian family moved from Mozambique to Portugal during the Independence war in the seventies. Rhidi told me her story in a simple and happy way... Now, she organizes OxPortunidades, a mentoring program that encourages young Portuguese people to be ambitious enough to apply for Oxford or Cambridge.

I'm thinking of Eri again, my Japanese friend who now lives in Modena and is married to Simone, the brilliant inventor. One day, after having spent a few years in Italy, she told me she was puzzled as much as fascinated by some of the strong cultural differences between the two countries.

I'm thinking of Parastza Pé, a crazy musical duo that I met in the train from Zagreb to Budapest. Danny, the American percussionist and Pablo, who plays the hurdy gurdy. They were gathered by their common will to play, in Hungary, the music from the Brasilian Nordeste... The two friends played a few tunes for Lucia – a young Slovakian student who was also part of the trip –, my friend Charlotte and me. 

I'm thinking of this pretty Portuguese girl that I met in Kalamata, Greece. She came there like some young Spanish, French or Icelandic people to volunteer for a year in the youth centre managed by the association KANE. She fell in love with the Peloponnese and she decided to stay a bit longer in order to try her luck...

I'm thinking of Lorena in Madrid, of Cimi, Míša, Ahmet, Umar, Abdulrahman, and of all the others in Lund and Malmö, of Nadia and Siddharth in Stockholm...

I'm thinking of all these young people I met in the last months. Some of them live in the country where their parents were born, some don't. Several of them have already lived in two different countries or more, and they felt at home everywhere. They all have a story, tastes, and talents. They get involved in some projects bigger than them, or might get involved one day. These young people are ten years younger or older than me, they are engaged, curious, dynamic, passionate, open-minded, connected, European, citizens of the world... This is my generation, and I love it!

dimanche 1 septembre 2013

Homeless people play football. One goal: happiness.

In Sofia and elsewhere in Bulgaria, young homeless people play football twice a week, preparing for the Homeless World Cup. These trainings are a dynamic way to regain a foothold in society: they are a school of life for people that often neither had a family nor an educational framework. Through an entrepreneurial and empathetic approach, Viktor decided to believe in this ambitious educational and social project, building on his passion for football and his skills.

Two weeks ago, homeless people from all around the world heated up the atmosphere in Poznan. This Polish city hosted the Homeless World Cup. Thanks to social networks, I could enthusiastically follow the competition's highlights... And I was particularly paying attention to the Bulgarian team.

I met Viktor Kirkov in Sofia thanks to a happy coincidence. Viktor has always had a passion for football. He made a first career as a sport journalist, then worked for sports' advertisements and public relations. It is consequently not random that he became the official Homeless World Cup's partner in Bulgaria.

Viktor was first contacted for his expertise and his network. He accepted to give a helping hand to prepare the application file. One thing leading to another, Viktor became the only responsible of this unusual project.

Training the body and above all the mind

In August 2011, his application is accepted by the federation organizing the Homeless World Cup. The young man has just founded his own firm, Sports Management Bulgaria: he runs a sports complex for the municipality of Sofia and deals with sports marketing. His job is to bring people to sports: amateurs, but also media and firms. The challenge is somehow equivalent when it is about working with homeless people...

Except for a few key details. “At the beginning, everything was difficult”, Viktor explains. He makes the residents of a temporary accommodation an offer to play football twice a week for free. A first coach is recruited. And the 27 volunteer players (25 boys, 2 girls), aged between 19 and 28 years old, start to learn the rules... of life. This means a real challenge for people who, until now, nearly did not have any education.

The "Team of Hope"  represents Bulgaria in Mexico City in 2012.
© Sports Management Bulgaria.

In Bulgaria, children left to welfare services grow up in institutions with bad reputation. When he describes this system, Viktor seems to lose his usual temper: “There, they deal with food and hygiene, but no one talks to these children. No one cares about their minds. When they are 18, if they are not finished with school, they are allowed to stay two more years. But when they turn 20, from one day to the next, they are on the streets”.

