Ognyian’s story: exchanging experiences - diversity and equality
Ognyian Stanchev is a 36 year old who was born in Razgrad, Bulgaria. He is from a city in an area of the country known for hosting international annual festivals where people from different ethnic groups who live there take part, such as the Turkish, Roma and Bulgarian communities. Ognyian has been living in the UK since 2007 and has a professional background back home. He has studied economics and graduated from the D.A. Tzenov academy of economics in Svishtov - a small student town. After this he went on to achieve his teaching qualification (equivalent to the UK's PGCE). He is currently completing his Masters in Public Administration again in Svishtov.
Ognyian, who is from a Roma background has worked for the Bulgarian Government as a senior expert in ethnic and demographic issues before coming to the UK in November of 2007. Despite leaving the country, he continued to advise the government after relocating to the UK, as well as build relationships with NGOs in Europe. He came to the UK to study Health and Social Care which was pre-organised and arranged from Bulgaria via an educational agency, which also paid for the course. His first placement through the course was at a care home in Exeter. He worked there for 14 months and during this time also applied for an internship with the EU commission funded by the OSI which as a Roma initiative programme. Further to this, he began advising the DG Employment on Roma inclusion for 5 months. However, he came back to the UK to continue as a care worker. He did so as it was his only chance as a Bulgarian to work in the UK legally; the other options left to him would have been self-employment or employment in construction, hospitality, cleaning, seasonal agriculture and work schemes.
During this 14 month period, working as a care work assistant was very difficult. He began to find a route for improving his career prospects in social work. He had worked in Bulgaria for years as a social worker. After 14 months living in the UK he made a great deal of British friends. Additionally, since he had continuously worked at the same position for over a year, he was able obtain a ‘blue card’. This meant that he could work, without any restrictions in the UK. However, he had started applying for other positions before the Government restrictions had been lifted, as he says, "I have the knowledge, I have the skills, I only need the document."
He applied and worked as a housing support officer for a year and four months and then moved on to work as a support officer for young people which was a very positive move for him; "I am happy with my job, I can help young people to move on in life. I came to the UK looking for better opportunities and to have a different experience in a different country," which he certainly did. "I like the diversity of this country, here you can be yourself and nobody can judge you or discriminate against you because of your ethnicity. I have many different friends from all over the world."
Ognyian volunteers with his local community around cultural activities, human rights issues and strengthening the community. Ognyian has, like most Londoners a love for the parks in this city, He enjoys visiting the South Bank, London Bridge, the Houses of Commons and takes time to visit the old church buildings across the UK. Looking to the recent negative media coverage on immigration in the UK, Ognyian points out that "there are many people like me who are educated and can contribute to this country and they need a chance to prove themselves. Many of the people such as cleaners and construction workers are highly educated, why not give them a chance to contribute?" Ognyian has established contact with many people from the Bulgarian community and feels that they are very hard working people; "Sometimes," he said, "they start working at 4 am and don't finish until 7 pm, including weekends. All they want is a better life for their families. They are very open, hospitable and friendly people."
As with all people, when Bulgarians hear negative comments they feel uncomfortable and unhappy. Ognyian feels that if they were to be given a chance they could prove that these prejudices and stereotypes are incorrect and untrue. "They are not giving up, they continue to work and they are patient and work to prove themselves." If restrictions are lifted, Bulgarians who may want to come to the UK will look for work and, if they fit the requirements, they will work. It is important that this group of people are not generalised as this community is small in number. When it comes to identity, Ognyian sees himself as European national, "I feel fully integrated in the UK and by living in my local community and this country I am exercising my rights as a European national. I am happy here and see this country as my new home - I love living here. Of course I like Bulgaria too and one day I will go back there because it is my home. There are many European nationals living in Bulgaria which include Britons who have bought property there as well as businesses."
"This is nice," says Ognyian. "This is free movement - exchanging experiences - diversity and equality".