Mariela from “SOS-families at risk” tells us about her passion for working with children!

Although she is still very young, Mariela, who is a volunteer at the SOS Families at Risk Foundation, knows what she wants to do with her life – work with children. Filled with a lot of energy and positive charge, she is committed to volunteering because she does exactly what she loves. Find out what inspires her in life, social activities, and what initiatives she has planned.

Hello, how are you?

I feel very good! After this, I am going to get to work. As usual, I am excited because it’s always different. Customers are always waiting for me, they are always glad to see me, I’m also glad to see them.

Introduce yourself

Mariela Penova, I am a volunteer at the SOS Families at Risk Foundation. I work for one of their centers. They have 3 different centers. The one I am working at is a center for women that have survived human traffic and my job is mainly to take care of them during their spare time and make it useful every possible way, while also making it interesting for both parties. 

Have you been a volunteer before?

No, this is my first time volunteering. I accidentally came across the program on a job search site and I immediately decided to apply. I wrote my cover letter and here I am, it has been 7-8 months.

How did you find out about ESC? What motivates you for this position?

As I already said, I accidentally came across the ad on the website jobs.bg and I was very interested in it. I expected variety every single day. I have wanted to do social work before, but I couldn’t find the motivation to start. The description of the program itself was very well written, very interesting and attractive and that’s why I applied! I expected to learn a lot, and that’s what happened – every expectation that I had, became true. I am very grateful to have come across this program.

I study pedagogy. My specialty is related to my position because we work a lot with children. This is my favorite thing – to have children around me! To be noisy and fun! 

What are your tasks at the center? You said they are quite different, tell us more about it…

We never have a fixed schedule, neither for the week nor for the day. As I said, day by day it is not the same, every day is different because the customers are in a different mood, the children are in a different mood. Depending on their mood and the weather, we invent all sorts of activities. We draw, go out, dance, study, upgrade. We talk a lot with the older ones, play different games, do different cases and tests with which they learn about life. Generally speaking, whatever they want – I do it! As long as I have the opportunity and the manager agrees, everything happens. There is no plan, which is actually the most interesting thing. 

What are the challenges?

In social work you communicate with many people, they are of different ages, with different interests, moods, and desires. This is the biggest challenge – to be able to communicate with each one of them and find the right activity to suit everyone. We do not force anyone to join. I would say that this is sometimes difficult even for me – to be able to fill their free time and have them satisfied about it. However, I always look for their satisfaction first, then mine, and I think that is the right thing in this case.

What is your favorite thing about the whole project?

Working with children! It is my favorite, even if they are not happy, even if they cry and make noise, even if they do not like what we do together, it is a challenge for me. They guide me and generally with them it is always interesting and diverse. The younger ones last about 3 minutes doing one activity and then they want something new. It’s just my favorite thing in the world to hear children’s voices, children’s laughter, to see them smile and be happy… nothing else! This mutual satisfaction after each passing day is one of the most important things.

(It is a huge challenge to work with children but when something’s pleasant it’s always possible)

What inspires you the most?

Every client who comes to us has no hope, no desire for anything. They have lost interest in building a normal lifestyle. Seeing how over time, working with them, they improve, they begin to see the meaning of life again and you see the hope in their eyes – it is very inspiring and motivating. Both in working with children and victims of trafficking. 

The whole job is very inspiring, you become like a family with them, you share everything (in some limits of course) and you see how they try with each passing day and become a better version of themselves, which is the main goal of the work. 

Did the pandemic affect your work? 

It has changed very slightly. The centers operate every day, regardless of whether there is a pandemic or not. There are always going to be people working there so that the customers are not alone. We didn’t work remotely, the work volume just increased. The children who went to school had online classes, so we had to invent more activities for them. Also, the clients of the center couldn’t go out much anymore. This made them depressed to some extent. It is quite difficult to work with so many people in one space. It is different when it is warm outside and you can go to different places. In this context, the work increased, but the changes were not fundamentally significant, especially for the volunteers.

Have you thought about doing a personal project/initiative?

I had a lot of ideas that did not come true, either because of the pandemic or because of lack of funds. We are quite limited because you can’t work with clients outside the center, take pictures and share them. I have a new idea for ​​happiness that will happen no matter the pandemic. My goal is to promote a little more information about human trafficking. I want to create a website with all sorts of stories, polls, etc. because very little is said about these things. Unfortunately, people do not know what to do if they are in such situations, or who to turn to. SOS Foundation is not well known because there is not much publicity online. This is my goal, which I hope to achieve by the end of the program. I hope to communicate more on these topics, no matter how unpleasant they are, we need to talk more about them. We need to help such people because they are afraid and it is hard for them to seek help. The more people are informed about the topic, the more they will be able to be useful (to themselves, acquaintances, and friends) when needed. You never know what might happen and who you might come across in life. 

We have other shared ideas with other volunteers that are more artistic. This is rather my own initiative, which I think I can move forward with time even after the project. I will do my best because this is missing in our field – the dissemination of information about the problem, advertising, and so on.

What would you say to young people to motivate them to join the ESC and volunteer?

Helping is one of the most important things you need to do at least once in your life. Even for a month or two, or a year, maybe a lifetime. Fewer and fewer people are involved in social activities and various projects related to the cause. I advise and encourage young people to get more involved because they will not only give but will also gain a very useful experience. They will learn many useful things and grow. Generally speaking, get involved whenever it is possible! In my opinion, there is no option, even if you are not completely interested in the cause you volunteer in, you will always learn something and meet new people.