You can always do something for someone
Dimitrina is a Caritas Sofia psychologist and social worker with extensive experience in providing psychological assistance and counselling to people, drug addicts, homeless, youth at risk, and – in recent years – she has been actively working with refugees seeking help from Caritas.
At the very first glance, you understand that she is full of energy and ambition to make the world a better place for living. Her care for people in need proves it. She invests love, hope and rich knowledge in whatever she does and strives to learn something new every day in order to be as useful as possible to the people she helps.
How do you describe your work with Caritas to people hearing about the organization for the first time?
I work as psychologist at the Centre for Integration of Refugees and Migrants “St. Anna”, refugees approach me with a specific problem, which we address together by searching ways and tools to resolve. In this regard, when they ask me about my work, I say we face different human fates, people who need understanding, acceptance, help and support in all sorts of ways.
Do you come across any difficulties in your work?
I love what I do and I am happy that I can be useful. People coming to me are emotionally burdened by the new environment, by the uncertainty about their future in Bulgaria and they need appropriate help. At the same time, distress and traumas they have suffered in their places of origin are enormous.
When a person is left alone in such a moment and has no support, it leads to an emotional stupor in which he/she is unable to reasonably think and understand – where he/she is, what is happening to his/her life or that of his/her children. In such situations, I approach the matter directly. Part of my task is to help people find within themselves the resources and strength to deal with a particular problem so that they can “pull them out” and use them.
Improvement comes as soon as people feel support, see there is someone willing to lend a helping hand and supporting them along this path. I always tell them they are welcome. When they know it, they are willing to share, they know there is someone to rely on, and in the Caritas centre there are people who will help them handle with their difficult situation.
Do you believe any of the negative attitudes facing refugees could change if the opportunity for direct communication improves?
In any case, direct communication between Bulgarians and refugees will help people understand that we are alike. They are people with their personal story, their own destiny, and communication is an indispensable part of accepting the different one. When we have no direct contact, we are more likely to share a common opinion and perception, or embrace any other thoughts and fears of our own.
What gaps in the integration process have you observed during your work?
There are many problems – the difficulty in communication, undeveloped state strategy for the reception and integration of refugees, lack of commitment on the part of public institutions that have not yet resolved the most basic issue – physiological and domestic needs of refugees in the centres. It’s hard to think of integration when you’re hungry, thirsty, barefoot and naked.
If it were not for organizations like Caritas and all the colleagues engaged in this care, it would have been impossible for refugees to survive. They come here, they don’t know the language, they do not know our customs. How do you imagine these people could find a personal doctor themselves, enrol their children in school and handle all this without external help? Without the intervention and support of Caritas and organizations like ours, this process would have been impossible.
What recommendations would you give to the Bulgarian government?
For me, in a human aspect, basic needs should be the baseline to start from. People should not be deprived of food, water, shelter. I have experienced such cases – stunning stories of mothers with babies telling what is happening in accommodation centres and how employees have refused water for a baby. You should first have a shelter, have food and clothing. Once these basic needs are met, he/she can take on his/her personal development.
Meanwhile, integration depends on the individual. One may not have a status, but if he/she is motivated and wants to stay here looking for ways and opportunities for growth, he or she will find a way for sure. He or she may attend Caritas language courses, will be assisted in finding a job, in communicating with institutions to find a GP or enrol children in school and all the processes that are part of this integration.
Think about it if you were on the street and you were naked, barefoot, hungry and thirsty. You are forced to sleep with your little baby under the open sky, as we can see in the nearby public garden. Will you think about what you will do or will you first think about the need to secure for your child a shelter to keep it safe from rain? Things are interconnected. If this person is provided with the basic living conditions, he or she will feel well and will be able to take on with the integration process.
All the cases I have seen are people willing to work and earn their living. They do not expect anyone to take care of them for a lifetime. But it is important to receive a helping hand. Waiting for something by default means that one is not self-conscious. There are such people among them – and among us, the Bulgarians.
Where is the boundary between providing support and making a group of people dependent on aid, how should we help someone become self-sufficient?
This is the purpose of the activities in the centre “St. Anna “- a person to become independent, through complex care. However, the integration process is reciprocal – refugees receive support, but they should also show they are making efforts to start doing it by themselves. Therefore all the services offered by the Caritas Sofia centre are personalised to their individual needs. The more complex the care is, the better the result of all the efforts invested.
Are there positive examples of integration?
Among the “St. Anna” visitors, there are many people who have already settled – in the pasts they had no employment and today they are already going to work and their children study in a Bulgarian school.
What has motivated you?
In most cases, I see in both children and parents that things are making progress and it motivates me. I am motivated by the fact these people are getting integrated and are getting better and do not give up. There are people who come to us without knowing what would happen to their lives. Next, after hard work by the Caritas assistants, they now have a purpose, they know what they are doing and they do it willingly.
What do you hope to change through Caritas’ activities in support of refugees?
There is one word I find it hard to be absent with a lot of people: human love. If anyone carries deep inside the human love or somebody has formed it, things would be different.
We have forgotten what it is to love and to respect other people. If we can look into the eyes of the person in front of us and experience what he is experiencing just for a second, try to understand what is happening to him, we can realize we can help him. It could be just listening to him or may be do more – you can always do something for someone, whoever he is, in particular the people who come here and are in complete despair.
If any of us steps into their shoes and meets with such a family, looks into the eyes of these people, perhaps he will say, “You are like me!”. If we communicate this way, not only with refugees, but with all the people around us, life would be much easier.