AYF was founded in 2005 to fund and support the leadership development of disadvantaged youth in Bulgaria and the Balkans. Since the summer of 2000, members of AYF have been involved in the design and implementation of Camp Zaedno Napred (Forward Together).
The camps began as a way for motivated Roma youth from Bulgaria to build leadership skills and self-esteem, and to find ways to overcome the extreme cases of discrimination that they face in their communities. The purpose of these camps was to help motivate, inform and improve the lives of participants by encouraging them to complete their education and take a more active role in their communities. The goals of this initiative continue to be relevant today.
Since the inception of Camp Zaedno Napred and the subsequent involvement of AYF in 2005, more than 280 high school-educated Roma youth have participated in the camps. Many of these youth have gone on to start youth groups of their own, further their education, and become more active members of their community. Most importantly, the long-term relationship built by AYF provides a unique opportunity for the organization to provide additional tools and support as the youth continue their educational and professional development. As a result, these young leaders could serve as catalysts for increased individual and community development. If we support their academic studies, foster their confidence and empower them, they can take on leadership positions in all sectors of Bulgarian society.
Over the next three years, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, AYF will be expanding the camps to ensure more opportunities for youth to participate. AYF has also created an educational hub that will develop relationships with other organizations and educational institutions to connect Areté youth with scholarships, educational grants and institutions seeking to diversify their student base. We also plan to leverage the already existing AYF youth network by developing a formal professional network for Roma, similar to minority professional networks in the United States.