On the 24th May 2018, I experienced one of the most extraordinary moments in my life. At our Commencement ceremony at the American University of Paris, I was awarded the annual Lubner Philanthropy Award issued by the Lubner Foundation. I was beyond honored because the award is given to an exceptional student leader within the AUP community whose significant philanthropic contributions have impacted the society.
I want to personally thank Takara, who in honor of her grandfather, Dr. Bertie Lubner has launched with AUP the Lubner Philanthropy Award. Bertie, the co-founder of Afrika Tikkun has supported youth in South Africa “from cradle to career”. Following the humanitarian steps of her grandfather, as a student at AUP, Takara founded the club “AUP Cares” to raise awareness and encourage students to take initiative in lending a helping hand towards the less fortunate around the world. The charitable initiatives of the Lubner family inspire me to work hard towards my goals to one day start my own NGO to serve and support children around the world.
I started to get involved in humanitarian work when I was seventeen years old. I did a project for the women empowerment organization “Zonta” which supports women worldwide through service and advocacy. At the time the branch of Zonta in Sofia, Bulgaria was raising funds for the Specialized Hospital for Active Treatment in Oncology and I decided to join the fundraiser by creating a club in my high school, the American College of Sofia, called “The World of Fashion and Public Relations”. With the club for two consecutive years, we organized a charity fashion show “The Art of Giving” and we managed to raise a total of €5,000. The first year we donated money for the renovation of the Specialized Hospital for Active Treatment in Oncology in Bulgaria and the second year we supported the School Institute of Mathematics and Informatics (SIMI) towards the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in order to send talented students to represent the country on national and international competitions. We wanted to support SIMI in order to create one more opportunity for discovery, and development for students who are naturally interested in an in-depth study of mathematics and informatics but don’t have the means to travel for tournaments. The participation of the students that we supported resulted in several medals, so I am glad that we had a small contribution to their success. I am forever grateful to SIMI for also awarding me Philanthropic Honors back in 2015 in a special ceremony at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. During the ceremony, I met several students who we supported, which was one of the most humbling experiences in my life.
When I started my studies at the American University of Paris I knew that I wanted to continue to work on philanthropic causes because nothing can compare to the feeling you get when someone looks into your eyes and says: “Thank you! Without your help, I wouldn’t be where I am today”.
My first semester at AUP, I became the Deputy Director of Peacock TV where I had the opportunity to attend the 9th UNESCO Youth Forum and interview a Syrian refugee for the BBC. This experience sparked my passion for the work of UNESCO, which led me to organize a student discussion with the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. I invited students from the AUP, The Sorbonne, and SciencePo and we all met Bokova to discuss the challenges faced by young people in their struggle to gain quality education and leadership skills during times of humanitarian crisis and international insecurity. All of us, the students present in the meeting believe that knowledge is crucial to effectively respond to global challenges. It was essential for me to meet with Bokova because as the first woman to head UNESCO, she inspires me not only to be a strong woman but a strong leader. We talked about the advancement of women’s educational rights in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and learned what it takes to be a good leader in times of peace and in times of crisis. A week later, I received an invitation to the international conference at UNESCO “News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals” which presented practices that might help ensure the safety of journalists, 12,000 of whom have been murdered, in the line of duty, since the 1990s. The former foreign minister of Bulgaria, Solomon Passy, presented an app that could help journalists and other professionals working in war zones and dangerous locations. Currently, in development, it would provide GPS data, with visuals and sound, to the police and relatives of the person in danger. I wrote an article about it in the Bulgarian newspaper “24 Chasa” and created a video from the conference, which you can access here.
A semester later, I joined UNICEF Campus AUP. I took the position of a Vice-President for a semester and then became the President for a year. This was an enriching experience because, through the initiatives that we organized, our UNICEF branch raised the most funds in France, namely €2,000 for just one semester. We collaborated with the AUP student, Arafat Adekunle, the founder of Infamous Vie on the creation of UNICEF T-shirts that were shown in his fashion show during Paris Fashion Week. We also hosted a UNICEF Gala and Art Auction attended by the President of UNICEF Campus France and several representatives from the UNICEF clubs in the Sorbonne, SciencePo, Université Paris Nanterre and other established French universities. We also organized an annual initiative for Universal Children’s Day where we asked the AUP community to respond to the question: “What does childhood mean to you?” in their native language. We got responses in more than 50 different languages and people were excited to share their favorite childhood memory and to reminisce about the good old days. If you want to see more of our initiatives, you can check our Facebook page here.
Besides my involvement in UNICEF AUP, I joined several other organizations in Paris. I started volunteering in “Pour une Planète sans Frontières” (PUPSF), an NGO providing a platform for linguistic, consular, geopolitical and legal support for migrants who want to legally immigrate to France. By providing legal information on the conditions of entry and residence on French territory in a variety of languages, the organization promotes legal immigration in complication with French laws. I decided to organize a joint-event between UNICEF and PUPSF in order to introduce AUP students to the work of the NGO because I thought they might be interested in volunteering as well. We hosted a movie screening of “Wallah, Je Te Jure”, a movie produced by a United Nations agency (IOM) telling the stories of people traveling along West African migration routes to Italy. Senegal’s rural villages, Niger’s bus stations and “ghettos” full of traffickers, Italian squares and houses are the backdrops of these courageous trips, which often end in tragedy. After the screening, we had a panel discussion with the founder of PUPSF, several AUP professors and one migrant from Niger. The event was very successful not only because of the informative screening and discussion but also because several AUP students joined the organization and have helped with several missions since then. Later on, the founder of PUPSF, Alexandra Halle introduced me to a member of the Red Cross, who took me under his wing in order to undertake a mission to help a Bulgarian refugee with mental disabilities to return back home to Bulgaria.
My latest humanitarian endeavor is the launch of my campaign “Me For Her“. The campaign rejoices in the extraordinary acts of women and inspires women to stand together for other women, as a united force to advance gender equality. The campaign highlights women artists, writers, creative minds, fashion influencers, who are moving humanity in all fields and are advocating for the development of the untapped potential and opportunities for future generations of women. My campaign stands against the constraint of creativity and talent and the suffocation of inclusion and pluralism. My goal is to invite as many impactful and successful women as I can here on the blog to engage in an open dialogue, to draw on the ideas, creative energy, and talents of each other, encouraging the construction of an inclusive and thus more resilient community that will empower and inspire women. Due to the fact that I was completing my Bachelor’s degree, writing my Thesis, doing an internship and volunteering in several organizations I was not able to develop the campaign as much as I wanted, but now I am committed to investing my full time and energy into growing my campaign and promoting what I stand for – gender equality and women empowerment.
Thank you so much again to the Lubner family for this honor and to all wonderful people who have supported me along the way! It means the world to me because I am constantly inspired by all of you and your support pushes me to go forward!