Robin Harshman was not sure she would be up to the task, but she was determined to try. "Dobray Doshlee, Mr. Kirilov," the fifth grader stammered, thrusting a bouquet of flowers into the diplomat's arms. Suddenly, the 6,000 miles between Bulgaria and Howard County's Waterloo Elementary School seemed to diminish as the pupils and teachers entertained Evgheni Kirilov, Bulgaria's cultural attache in Washington, during a half-day visit.
The school had invited Kirilov in order to present him with a variety of art projects for the Children's International Assembly, set for August in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The Children's Assembly, begun three years ago in observance of the Year of the Child and supported by UNESCO, has become a popular annual event to which children from more than 140 nations are invited for 10 days of getting acquainted and sharing ideas.
This year, 10 American school children will form the United States delegation. They will tour Bulgaria's resorts on the Black Sea coast and conduct a children's parliament at the assembly in Sofia. More than 25,000 children's art works have been contributed for exhibits throughout Bulgaria, and some of them will be housed permanently in the Treasury of Children's Art, a new museum to be opened in Sofia. School children who submit their pieces are sent certificates of thanks from the festival.
Tony Yount, principal of Waterloo school, organized a special program to demonstrate the students' talents. After the welcoming ceremony, Kirilov was ushered into the school auditorium to recorded Bulgarian music, and was entertained with performances of American songs and dances, complete with a chorus line finale. Later, Kirilov toured the school, fielding questions from pupils who had prepared for his visit by watching classroom slide shows on Bulgaria. He explained that dancing bears are relatively rare in Bulgaria and, to the students' regret, that he did not own one.
"How much is gas in Bulgaria?" The answer, $3.25 a gallon, brought a collective "Geez!"
"Do Bulgarians have electricity?" "Yes." "Video games?" "No, but we hope to soon."
"How much do cultural attaches make?" and "What do you do all day?" were frequent questions.
Kirilov told the students that when it is 11 a.m. here it is 6 p.m. in Sofia, eliciting another "Geez!" He also said he likes the Washington area, bringing applause, and spoke of his three sons, the youngest of whom was born in the United States.
According to Yount, the children were most surprised by Kirilov's perfect English, and by how much he looked "like one of us."
Yount said it was important that the cultural attache "was able to share part of himself with our kids, and that our kids can send to his country some of what they have learned through their art."
After lunch with the Waterloo faculty, Kirilov went on to visit Jeffers Hill School in Columbia, where he viewed an exhibit of Bulgarian arts and crafts and received another collection of children's art for the assembly. After a tour of Jeffers Hill classrooms, he expressed astonishment at the success of its "open school" system.
"Had someone told me that students from three classes could work in one big room without constant distraction, I would never have believed it," he said, "but now I've seen it, and it works!"