Rodna Stryaha Academy for Bulgarian kids in Toronto

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Do you remember the impatience that you would hand over the book with fairytales to you mom, in order for the latter to read fascinating stories for faraway lands, adventures and travels? The pupils of Zheni Popova see Bulgaria as this faraway land, where the hero rides his horse with a star on his forehead and Clever Peter uses his tricks to get out of any complicated situation. Zheni has lived with her husband in Toronto, Canada for 10 years now. That was where her own child was born Снимкаand that was where the Rodna Stryaha /Motherland Eaves/ Knowledge Academy appeared. This is Zheni’s contribution to Toronto Bulgarian kids’ inclusion, as far as the Bulgarian culture is concerned. Now the children are thrilled to prepare for the welcoming of May 24 – the Day of Slavonic Alphabet, Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture. They will present at a festive ceremony, organized by the academy staging of Bulgarian folklore fairytales to their Romanian, Greek and Russian coevals. The stories have been translated into English under an exclusive project – a contest for the translation of Bulgarian folk stories and those will be all published into a book. Thus the children not only get acquainted with Bulgarian folklore, but they also popularize it.

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Zheni tells us more on her academy: “Rodna Stryaha is a project, aimed at Bulgarian kids. Our school calendar follows the traditional Bulgarian one. Our goal is to get them acquainted with the customs, history, culture and religion of our motherland within workshops, trainings and puppet theatre. The parents’ workshops tackle subjects such ‘how to help our multilingual children to develop their skills in Canada’. The official language of our province is English, but many children attend classes in French as well. The Bulgarian language comes third. We see it as our duty to assist the parents in maintaining the Bulgarian within the family.”

The academy is now popular among the Bulgarian community in Toronto and its suburbs, counting up to 25,000 people. This justifies the huge love and energy that Zheni puts into her deed. Some of the children even travel more time than the duration of the attended class. The decision on the project was not a coincidence:

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Снимка“The idea has always been inside me. I used to be a speech therapist in Bulgaria, I have also graduated psychology. I have always worked with kids. When I came here there was no other option for me, but to do something with children – this is who I am”, Zheni claims and adds on her motivation:

“This job teaches the adult to see the kid as a personality, jumping back into his or her own childhood. At the same time these children are really curious about our Bulgarian culture and some of them haven’t even stepped into Bulgaria due to the huge distance. However, they are looking for that connection with their motherland.”

The European Day of Languages has been marked in Canada for years. Last year Zheni’s academy joined the initiative for the first time and this year the participation will be even boosted.

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“Besides our own thing, this year the academy has been invited to a joint events, organized by the Goethe-Institut in Toronto. There will be 20-minute-long training sessions in Bulgarian for Canadians within the frames of our participation, taught by me. Of course, the level will be basic: ‘Hello!’; ‘How are you?’ etc. These are role games for adults which will teach them interesting things about our culture. The Bulgarian language will be presented alongside the Romanian and Macedonian ones, as our neighbors have attended the event for years. This will be our first year of lessons,” Zheni Popova says in conclusion.

English version: Zhivko Stanchev​ 

Photos: courtesy of Zheni Popova

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