Our local partner in Bulgaria is the Stefan Noykov foundation, represented by Dr Paolo Giulini, a lecturer in developmental psychology at the Università Cattolica di Milano, as well as a criminologist and founding President of the Italian Centre for the Promotion of Mediation, an organisation based in Italy which seeks to give psychological help to violent men with the objective of protecting women. He comes from an Interista family, and as well as having forged a bond with the club via lots of projects regarding sports mediation, he also, thanks to his Bulgarian roots on his mother’s side, created a bond between his Nerazzurri passion and his mother’s background, leading co-operation between the two with Inter Campus in 1997. This took the form of the Stefan Noykov foundation, which carries out a range of projects, including artistic/cultural pursuits as well as sports-related activities with a socially oriented and philanthropic edge and attention to the most vulnerable members of society.

We have been in Bulgaria since 1997 and we hope to extend our help to the mentality and the needs of the Bulgarian people. Groups including the Thracians, then the Greeks, and eventually the Romans have occupied Bulgaria throughout history, with the Slavic people eventually becoming the cultural hub of the country during the Dark Ages. After a period under Byzantine rule and the renaissance of the second Bulgarian state, the land ended up under Ottoman rule for around five centuries. The Russo-Turkish war led to the birth of the Bulgarian state, which was recognised in 1908. The following years saw many conflicts with neighbouring countries. In 1946 it became a Communist republic and a one-party state until 1989. After 1990 Bulgaria became a democracy with a market economy and the long transition from one economic system to another led to many social problems. They joined the European Union in 2007 and the persistence of socioeconomic inequalities between the various member states led to their being underpaid and mistreated. Restrictive immigration laws, on the other hand, led to illegal immigration and human trafficking.

The mass immigration of Roma gypsies from northern India (Punjab and Rajastan) began centuries ago. Nowadays the Roma gypsies of Bulgaria are the largest minority group in Europe and depending on their religious associations will speak either Bulgarian, Turkish or Roma.

The sociocultural norms of the Roma population are not particularly compatible with traditional Bulgarian culture. It is common for Roma children to end up in orphanages, looked after by the state and with less and less chance of being adopted the older they get. Inter Campus plays a vital role in the development of these children, hoping to teach them to play with sporting values like altruism, solidarity, respect for the opposition and for women, and to try and keep them on the right tracks away from lawbreaking, bullying and bouts of anxiety all typical of adolescence.

The Stefan Noykov foundation and Inter Milan, through the Inter Campus project, use sport to increase social inclusion and incentivise school attendance amongst children as well as gender equality. Moreover, ethnoreligious integration and peaceful relations between the Roma population and the indigenous community are important to the project, since despite living in the same place on a superficial level, as communities they actually inhabit parallel worlds with limited contact.

Inter Campus is a project which provides for a long-term cultivation of formative experiences for children, since it is often the early stage of life which defines people, in order to prepare children for the complex world of adolescence. Often, little girls of Roma ethnicity that with their families are forced to cut their experience with the project short and their natural development is rushed, skipping out completely an essential part of their development and forced to become women without an intermediary adolescent phase. Too often they find themselves pregnant at a very young age in marriages by their own parents with men that they have never met before.