For the first trainings, the players do not really come on time. But, from one victory to another, they all end up arriving too early for the training, although this training now takes place in Viktor's far sports complex. For Viktor, performance is not the most important: “We try to make them more disciplined, organised, responsible. It is also important for them to learn how to help each other”.

To make progress, everyone should be happy

One can see results very quickly, even apart from the football field. Several team members find a job and, most importantly, manage to keep it. Some leave the temporary shelter and rent a flat. A young man enters university. They do not benefit from financial support, but they gain a benevolent supervision that encourages them to outdo themselves in all areas of life.

This first experience runs its course in Sofia. Meanwhile, Viktor builds up contacts in Plovdiv, Varna, Stara Zagora, Vratsa and Blagoevgrad. In these cities, trainings start as well. They are more or less successful, depending on the context.

Viktor with the team jersay, showing the main sponsor's logo while posing next to different personalities: the former Bulgarian sports minister Svilen Neykov (top left), Mel Young, president and founder of the Homeless World Cup (top right) and Peter Schmeichel, the former captain of Manchester United (bottom).
 © Sports Management Bulgaria. 

Thanks to his experience, Viktor developed a highly efficient business model.  He even explains it in a lecture to some international colleagues: how to find attractive ambassadors, how to give thrilling news to the media, how to create emulation... All of this to be able to give back to the sponsors about 5 times their investment in advertisements. “We try to make everyone happy”, sums up Viktor, who dedicates half of his time to a social mission, which, he notices, has positive repercussions on his sports complex. The coaches - who are now seven - are volunteers, but they have some fringe benefits. Above all, they get the possibility to develop their skills as the trainers of a national team. 

Complementary education: love and freedom

Playing football has a lot of strong collateral repercussions. To go further and to maximise the impacts on the social integration of the youngsters, Viktor launches other projects. Some of the players take part in an educational program, which follows the suggestopedic method. This method was invented by Georgi Lozanov, a Bulgarian psychologist, and was positively evaluated by UNESCO in 1978. It aims to increase assimilation and memorisation, particularly in order to learn foreign languages. It relies on a positive group dynamic and fulfilling interactions. Viktor himself tried this method and is convinced of its efficiency. “People get a free spirit and become more creative... These youngsters, who did not receive any love until now, can change everything in their life”.

Two volunteers followed a training program about suggestopedia, and then both taught the players for 25 hours. Viktor has a lot of ideas to find the necessary funding to train new teachers. For instance, he is working with herbalists on inventing and selling some healthy, balanced and energizing “great food” that strengthens body and brain.

                                               Bulgarian men's team wins the Poznan City Cup.  © Sports Management Bulgaria. 

Actually, although personal fulfilment and social integration are the main goals of this project, sports success can eventually happens. In 2013, while participating for the second time in the World Cup, Bulgaria won one of the trophies, the Poznan City Cup. In addition, a futsal (indoors football) team is being created in Sofia, with the most talented players. The idea is to have, within two or three years, a real professional team. A team which will represent Bulgarians, the ones with a home as well as the homeless ones.


In 2013, 70 young homeless men and 11 young homeless women practice football in 5 Bulgarian cities: Sofia, Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Vratsa and Blagoevgrad.

Little by little, the players acquire new skills: regularity, respect, team spirit. They get back to a more steady life (long-term job, accommodation, studies, etc.).

In August 2013, 26 players took part in the Homeless World Cup in Poland. There they met youngsters from 69 other countries.


Between youngsters in extreme precariousness and football, sports in general and the inhabitants of the different affected cities, through media and social integration processes.

Between youngsters from all over the world, who are currently experiencing or who used to have a very difficult life.

                                                                                Bulgarian and Polish women's teams, after the match. © Sports Management Bulgaria. 

Viktor's lessons

The recipe for success: “To succeed, one needs two things: love and discipline. I do not want to help these people. I want to trigger opportunities that allow them to change on the long term. When they are ready, life gives them a chance. Our role is to help them to become “more” ready.

Find what makes you happy and do it: “When I was younger, I supported one of the local Bulgarian teams, and that made me really happy. Later, I lost this feeling when I discovered that not everything was always so clear in the football world. Now, with my team, I have this wonderful feeling again! The true reason is that I am happy to do what I do”.