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At two schools in the UK – in Portsmouth and Bournemouth - Bulgarian children learn to read and write in their native language

Photo: private library

Ten years ago Maya Nikolova emigrated from Bulgaria to Great Britain. There, she met several young families from Bulgaria who wanted their children to practice their native language. But in Bournemouth, where Maya lives, there was nowhere they could do that. That is why the ambitious Bulgarian lady decided to set up a Bulgarian school. While she was starting the paperwork, according to British and Bulgarian law, she was contacted by Margarita Dimitrova from a town nearby, Portsmouth, who offered to set up a school there as there were a lot of people who wanted their children to attend. And so, in 2017, two Bulgarian weekend schools opened doors in the two towns, both named after the prominent figure from the Bulgarian National Revival, Vasil Aprilov.

“During the first year,” Maya Nikolova remembers, “we started out with 22 children, and through the years their number has grown. We now have 44 children registered for the new school year.”

There are around 1,000 Bulgarians living in Bournemouth and Portsmouth, and the children studying their native language are aged 5 to 12. The younger children study all subjects because they need to learn new words from all spheres of life. The study of the Bulgarian language and literature, following the mandatory curriculum of the Ministry of Education, starts in grade 1, whereas the older pupils study “Man and Society”, history and geography of Bulgaria.

“We have introduced “Work and creativity” and “Surrounding World” as interest clubs, in which we have included work with natural materials, we also present Bulgarian traditions and holidays which are very different from those in Britain,” Maya Nikolova says. “All children who finish the school year successfully are given certificates. Very few of the families are going to return to Bulgaria, but this document is valid for Bulgarian schools.”

A philologist and accountant by profession, Maya Nikolova really puts her heart into what she is doing. Her ideas include pen pals of the same age and virtual tours of Veliko Turnovo, the town where she was born.

“One of my ideas is already fact,” Maya Nikolova says. “The first letters written by Bulgarian children from Luxembourg and Cornwall in England have been received. We are now trying to popularize this initiative with schools in Bulgaria, because it is good for our children to be in contact with children their own age living in a Bulgarian environment, and we are hoping to see schools in Bulgaria, as well as in Britain join in.”

Parents from three towns nearby where there are around 200 Bulgarian families have also said they want their children to study Bulgarian. That is why Maya Nikolova is hoping to open a branch of the weekend school there.

“The most important thing we want to teach the children is respect and tolerance of any language, love of the Bulgarian language and pride that they are part of a great nation,” Maya Nikolova says. “It is my dream to see these children create history themselves that will go down in the textbooks.”

Photos: courtesy of Maya Nikolova

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