Viktoria Petrova is the first Country Coordinator of Roma background in charge of the REF Roma Scholarship Program- Bulgaria. Currently over 500 students per year apply for the scholarship and more than 200 are selected. The scholarship pays for only one academic year so students must reapply on a yearly basis.
Viki has a B.A. in Public Administration from Veliko Tarnovo University and an M.A. in International Relations from Sofia University. Previously, she was Bulgarian coordinator of the Roma Mentor Program directed by OSI (Budapest) – an innovative pairing of Roma mentors and non-Roma teachers which emphasized developing cross cultural educational networks and educating students about Roma history and culture. ‘I have always believed that networking among students and educators is the key to addressing achievement gaps between Roma and non-Roma young people.’ The Open Society Initiative cancelled the program in 2011.
Viki, herself, qualified for an OSI scholarship for Roma students, but found out about it too late. When she finally learned about the program at the end of her second year of university, she applied and was immediately accepted, but not before her parents had taken out a bank loan to put Viki and her brother through college. ‘Meeting Roma scholars was a revelation for me. For the first time I realized there were other Roma who thought like me, were educated and had economic goals.’ Viki created a pre-Facebook social network for Roma Scholars while at university.
Viki credits her late father, Pietr Borisov, with inspiring her to continue her education and always pursue excellence. As part of the Bulgarian school desegregation effort, Pietr organized a concert featuring top Roma and non-Roma performers. ‘One day,’ her father told Viki, ‘you will understand why I go to homes in the Roma neighborhoods and encourage the children to go to school. One day those children will thank me.’ At his Memorial service, dozens of Roma students brought flowers to honor his memory.
Viktoria dreams of a better Bulgaria for her daughter Ani – a nation that includes more opportunities for all Bulgarians and elimination of anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination. ‘When she was only two, non-Roma children refused to play with Ani calling her “a dirty Gypsy”’. ‘Real change can only happen if other Roma who believe as I do are determined not to back down, and to strive for a world open to all.’