Kneading as a therapy and a means of socialization

Photography: Zhivka Georgieva, Caritas Bulgaria
One of the main goals of the Blagoveshtenie Center at Caritas Sofia is to help children and young people with disabilities to socialize – to leave their closed familiar circles in which they stay daily and to enter into new and interesting contacts with the surrounding world through which to accumulate impressions, experiences and knowledge.

This goal finds a crossing point in the community kneading practices organized by “Bread House Sofia” (a project of Nadezhda Savova-Grigorova). Community kneading is an activity of unification that gives birth to creativity, stimulates social inclusion, nourishes Christian thinking, even supports civil society.

In the past, ovens were community centers where people gathered to bake their products, but were also able to see, talk, make friends and help each other. Today, in the crowded city, the daily paths of the youth visiting the Caritas center rarely intersect with those of people outside their immediate surroundings. In the Bread House, however, this is possible – because it is a venue for people with different fates and life stories and performs a real socializing role.

In Bread House Sofia, the youth from Blagoveshtenie Center find a venue to gather with other people, they have the opportunity to let their imagination go wild, to communicate and to make new friendships, and all this improves their social skills through a very natural integration with different community groups. At the same time, kneading is a therapeutic activity, so-called “bread therapy”. It is a specific art therapy targeted at people with disabilities or different physical disabilities, making it extremely suitable for children and adolescents from Blagoveshtenie Center.

Like clay they are used to working in the center, dough is soft and supple, allowing it to be processed and transformed into various shapes and symbols. Kneading is not an easy job, it requires not strength as an approach, though it is a great physical exercise, but it is also a deep sensory experience. The softness of dough and its elasticity correspond to individual touch – they adapt to the individual.

“Theater of Crumbs” – the bread therapy in Bread House Sofia, concentrates various forms of art – painting on a thin layer of flour, kneading, sculpting, shaping, applying the finished dough and finally decorating with multi-color spices.

Since art therapy in all its varieties is a basic tool for working with children and youth at Blagoveshtenie Center, Vyara Granitska, the center principal, is looking for any alternative means of therapeutic impact. This is how the partnership between Blagoveshtenie Center and the Bread House started two years ago. It provides for children and youth from the Caritas center to participate in community kneading twice a month.

Milena, the Bread House coordinator, knows everybody from Blagoveshtenie Center by name and welcomes him or her with a smile and a kind word, as well as with a freshly baked basil bread – a team experiment on the occasion of the celebration that has brought us together today, June 29 – Petrovden.

Milena fascinatingly tells about what makes this day so special, that it was on Petrovden when harvesting started, and the cock and the bread were some kind of ritual symbols for the festive table. Kneading induces transformation in people, pacifies them, gathers them and blends them with the various dough ingredients. Aggression and agitation vanish in front of the colorful bread rolls, and with the aroma of freshly baked bread, happiness, love, and childhood grow.

“The Bread House accommodates a variety of people to whom the fiery oven helps the same way as to the loaves – to rise, grow and purify,” says Nadezhda, founder of Bread House Network. At the end of community kneading, the youth had grown up – with hands flushed with flour, and smiles on their faces that were stronger than any words.

The Theater of Crumbs involved everyone at the big wooden table. Everyone re-created their own feelings in the dough and entwined their soul into the bread. The pies, decorated with cocks, straws, butterflies and hearts, pies with red pepper, samardala and turmeric, were packed in a big box and took their way to the youths’ homes to be baked and shared with their families.