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What I learned about events at the opening party of a Bulgarian playground

In recent months, as an intern at SchweryCade, I have learned that events that are not managed sustainably can often cause a negative environmental impact. However, a recent trip to northern Bulgaria reminded me that they can also have a huge positive social impact…

The last words of the opening speech are spoken and the tension is rising. More and more children crowd along the barrier with eyes focused on the motley and decorated brand-new playground. Then finally, the time has come. The barrier tapes get torn down and the children storm the playground. As I watch the children bounce down the slides and try to grab a seat on the huge swing an old man touches my shoulder. He takes my hand and says “Blagodarya! Thank you, thank you so much!”.

We are celebrating the opening of a new playground we built in the last four days and which we had been planned for such a long time. Now it seems like half of the city of Cherven bryag, Bulgaria is gathering in the municipal park this evening. The atmosphere is filled with joy and laughter and the inhabitants of the town are meeting the members of our church youth group with open-mindedness.

This is not self-evident at all. A local told us, that Bulgarians can only be won with trust and that this is difficult to get. Traces of communism can still be seen and felt in the province – even though thirty years have passed since the fall of the regime. The mistrust in the institutions is great. Accession to the EU 10 years ago has not changed the country that much. There are improvements, for example, in education, especially in Sofia and at the coast. But corruption is still a major driver and a cause for the poverty in the country. The youth is leaving the country and heading to Western Europe. Among Bulgarians, the name of this country has become a symbol of bad quality.

So, what makes this playground so special? Why are the people so impressed and are saying things like: “What you have done will shape this place!”?

There are three things I recognized this evening. Things that make up the legacy of an event. But I am not talking about legacies such as waste, infrastructure or financial issues. No, I am talking about things that go deeper.

Creating unity During the building of the playground, we carried out children’s programmes with games, stories, and crafts. More and more kids joined these activities during the week. They played and had fun together and it did not matter, whether they were native Bulgarian, Roma people or kids with a Bulgarian background who were staying there for holidays. Their focus was on something that was so big and

new, that the differences between the kids disappeared. An event is like this playground. There is something to look forward to that attracts attention and makes you forget all the differences between your cheering neighbor and yourself.

Teach values We came to Bulgaria in order to share the values we care about. The points of THE FOUR (https://thefour.com/en/), a compilation of Christian values, were the central theme all week. These points represent resolving conflicts, forgiving and caring for each other. At the opening party, everyone knew about the content of these points and the event gave us a platform to share what was important to us.

Because so many people were present and the event created a very special atmosphere, the dispersal of these values was rapid, but also lasting. Using an event as a channel to convey values is so powerful and has the potential to make a big difference in a place. However, it is also something that has to be handled with care, because as we have seen in the past, it can be abused.

Make an impact Every event is something special, in particular when it happens in a small town in the province. It leaves a lasting impression and a bright light in the protracted everyday life in a city like this. A few days after the event, while we are waiting to board our airplane to fly back home, we received a message from a boy of Cherven bryag: “Thanks again! The adults of our city have taken over your ideas and are now doing children’s programmes with us.” This is what we as a group hoped to achieve.

I do not believe that it is the playground itself that makes a difference in this city, but that the playground is a symbol of hope and joy and the event inspired changes for the future. As the pastor of the local church said in the opening speech: “You brought a new fire into this city.” I personally hope that it’s a lasting one.