A few years ago, Daniel Delibashev went to Africa to find the most important thing to dedicate his life to – missionary work and helping children. He began developing his Smile for Africa Foundation, which is currently relied on by hundreds of children in Uganda. The foundation is doing everything possible to solve the problems of hunger and education there. And in Bulgaria he gained popularity after it turned out that the children and young people in Uganda, whom the foundation helps, are dancing Bulgarian folklore dance (horo) and singing Bulgarian songs. Smile For Africa is founded to help children in the greatest need, targeting African countries. Where children are at greatest risk and deprivation – the significance, gratitude and joy of helping hand are the most sincere.
Here is what Daniel told about his journey and ideas to actualno.com.
Mr. Delibashev, how did you go to Uganda and why did you decide to dedicate yourself to your mission there?
In 2018 a boy (then 26 years old) caring for 55 orphans (and he himself grew up as an orphan) contacted me on social media. He asked me for help to buy food, because (according to him) these children had not eaten for 3 days. Although I didn’t know him and it was very likely that he was cheating on me, I decided that I should help because I didn’t want to think about the hunger of these children before going to bed the night before. Given that even with BGN 50-100 I would save them from starvation for a few days.
So I began to help periodically, albeit in small amounts, to reduce the chance of abuse. In addition, each time I asked for proof of the amount spent, including photos and videos of the food and the children.
In 2019, after visiting the orphanage in Ghana, where I volunteered in 2017, I decided to go to Uganda to personally check the place, the children and the conditions they had already told me about and shown in photos and videos. I was skeptical that things were as dramatic as they presented them. But unfortunately, in my personal encounter with the children and the conditions, I realized that the situation in this place in the woods was even more miserable than I had imagined before. Personal experience can not be compared with explanations, photos, videos. A shocking experience that several other Bulgarians, with whom we visited the orphanage together, have already encountered. And how else, when a person for whom a room 3 by 3 meters is uninhabitable, realizes that 20-25 children are sleeping.
As early as the end of 2017. I founded the Smile for Africa Foundation, and initially my idea was to do it as a side and non-committal activity.
The fact that several organizations and hundreds of children in Africa (Ghana and Uganda) already rely on me in part or in full, and the support of our donors, both periodically and on a daily basis, has made this additional activity a mission that is virtually impossible. to abandon. I would abandon many things (like my previous lifestyle) and people in my life, but starving children who are on the brink of survival – no.
Poverty in Africa is both familiar, but over time it has become an abstraction; something that “always is” and will be. How has this abstract idea, which I guess you had in the beginning, changed over the time you spent there?
For most people, other people’s problems are not their problems, even if they are children on the brink of survival, even if millions of them die of starvation. For me, it was also like that some time ago, as helping and contributing to the socially disadvantaged was limited to regular donations to major charities in Bulgaria, initiatives to support families and the elderly in the homeland and similar activities. By this I meant that I was at least partially fulfilling my civic duty to society. Daily worries and anxieties, both personal and business or family, limited the worldview within our country.
The prevailing belief around us that whatever money is donated to those in need in Africa will not be spent properly or that it will not change anything has made me turn my back on problems that are neither mine nor our homeland’s. .
Nevertheless, my dream of settling in Africa to see and get to know life on this continent, to be a volunteer, did not fade. On the contrary, he was increasingly drawn to this challenge. After its realization, this abstraction and erroneous superimposed conviction turned from something foreign and distant, into something that was no longer just my reality, battle, cause, mission, but also life. From the doubt that I will change something, even with a lot of effort and money, I already know that it is not necessary for one or the other to see a child’s smile and know that I am changing, maybe not much, but enough for to fill my days and life with meaning.
How do children learn to dance Bulgarian people? Who trains them?
People are taught mostly through videos they watch on Youtube and Facebook. As an amateur dancer, I didn’t even think of training them after seeing how they did. I would rather confuse them, make them difficult, limit them. Since dance and music are “in their blood”, although quite different in style and tact, they only need hours to learn the steps.
To make it more interesting and colorful, however, they make the choreography much more complex by importing a dose of traditional and modern afro elements.
What are the songs they know and what did you learn about Bulgarian folklore from the way they perceive it?
Their songs are more difficult, mostly because of the lack of similarities in the two languages. They find it difficult to hear and pronounce many of the words in the songs and have to repeat them dozens of times. In these cases, I spend more time learning and preparing.
Many of the most popular Bulgarian songs have already been heard from Uganda, including: our anthem, “My Country, My Bulgaria”, “White Cloud”, “One Bulgarian Rose”, “Are Two Going”, “My Childhood”.
With what they complement both our songs and dances, it makes me not only me, but also many other Bulgarians rediscover our folklore.
The desire with which they perform them and the smiles with which they are charged every time make me feel pride and satisfaction, which is difficult for me to feel even in the homeland and in the performances of the best professionals in folk dances. And although many people do not believe, all this is a fact mainly due to their love and gratitude to Bulgaria and the Bulgarians.
What do the two cultures have in common, something that surprised you as a discovery?
There are commonalities and differences between all cultures. The question is what people are looking for. We strive not only to find common ground, but even sometimes to merge them into one, to enrich and expand them, so that in one performance both cultures merge and touch and admire both peoples, in a way that is not done so far.
