Developing virtues, оr spiritual habits of behavior, is essential for a sustainable planetary civilization.
The purpose of civilization is to ennoble human character and to organize social life in ways that balance culture and history with the advances of knowledge to create justice and unity in a society.
Our civilization is plagued by violence and corruption, hence despite our technological savvy and the richness of arts and sciences, we do not yet have true civilization.
How can we develop more intentionally the qualities of spirit necessary in society? Some Bulgarian schools are incorporating virtues training into the education of youth.
In anticipation of the urgency of this question now, when our survival apparently depends on our ability to cooperate to resolve the global crisis, two decades ago, Linda Kavelin and her team created the Virtues Project (https://virtuesproject.com/) – a multicultural resource, which helps teachers and parents to transform words into deeds and ideals into reality. Drawing from the sacred books of all world religions, they identified 52 virtues (one for each week) and developed around them simple educational strategies that engage children and adults in an inspiring process of personal growth and development.
The Virtues Project struck roots in Bulgaria in 2006, thanks to the efforts of two volunteers – Terry Madison and Bertha Petruski – who initiated conversations with students from a few high schools in Sofia on how we express unity, justice, integrity, courage, creativity and many other virtues in our daily lives. The extracurricular meetings and organized events inspired high school students to develop their nobility of character. Marina – one of them – began to lead such classes with children in kindergartens and elementary schools as soon as she graduated from high school in 2007. In 2009, Elena Mustakova translated the Family Virtues Guide, and shortly after that Fanny Kosturkova translated the Virtues Project – Educators Guide.
Virtues Project in Bulgaria
For 13 years now, Foundation Love That Child, the precursor of Terry Madison Foundation for Virtues and Social Health, has continued to inspire children, youth, teachers and parents in Bulgaria to become intentional in developing spiritual qualities of personhood, and in this way to contribute to a more humane and more just Bulgarian society. The Foundation team, enriched also by the dedicated efforts of Roza Dimitrova, trains teachers in several schools in Sofia and marks the beginning of virtues discussions in the class teacher lesson, where teachers develops their own approach and topic selection.
The work of the Foundations inspires another foundation, “Blagotvoritel”, which also begins to organize trainings for teachers, students, and psychologists in the past 9 years. To this point, 600 teachers and over 15 000 students have been trained, and their numbers continue to grow. As colleagues express the need for more materials, “Blagotvoritel” publishes two new resources for elementary school, titled Lessons of the Heart, written by three experienced teachers, Marina Grozdanova, Daniela Zlatoustova, and Roumiana Bozhkova. These books support teachers all over Bulgaria in their efforts to create meaningful and interesting class teacher lessons devoted to human virtues.
In the 2017-2918 school year, Foundation Love That Child carries out trainings in four schools in Sofia, where virtues classes continue, with 5th and 6th graders mentoring younger students in developing virtues of character. In 2019, another high school graduate, Radoslav Stefanov from Sofia school # 7, “Sveti Sedmichislenitsi”, decided that he did not want virtues classes to end with his high school graduation. With the support of the school and Terry Madison Foundation, a virtues training was organized for 20 students from 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, who volunteered to mentor children in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. Below are some of the voices of participants of different ages:
“It was a privilege for me to work with the team of Love That Child. They showed me how beautiful working with children can be and how much more they can learn than we expect. They are kind and good-hearted, but nowadays we rarely show them how to apply these virtues. Love That Child brought the necessary change into the Bulgarian schools.” Tihomira Kirilova, former mentor from 12th A grade, school #7.
“Children are the greatest possible gift we can offer to the world. I feel proud to have had the opportunity to work with the Virtues Project of the Foundation, and to become part of the children’s future, which will, no doubt, be bright!” Radoslav Stefanov, former mentor from 12th A grade, school #7, and Foundation member.
The children I worked with were so active and sweet! They were eager to participate in the discussions, to share and to engage the topic. I have hope for these children’s future!” Tsveta Stefanova, former mentor from 12th A grade, school #7.
And here are the voices of other children and youth:
5th grade: “Virtues classes helped me understand the meaning of positive human qualities such as respect, honesty, love, compassion, and joy.
9th grade: “Virtues will help us overcome aggression, hate, envy, and irresponsibility.”
10th grade: “Let us keep the virtues in our hearts by practicing them and sharing them with younger people.”
11th grade: “Let us be generous, kind, and responsible.”
11th grade: “Through practicing virtues, we will change the world and make it a good place to live in.”