For Our Children Foundation and Urban Creatures joined forces to transform the building of the Early Childhood Development Complex in Sofia into a work of art

The project was conducted by the Bulgarian artist BOZKO and the Urban Creatures team

November 07 2022

As a result on many efforts in the spawn of several years, For Our Children Foundation opened the Early Childhood Development Complex in Sofia on the site of the former home for medical and social care for children aged 0-3 years “St. Sofia” in 2021 with the invaluable support of a number of corporate and individual supporters and the Sofia Municipality.

Picture: Ivan Shishiev

The path to the creation of the complex began back in 2008, when For Our Children established a Community Support Center on the first floor of the then functioning and full of infants “St. Sofia” Nursery Center. There, for the first time, external specialists were allowed to work with the children from the home. At the same time the foundation’s social workers supported parents in their effort to not abandon their children, worked actively with maternity wards and developed the foster care in the country.

In the period October 2015 – December 2017, the Foundation implemented the project “The Way to the Family” with the support of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the Social Assistance Agency, the State Agency for Child Protection, as well as Sofia Municipality. The ultimate goal is to permanently end the institutional care of children in the home “St. Sofia” and to create a complex for services for integrated support of children and families in the community.

In 2016, just in time for Christmas, the Foundation helped to relocate the last child from the St. Sofia center, and with that, the lights of the nurcery were turned off forever. In January 2017, the Council of Ministers made the final decision to close the home, and the Foundation was granted the right to use the building for 10 years to create an Early Childhood Development Complex.

For Our Children created the Early Childhood Development Complex in Sofia to provide support in the first and most important years of each child’s life – when it is not too late to prevent abandonment, compensate for developmental delays and overcome challenges. The complex brings together 5 centres that work closely together and provide support tailored to the needs of the children and their parents.

In addition to the direct work with children with disabilities and developmental difficulties and support for families in vulnerable situations, the Early Childhood Development Complex organises trainings for future adoptive and foster families, as well as for violence prevention, parenting capacity development, etc.

The complex carries the spirit of the family, its meaning and importance for the growth, development and building of the child as a person and last but not least – the message of a chance for a happy childhood for all children with by the support, care and love of the family.

“We have fulfilled a big dream of ours – 30 years and over 18 500 supported children and families later, For Our Children Foundation has created a space for calm and confident parents, for smiles and happy children, for knowledgeable professionals who help families with young children. This is the level that For Our Children Foundation aims to become the minimum level for a building, space, people and attitude to create from now on for all young children in the country. Because our children deserve the strongest start in life, and this requires love, attitude and care,” said Ivanka Shalapatova, Executive Director of For Our Children Foundation.

Photo: Ivan Shishiev

She points out that closing a social institution in Bulgaria is not an easy task. Especially when the institution is for children from 0 to 3 years, or the so-called Homes for medical and social care. Especially if you want the children to not be just moved from one place to another, but to find a real alternative and a life in a family environment.

“At the end of 2016, just before Christmas, after we moved the last children from “St. Sofia” into foster care, we turned out the lights on the building for good, knowing that it would never again be a “home” for abandoned, unwanted, nobody’s children. It took us several years to give the building on Sofia St. a new life and a new mission. With the support of individual and corporate donors, we were able to transform the rooms that held so much childhood sadness between their walls into halls where today children laugh, take their first steps, and say their first words. Today, there is no memory of the former home, because in its place there is an Early Childhood Development Complex where every young child and their family can get the support they need. Support from social workers and psychologists, child speech and rehabilitation therapists, family therapists and early childhood development specialists.

Today, many supporters have poured their energy into this building, providing specialized equipment and furnishings that make the space bright and welcoming. It was also time to transform the outside space, which was previously dreary. With funds provided by the Turkish International Development Agency, a complete makeover of the courtyard was completed and it is now green and colourful – ready to welcome many children and invite them play and laugh. With the assistance of the Sofia Municipality, we were able to combine art with our social cause. The most important part of the building has been completely transformed by art and today, from the walls in the courtyard, children will be provoked to dream and meet many magical characters from fairy tales who are an important companion in the children’s world. We are delighted that, thanks to Urban Creatures, the building now has a new look to stimulate the senses and remind all our visitors, young and old, that the world is colourful and full of thousands of possibilities,” she says.

Yasen Geshev, founder of Urban Creatures, comments that the aim of this work is to create an environment that allows children to really be children, to feel safe, to be relaxed, to be able to freely fantasize and play in different fairytale worlds, leading to the most important thing – having dreams. That is why the project is called “Tree of Dreams”.

“This project stands out among the many unusual works we have created over the last 12 years. In this mural, quite deliberately, and also for the first time since we’ve been working, we didn’t put the artist and their art in the spotlight. Instead we put the children at the forefront. They acted as curators for the world-renowned Bulgarian artist BOZKO. BOZKO showed them his initial sketch the children shared their comments and opinions with him. It’s exciting to see an artist like BOZKO say “Yaska, they are right. This is only about their point of view, not that of adults.”

BOZKO’s works are always an event for the global audience, because they are authentic and posess a special power. This power makes them able to excite audiences from Sofia to Hawaii and got them included in books by foreign publishers and nominated in prestigious world charts,” Geshev said.

Picture: Ivan Shishiev