Apart from tourism and culture, the 365 Association also recognizes education and the improvement of the urban environment as two of its main priorities. The Social Awareness Program of our organization aims to reinvest back into Sofia and mostly into its young people’s education, skills and capacities to initiate positive changes in the city itself. To that end, in the last two years we’ve had our Free Sofia School running as the 365 Association’s main social project.
In a nutshell, Free Sofia School trains, inspires and empowers high school students from less privileged backgrounds to transform Sofia into a greener, cleaner, more youth- and environmental-friendly city. We believe in the power of non-formal education which allows the youngsters to enjoy learning outside of the classroom as they acquire useful practical skills and work together as a team.
In 2018, Free Sofia School began with eight students from different high schools. Within several weekends, they went through a comprehensive training by experts in the field of non-formal education. As a result, the participants came up with their own idea and design for a new outdoor youth space. The students chose an abandoned spot in a central city park which they cleaned up entirely. Supported by a larger group of volunteers and friends of Free Sofia School, they brought dozens of old tires repainting them with graffiti sprays and turning them into chairs and tables. Thus, more and more young people could come together, interact, socialize, practice different sports and games together. The student-led creation of the outdoor youth space was fully endorsed by Sofia’s City Council as the authorities allowed the space to exist temporarily for several months.
In 2019, Free Sofia School attracted more than 50 new participants from six different high schools. Within a weekend, they were introduced to the concept of environmental education, existing global and local challenges, how do we tackle them effectively, what is the zero-waste culture all about, etc. Particularly important was the focus on the high levels of air pollution in Sofia, the factors and hazards behind this issue and different ways to create bring about impact. A weekend later, the participating students planted more than 300 trees in the “New Forest of Sofia”, again with the support of Sofia’s City Council. In addition to this, Free Sofia School organized historical walking tours for the students, a free visit to the 365 Association’s Red Flat and two hiking trips to the Vitosha Mountain.
Exciting part of our work is the organization of Free Sofia School and Free Plovdiv School Fests in the two biggest Bulgarian cities. We have run three such “Festivals of Learning” thus far effectively turning both Sofia’s and Plovdiv’s city centers into lively classrooms. Eight different practical trainings take place simultaneously at eight unusual places where dedicated professionals have 30 minutes to share their skills, expertise and knowledge with the respective group. Then the participants have half an hour to walk themselves to one of the next locations where another 30-minute-long training awaits them. People of all ages could attend up to four different trainings before arriving at the final stop of the fest and share the inspiration of learning together.
In the upcoming decade, the Social Awareness Program and the Free Sofia School of our 365 Association will continue to engage students into more structured and inspirational trainings, life-long learning activities and practical work for positive changes in Sofia. The project runs entirely thanks to budget generated from the various walking tours organized by the 365 Association.