The CHANGE is the freedom to be yourself!
Ivan and Nikoleta have embraced the challenge to help LGBTI youth in Bulgaria be accepted – by their families, society in general and themselves.
For many years Ivan lived and worked as an investment banker in the US and Australia. He is also actively involved in sports – a keen marathon runner and CrossFit athlete. However, the story of a Bulgarian boy who likes boys, made him change his life. The teenager told Ivan that his parents took him to see a psychiatrist, when he told them he was gay. The psychiatrist promised to "cure" him. The boy ran away from home and made a suicide attempt. This is not an isolated case – according to US-based organizations (no such data is available in Bulgaria), suicide attempts among LGBTI youth are four times higher compared to those of their heterosexual counterparts. Ivan inquired and found out that no services were available in Bulgaria to give teenagers access to someone to talk to in order to seek support; just someone to reassure them that they are not sick and that they are not alone. Thus, after 25 years of living abroad, he decided to return to Bulgaria with a mission: to support LGBTI youth and their families in the difficult process of self-acceptance, coming out and affirming their sexual orientation. This is how Single Step was born. In order to demonstrate his dedication to the cause and in an effort to fundraise for the foundation, in 2016 Ivan completed 12 marathons in 12 weeks – a total of 506.3 km in cities across Europe – raising over €10,000. And then he met Nikoleta.
Nikoleta has experience in the NGO sector and in the fields of civil education and culture. She has also worked as a journalist and in advertising. When she met Ivan, she was impressed by his sense of purpose and dedication. She quit her long-time job to join the Single Step cause, and become the Executive Director of the foundation.
THE CHANGE they aim for:
Ivan and Nikoleta want to offer real and tangible change for LGBTI youth – for them and their families to be able to talk to someone, to share and get information and support in an accessible way from across Bulgaria. They use a "bottom-up" approach, offering specific help and resources.
The foundation's goal is to burst the "bubble" of LGBTI stigma in Bulgaria, utilizing personal examples and positive personal stories. They actively aim to attract numerous allies and partners, thus also involve people who are not part of the LGBTI community, since they believe that the time of self-isolation of a community has long passed. They work with various constituents and communities – students, teachers, psychologists, social workers, businesses, athletes. They sincerely believe in extending a welcoming hand towards "expected" and "unexpected" partners.
Single Step has already launched its first service: an online support chat on their website, where young people from the community can get support, information and referrals to specific consultations. Nine young and enthusiastic volunteers operate the chat daily between 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm – practicing psychologists, students in their final years of appropriate majors and people from the LGBTI community with their own experience and knowledge. They have been trained to provide support, information and crisis intervention.
Ivan and Nikoleta have chosen this approach because they know that young people prefer to chat, which gives them anonymity and confidentiality, while connecting to a real person, which is essential for this type of support. They are planning to launch a hotline targeting parents. Both services are free and available from all over Bulgaria.
Ivan and Nikoleta want to tell LGTBI youth in Bulgaria that they are not alone. To their parents, their message is: it’s not your fault, love your child, love is much stronger than what other people may think.
Single Step will also establish a community center in Sofia shortly, where individual and family consultations will be offered, as well as support and peer groups, exhibits, social events – a venue which will not only be a "home" for LGTBI people, but also have its doors wide open to all friends and allies of the community.
Ivan and Nikoleta know that the change they aim for will not be easy. But they see no alternative to the right to a dignified and open life, the right to be yourself. They are focused and motivated and believe that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" both for an individual and society as a whole.
Learn more at: www.singlestep.bg