The very fact that despite the total differences, we manage to merge and give birth to something new and pleasing to people on both sides is something that is a discovery and although I had doubts before, the surprise in this case is more than positive, even delightful.
What did you hear from talking to them; words that have left a stronger imprint on you?
Often, I was told things and facts that were difficult or impossible for me to believe and accept. However, when one becomes a direct witness, one cannot help but believe. In many cases, it is difficult for the brain to accept reality and come to terms with it. Probably the same for me, because I can’t and don’t want to believe that I can’t do something and change my life, even if only for tens or hundreds of lives here. And how can one easily accept that small and innocent children who have done nothing wrong in the world do not have basic living and developmental conditions and are doomed to suffering from birth.
How does it sound to you or who has not only heard, but also seen that the statement: “the children have not eaten for 2-3 days, and at the moment there is nothing to eat” are not only words, but also reality. A painful reality that is impossible for me to come to terms with.
I guess that apart from the problems with food and household necessities, the most difficult thing is to build schools and the necessary infrastructure to ensure that poverty does not recur cyclically and get out of it. How can this problem be solved in the long run?
Of course, education is one of the things that can change the situation, both around the world and in Africa. Here, however, the need is really shocking. The same applies to corruption and the misappropriation of resources and income from them, both by the people in power and by the people and large corporations that still exploit these lands. Access to education is still a mirage for millions of children in Africa. Schools are extremely inadequate, and even if they are, they are mostly private. And although they are not expensive for our ideas, for many parents to spend even 10 levs (5 euros) per month for school (including food) for their child mission is impossible.
Who are the most common donors in your foundation – not as names, but as a type?
The largest donor is an American IT company with an office in Sofia, with about 1,300 employees in Bulgaria. Thanks to their support and donations, we bought and have 14 acres of land, a school and a kindergarten in the Zirobe area, about 50 km north of the capital Kampala. It is about funds over 100,000 USD.
For the additional constructions, repairs and other big expenses, I rely mainly on bigger donations from Bulgarian businessmen – some living in the homeland, others outside it, some with business in our country, others – both in the USA and in Africa. In most cases, it costs around $ 5,000.
For daily / monthly needs – for food, water, medical care, education and the like, as well as for periodic initiatives – Christmas, Easter, Bayram, we rely mostly on small donors. The individual amounts range from BGN 5 to BGN 500, and the total monthly amount we need is over USD 3,000.
Recently, more and more birthdays decide to share their holiday with us, donating amounts between 100-500 BGN for various purposes that they consider – such as buying better and different from the usual children’s food or a pool party, and more.
Most likely, some readers will ask themselves why I miss donations from institutions – Bulgarian, foreign, international. Although we are often unjustly accused that the Foundation was established precisely and mainly for the purpose of using and abusing such funds, I will have to disappoint these people, because so far we have not received even 1 BGN from such institutions and their programs.
What are the most urgent needs that your foundation needs to address and what would be your call for donations?
In the last year, our popularity has become quite large, thanks mainly to the performances of Bulgarian songs and dances by children and young people in Uganda. Videos with them on social networks alone have been viewed over 2 million times, and hundreds of thousands of times through reports and participation in the media. Unfortunately, the development in the financial part is quite different from the one that gives pleasure and nourishes the patriotism of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians around the world. We are still struggling to make ends meet, even with our monthly expenses.
In recent weeks we have been working and continuing with repairs and finishing works on buildings, electrification, interior painting, fencing and other activities, some of which are required to obtain a license for the next school year. It is with his taking that our main need for funds is connected at the moment, as we have not yet secured the BGN 20,000 needed to build a “sick bay” (medical center) in which to isolate children with symptoms of infectious diseases. diseases (mostly COVID-19) until they arrive from local health authorities. Of course, such a center, as well as a medical person to be there, is generally desirable to have, as the school (primary) and kindergarten is planned to be attended by a total of about 300-400 children. At the moment, not only is it mandatory to have it, but we need to do it in the coming weeks because the license application deadline is running out, which could mean that the school will not open and hundreds of children will miss the school year.
Is it my call? Just look at other people’s hardships and think for a moment what their life would be like if they were on the other side and in the shoes of those who do not stop enduring the blows of life, especially when they are children.
I have always tried to motivate people to help and that this is not only for the benefit of those who receive, but also for the donors themselves, because I know what a pleasure it is to see someone’s smile and eyes shining with joy and gratitude. Let everyone choose where, for what and how much to donate. I do not think that someone will become poor by donating an amount that would not make it difficult for him, but at the same time it will make him a more real person and give meaning to his days and his material security.
How has working with children in Uganda changed you?
Working with children is changing everywhere. The point is to be open to seeing and experiencing the world the way they do. While before the dose of enjoyment of life and the way to forget at least temporarily my problems was mostly through the accumulation of more and more material things and pleasures, the positive energy of children’s smiles is something I would not replace with any expensive car, destination, house and anything else. And I would not replace these smiles, even if it is at the expense of all the deprivations, worries and problems that accompany them.
The website of the foundation and how you can donate through it: https://smileforafrica.eu/