School mediators are Human of the Year 2021

School mediators in Bulgaria took the Human of the Year award at the fourteenth annual human rights awards, organized by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. Two more equal, runner-up awards and eight special awards were presented at a ceremony on 10 December – the UN's International Human Rights Day.

There are hundreds of school mediators in the country, but due to the lack of a unified structure, their activities are not well known in society. In the year of the pandemic, an Amalipe Centre survey of 200 schools showed that nearly 70% use school mediators to reach students from the poorest families. As a bridge between the educational institution, on the one hand, and the parents and students, on the other, school mediators carry out numerous information campaigns, go door-to-door and talk to parents. They succeeded in convincing more than 60% of parents of vulnerable children of the safety of testing for COVID-19 and getting them back to school.

A joint runner-up award was presented to Gloria Filipova, Manuela Popova, and Rainbow Hub for their work against hate crime and activism in the aftermath of the homophobic attack on the hub, as well as to the LGBTI Deystvie Association for its extensive work defending equality for LGBTI people and their families, including its work on the case on the citizenship of a child of a same-sex couple before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

A runner-up award was also given to the Our Premature Children Foundation for its long-standing efforts for the right of the most vulnerable babies to access to quality healthcare. In 2021, the foundation launched the country's first pilot program to track premature babies until they turn 1 year old.

Eight prizes were also awarded in special categories, two of them posthumously. Kapka Panayotova, the founder of the Center for Independent Living, was honoured with the "Brave Heart" award for fighting for the rights of people with disabilities until her last breath. The other posthumous award was given to Dr. Adil Kadım in the "A Warrior is a Warrior" category for her fight for children's right to health and access to quality healthcare.

A special prize "Civic Valor" went to Roma activist Hristo Nikolov for his anti-discrimination activities, in particular his legal actions against a university professor with lectures filled with racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic content. Natasha Dobreva, esq., was awarded a special "Perseverance and Courage" prize for her long-standing work to defend the rights of LGBTI people, women, and, for the past two years, people with substance dependencies. A new award named "the Light in the tunnel" was given to the online platform for psychotherapeutic help and emotional support, The team of professionals offers easy access to the service and a way to get in touch: by phone, chat, or email, and works actively with both vulnerable adults and adolescents. The "Advocate of the Year" in 2021 was Olga Mineva, founder of the NGO EMPROVE, which helps women and children in situations of domestic violence. Borislav Borisov took the award for "Activist of the Year" for his initiative "Let's prevent Sinemorets from becoming Sunny Beach". The "Journalist of the Year" award went to "The Documentarians" – Alexander Nikolov and Dimitar Panayotov – for the documentary multimedia story about organ donation "The Last Gift of Man".

Some winners received their awards remotely by joining the ceremony online.

The full list of nominees and their nominations can be viewed on the Human of the Year campaign page here.

A recording of the ceremony is available on the event's Facebook page here.

Human of the Year is an initiative to promote and support organisations, people and causes that have made the previous year better and fairer through their work in human rights, animal protection and environmental conservation. There were over 90 nominations for 2021 for a total of 65 individuals and organisations, and traditionally an independent jury determined which of these were most worthy of the top prize. In addition, the jury awarded 10 other special prizes, including to environmental activists, journalists, and people of merit in various fields of human rights in Bulgaria.

In 2021 the jury is composed of:

Krasimir Kanev – Chairman of the Jury and President of BHC
Boryana Dzhambazova – freelance journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner
Georgi Bogdanov – Chairman of the National Network for Children
Teodora Krumova – Program Director of Amalipe Center
Petko Petkov – Judge
Krasimira Velichkova – Director of the Bulgarian Donor Forum
Yavor Gechev – animal welfare expert, creator of the platform
Yana Tavanie – founder and executive director of the platform for socially engaged art Fine Acts

The unique vision of the Human of the Year for 2021 is the work of illustrator Miglena Papazova.