Our story

It all began back in 2002 when the Bulgarian Red Cross started a 3-day course of social orientation in favor of refugees. Around 20 beneficiaries of the organization participated in the course in order to exchange their ideas and experience. One of them is Linda Awanis – the current Chair of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria Association. She also used to volunteer for Caritas Sofia and to translate from Arabic to Bulgarian twice a week for the Bulgarian Red Cross as an external associate. “A representative of the UNHCR in Bulgaria had advised us to consider what is important and valuable for us during this course, how do we see our development in this country – our own as well as the one of all those refugees who are about to come after. Back then most of us didn`t even know of the Act on Asylum and Refugees, adopted the same year.”

Exactly Linda is the person to whom belongs the idea of the future association establishment. All the men in the course group appear skeptical to her proposal, but the ladies take the idea really personal and enthusiastic, they are at least willing to try to make things happen. The Bulgarian Red Cross and the UNHCR are happy to support the initiative however possible. An attorney from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee cooperates with all legal aspects for the registration. The first office of the CRWB is provided by the Bulgarian Red Cross, and the funding for the association launch comes from the UNHCR.

At the end of the day, the association was founded in 2003 by nine women who came from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and it provoked a lot of curiosity and raised a lot of questions. Linda shares that the leading one for her was both the change in the perceptions of Bulgarians about refugee women and the change in refugee men about the role and place of women in society. Linda seeks for the truth in-between; she aims to build bridges between different values and culture, to find balance and reasonable compromise, crossing points where people could overcome all mutual prejudice. 

In order to reach the woman in a conservative and traditional family, you should first win the trust of her father or husband – the head of the family. This is why the first beneficiaries of the CRWB aid and services – consults, direct work, social mediation, etc., are men. In time they are persuaded in the various benefits of such an organization, and Linda and her colleagues manage to keep the name “Council of Refugee Women” without it being perceived as a form of spreading too much feminism.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, CRWB representatives make on-spot visits in the only Registration and Reception Center by that time, which still takes place in Ovcha Kupel, so they can work directly with the people. It is crucial for the CRWB team to stay close to the beneficiaries, to get to know them, to understand better their troubles and needs.

In 2004, upon a suggestion of one of the refugee women in the CRWB, the organization started providing humanitarian aid – one of the main services so far and till today. In fact, the donors and their empathy and understanding are the key element for the successful development of the aid humanitarian aid program. In time, corporate donations become more popular and common and now they sustain a major integral part of our humanitarian program.