site.btaRomanian Volunteer Keen on Cleaning Up Bulgaria
"My name is Gabriel. I am a Romanian living in London. I am an agricultural engineer," says a man who has become popular over the last few months for cleaning public places in Bulgaria as a volunteer. Interviewed by BTA, he declines to say his family name, because after an earlier interview in March, in which he introduced himself by his first name and family name, he began to receive threats via social media concerning his work as a volunteer.
Gabriel studied Bulgarian in London, where he met his future wife, a native of the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna. "We come to Bulgaria from time to time, because one of our kids, who has a rare syndrome, visits a physical therapist here," he explains.
"Bulgaria is a great country. Here, you are never too far from a mountain. I am from Eastern Romania, and the nearest mountain there is a two and a half hours' drive from home," he says.
In March, while waiting for his son to come out of a children's medical centre in Sofia, Gabriel saw a piece of ground which looked very untidy. "I thought I might clear it instead of just sitting there doing nothing," he says. "I went over to a nearby restaurant, and I asked them to give me waste bags and gloves." During the following week, he spent a couple of hours every day cleaning the piece of ground. He collected and disposed of more than 20 bags of waste, including four chairs, two tables and, ironically, a new broom.
Passers-by photographed and filmed him cleaning, and posted their pictures and videos on social media. One of the videos was shared over 20,000 times on Facebook. Gabriel says this motivated him even more to continue to work as a volunteer.
Later, he travelled to Britain, and then came back to Bulgaria in July. He stayed with a family member in Varna. It was in the coastal city that he picked his next place to clean. It was a children's playground next to a residential building. It was dirty and untended, so he got to work. "I collected a bag of waste, and that from a playground which is used every day. I cleaned the sandpit too, it was covered with 30 cm tall grass. I found sharp metal objects in the sand, pieces of glass and nails. None of the other parents at the playground wanted to go with me to the municipal council to submit an alert," Gabriel says.
So, he went alone. He told the municipal council that there were metal fragments sticking out of the children's playground, probably remnants of a structure which had been dismantled. "After a while, they came and removed them. Now, it is a wonderful place, perfectly safe for children," he notes.
Gabriel describes himself as an active person who cares about his health. He wakes up at 5.30 in the morning and walks at least 7,000 steps throughout the day. During his morning walks, he often comes upon dirty or untidy spaces. "Instead of just walking around, I clean these places," he says.
"People often ask me why I am doing it. I tell them that, first and foremost, I am doing it for myself and my kids. If someone wants to join me, fine. If no one wants to join me, that is fine too. No expectations, no disappointment," the Romanian reasons.
He picks the places to clean at random. "For instance, I am in the Krasno Selo neighbourhood in Sofia right now. I saw a dirty piece of ground and I started to clean it. There are many other spaces nearby which need cleaning as well. They are my future missions."
Many people write to him that they feel inspired by him to start working as volunteers. "I urge them to do it, because everything is up to us. Keeping Bulgaria clean requires teamwork between the citizens and the authorities. Rather than blaming each other for the dirty environment, we should get to work together," Gabriel says.
He notes that many waste containers in the street are uncovered, which allows strong wind to scatter their content around. He recommends using containers with covers retractable by foot pressure.
The man plans to keep up his cleaning work and to try to organize groups of cleaners. He spends three or four months in Bulgaria every year, but he intends to move here with his family permanently.
Gabriel says: "Bulgaria is a very beautiful country with great history. The people here love their country, but a true patriot shows their love for their country by taking care of it and protecting it. You should not love your country only on your national holiday. You should love it all year round."
He presents his work as a cleaning volunteer on a special Facebook page.