“Village on loan” and how the initiative revitalizes Dolni Vadin


For four years the people in Dolni Vadin have been “lending out” their village in exchange for words, experiences, lives shared.

Dolni Vadin is a quiet place in the northwestern part of the country, a stone’s throw away from the River Danube. The road leading up to the village may not be perfect, but the village has an internet connection, three shops and a GP comes in once a week. It is just that there are no kids – the children and grandchildren are gone, and Vratsa, the regional centre, is 120 whole kilometres away.

But one day Anelia Radulova had an idea – to “deliver” to the elderly people living there what they need most – young people and the spirit of a bustling city. So, she decided to “lend out” the village.

“Village on loan is an initiative targeted at the people who live in the city and who do not have a village they can call their own,” says Anelia Radulova, secretary of the local chitalishte (community culture club). “We have been seeing a return to villages in recent years – young people really want to come here, even if it is just for a short spell. That is why we decided to “lend out’ Dolni Vadin for ten days at a time in summer to volunteers from the city who want to come and live with us and help the elderly people. There are about 140 people living in our village, 80 of them are elderly and live alone. We know that many villages in Bulgaria are emptying out because people move to cities or to other countries in search of a job,” says Anelia Radulova and adds that this is what has happened to the children of Dolni Vadin. And that her fellow villagers are now pining to see a young face that will lift their spirits, to talk to young people, to hear out their stories.

The first year 11 volunteers came to walk in the shoes of the people from the village. The second year there were 17 and they built a stage in the centre of Dolni Vadin. The following year came the experts – a farming expert, a doctor, a historian, even an MP. They talked to the local people about organic farming, about preparations used in gardening and many other interesting and useful things. And this summer the guests were of help to the old people living in the neighbourhood where they themselves were put up. The local chitalishte (community culture club) is also endeavouring to keep up the spirits of the villagers.

“We are very much open to people – to keep them informed, to encourage them to do different things,” Anelia Radulova says. “And not to give up on life, to keep them from thinking they are useless, or sick, that they are too old. We recently built sports grounds for them with sporting equipment suited for older people. We constantly organize lectures, for example on healthy eating, the harmful effect of some medicines, how to improve their physical fitness. For ten years we have been cleaning up the banks of the Danube within the bounds of the village with the help of volunteers. We had street artists who did artwork on our water fountains, on the stage and on the bus stop, it is very beautiful. Our focus is on the local community – we are developing our folklore and handing our traditions down to the children spending the summer in our village.”

Having once come to Dolni Vadin the volunteers come back, some are even planning to buy a house to share in the village. Now they are all getting ready to have a good time at the local fair on 21 September. The faces of the older people break out in a smile when they see them, and they all have stories to tell – for example how their guests hoed their garden. And they are sad to see them go.

“There is so much warm-heartedness on both sides, they help one another so much,” says Anelia Radulova further. “There is a feeling on both sides that giving makes you a better person, instead of just staying at home. There is no generation gap here – this is the conclusion we reached, even though their age difference may be 50 years. Older people find it easy to communicate with the young, they each have something to give. On the one side is tradition, on the other – the novelties of the city.”

Photos: courtesy of Anelia Radulova


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