Bulgaria’s pensioners fight for rights of the elderly

Published: 8 June 2016 17:48 CET

By Andreea Anca, IFRC

Lying in a hospital bed, having been struck down by a stroke, Atanaska Zgalevska experienced first-hand the impact of kindness and support from the medical staff who cared for her. At that moment, she vowed to repay the kindness she had received and support other people in a similar situation as soon as she had recovered.

That was more than ten years ago. Now, Atanaska is a Red Cross volunteer and a champion of the rights of elderly people in her Lovech, a small city in north central Bulgaria. Atanaska recalls how things have changed since she first attended a Bulgarian Red Cross workshop on the rights of older people, organized by the Lovech branch several years ago. “Instead of only focussing on low pensions, we’ve started to implement fund raising campaigns,” she explains. “We also began promoting traditions and customs to younger people by preparing meals for Christmas and Easter,” she says.

Since she started her role, Atanaska has developed negotiation skills and the confidence to advocate on behalf of older people with local authorities and municipalities. The initiative was part of the Age Awareness and Advocacy Project which started in 2003, with support from the Swiss Red Cross. It is aimed at promoting active aging and increasing opportunities for the elderly to develop their own community activities. The campaigning element is what sets this scheme apart as changing policies and practices that affect the elderly at the programme’s heart.

“This project changed my entire life, I feel so alive and I don`t think about my problems anymore,” says Atanaska. “The faith and hope of the people that I talk to always inspire me. The spark I see in their eyes makes me feel happy and gives me confidence”.

Disabled access was one of the key issues that Atanaska, other volunteers and the local community campaigned on in Lovech and their efforts bore fruit - a ramp was installed at the Social Services department building which had previously been difficult for older people and those with mobility problems to access. Other successes include the building of a chemist, to enable elderly people to more easily pick-up prescriptions, and the building of a new care home.