Bulgaria is a small country in Eastern Europe. It is neighboured by Romania to the north, Turkey to the southeast, Greece to the south, and Macedonia and Serbia to the west. It has a long and rich history. It’s location has made it a melting pot of ancient cultures, and a desirable piece of property for many conquering nations. It’s language shows marked influences from Russia, Turkey, Greece, and even France and Great Britain.
Bulgaria is a largely agricultural nation with mild weather and long summer days. There are majestic mountains, verdant valleys, and beautiful beaches. Known for growing roses and lavender to produce some of the world’s best essential oils, sunflowers and solanaceae crops are also important.
Bulgaria is one of the poorest nations in Europe and this may account for its dramatically shrinking population. Large numbers of its young people leave for education and employment abroad, and few return to start businesses and families of their own.
The United Nations numbers orphans in government care at 1200, but actual numbers are nearer 25,000 in the orphanage system alone according to those actually working in country. This massive discrepancy could be due to a failure to include Roma children, who are often not ‘counted’ as Bulgarians.
The Roma make up between 2% and 5% of the general population of Bulgaria, but nearly 98% of the orphanage population. Poverty and its effects are responsible for the vast majority of children in the orphanage and foster care system. There are very few true orphans. Children remain in care until age 18 when they ‘graduate’ from the system. 60-70% of girls will be trafficked for sex throughout Europe and the Middle East. A few will be sent further abroad. Almost the same proportion of boys will be drawn into gangs and crime ranging from petty to major, or trafficked for sex or labour. Some estimates put the suicide rate of former orphans at near 70%, but those numbers are difficult to track since most of these young people are merely forgotten and just disappear. There is no one to note their going. Drug and alcohol use is very high. Generational ‘orphanhood’ is rife.
All photography ©Nissa Gadbois