I just returned from a short jaunt to Sofia, Bulgaria; the fastest trip I ever planned. I was so eager and filled with excitement that I actually took notice of my enthusiasm. What was so compelling about this trip as compared to my many trips to Bulgaria over the 17 years since my first time?
I was going to meet with a group of men from Dundee Precious Metals, a mining company from Canada, with three international mining sites in Armenia, Bulgaria and Namibia with dazzlingly authentic cause-related work in the communities of the mines.
I met their Corporate Social Responsibility director, John Hasyn, at the yearly Canadian golf tournament created by WWO Canada in Toronto in August. I was fascinated in a matter of minutes about his work, and we both made this meeting happen. It was so easy to arrange that I feel destiny was at my back again. I feel very strongly that there was a spiritual matching that occurred. I was captivated by Dundee's culture of giving. More on this in a moment.
Once I was at dinner at EGO, an upscale Bulgarian restaurant with a brilliant collection of modern political art work, and an adventure began. This was not just a moment to pitch the programs of WWO. I knew I was destined to meet these three dynamic and caring men who endeavor to really dream about sustainable and capacity-building philanthropic work. Dundee is situated in a region 70 km east of Sofia where thousands of the poorest people of the world live and barely survive. Chelopech, Zlatitsa, Chavdar, Pirdop and Anton are the Roma municipalities where Dundee mines gold.
I don't know all that much about Roma culture. It is a mysterious group of people who I am drawn to after all these years traveling to Romania and Bulgaria, where there are more gypsies than anywhere in the world. Ninety-five percent of the orphans institutionalized in Bulgaria are Roma children. They are exotic and beautiful children with their dark velvet skin and light eyes. I have been mesmerized by their deep sadness and ever-open souls and endlessly complicated developmental and psychological issues. The first Roma children I met in the 1990s were part of my Romanian orphanage education, and it was love at first sight. Then I ended up in Bulgaria, working to help take these lost kids out of purgatory. WWO has 11 toy libraries and serves 1500 institutionalized children in Bulgaria. Last week I learned from our fearless technical/data whiz, Dr. Anthony Salandy, that during one week, "1,100 boys and girls played with 1,652 toys!"
We have also partnered with a local Bulgarian charity, Milossardie, to support Granny (One-to-One) programs over the last decade, and the vast majority of our work is with abandoned Roma children.
I had a chance on this trip to really think about my vision. Yes, you are laughing at me right now... "Jane is always thinking about her vision. It is all she does." Something else is happening to me. WWO has arrived at this moment where we can dream about a larger vision and create innovative programs for at-risk children with enduring impact. We have recently hired a high-level thinker, Dr. Anthony Salandy, whose life's work has been the scholarly and technical evaluation of children. He brings a skill set to us that will enable us to design programs we can measure to make sure that we are able to correct our direction toward our vision for the best outcome of the children.
My meeting with the three men from Dundee Precious Metals, Nikolay Hristov, Executive Director, Alex Nestor, Director of Corporate and External Affairs, and John Hasyn, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, was a night to remember. I fielded the most challenging questions about what WWO does and how we do it. All three of us reveled in the most complex discussions of capacity building and sustainability, which stymies all of us who dare to work abroad within the most downtrodden communities where poverty has mangled culture and prevented people from thriving.
I was in the right place -- even if we don't ride off into the sunset together (my tribute to the Lone Ranger who I was, in another life). I spoke about our work without rehearsal, without a script, and with all the passion I could summon, and these three men listened and queried me again and again. They had the same passion, albeit from a corporate viewpoint. Their programs span a range of giving, including scholarships for gifted students, rhythmic gymnastics, playgrounds and more.
The time is right for us to take our well-honed international development skills and build an entity that can ask the most difficult questions and come up with answers that evolve into strategic, scalable, evidence-based, scientific work that will in fact change the way we even think. We are now in the business of discovery.
Meeting the men from Dundee crystallized and sealed our fate. Their culture is our culture. We affirmed that the intimacy and connection of people working to make change is what glues us together and makes our dreams possible.