Earlier in 2016, Robert and Julie, from Massachusetts, got in touch with me to tell me about the new project they had started in Stolat, Bulgaria. They were very excited about opening a cultural and educational retreat in this quiet village in the Gabrovo region.
Eager to learn more, I visited the Stone and Compass centre in June and was blown away not only with their centre but also with their incredible vision and passion to make a positive difference in the world.
The Stone and Compass centre is a beautiful place to host various activities, and this summer it has already been home to tour groups from American universities and a retreat for yoga groups from the UK.
But that’s not what makes this centre so special. These tours and activities are not being organised to simply bring tourism to Bulgaria; that’s just the beginning. What makes Stone & Compass so unique is the fact that Rob and Julie have donated the centre and all its profits, to be the home of the annual Forum for Cities in Transition.
When Rob contacted me to tell me that the FCT would be hosted at Stone and Compass, his words were ‘This will be epic”. I admitted that I hadn’t heard of the FCT, or its founder, Padraig O’Malley, but after Rob filled me in on the details I quickly realised that this would indeed be EPIC!
A Very Simple Theory:
“The people in conflicts, like Northern Ireland or in Israel and Palestine, had the characteristics of addicts,” says O’Malley. “I developed a very simple theory, that just as AA works in the principle that one alcoholic is in the best position to help another, that one divided society is in the best position to help another.”
The forum hosts delegates from ‘cities in transition’ all over the world and the idea is to bring these representatives together to share their stories and make plans to assist the peace process. For the past six years, the FCT has been hosted by a different city each time, a very good idea in theory, but with the cities involved struggling to raise funds, the forum was unable to find a home for 2016. Fortunately, a chance meeting earlier in the year with Padraig O’Malley meant that Rob and Julie learned about the FCT’s struggle and the idea of hosting the forum in Stolat was born! With only three months to prepare, Stone and Compass was announced as the permanent home for the FCT, and the 2016 forum was to be held in October.
To give you an idea of the scale of this forum, there were over 60 delegates, travelling from 16 cities across the globe. Not only did Stone and Compass offer the centre as a permanent home, Rob and Julie also funded the majority of the event, with the help of an Indiegogo campaign which raised almost USD 30,000.
I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to be invited to this forum. I was about to witness GLOBAL PEACE TALKS happening in a tiny little village in Bulgaria … Amazing!
When I arrived at Stone and Compass on Wednesday afternoon, I was whisked inside and immediately given an update from Rob about what had been happening all week. The cosy, Bulgarian style kitchen was bustling with centre staff and film crew. I knew that Rob must have been exhausted as he told me that they had been going to sleep at midnight and waking up at 4 am every day, but exhaustion was not what I saw on his face, what I saw was pure excitement. The energy that he has is quite something, and I was barely able to keep up with all the incredible stories he was telling me about past and future projects. I’ll use the same phrase as I did when I described my first visit to the centre, because I was once again, blown away. Shortly after our meeting we were scheduled to go to the FCT official dinner at a nearby restaurant. I quickly changed and freshened up and at 6:30 pm we were on our way. “Get ready to see something amazing” … these were Rob’s exact words as we left for the dinner!
Gradually the delegates began to arrive and settle down at their tables. Rob introduced me to each table, and it was at this time that I saw how truly incredible this event was. Representatives from Lebanon, Nigeria, Ireland, Iraq and many more (I’ll share the full list below). What’s more incredible is that this group of peace makers from around the world were together, having dinner in a traditional restaurant in a tiny village in Bulgaria! I was honoured to sit at a table with Padraig O’Malley, the Mayor of Stolat, the Major of Sevlievo and Rob and Julie. The conversation was inspiring, and the atmosphere was positive. I can only describe it like being at an event with family who have travelled from all around the world to be together. After dinner, some speeches were made, first by Padraig O’Malley, who thanked everyone for being there but meanwhile urging them to remember that this was just the beginning. He stressed that talking is good, but action is what’s needed and everyone gave a huge round of applause to show their agreement to this fact. Next, Julie gave a speech that brought the whole room (including me) to tears. Her passion was evident as she talked about how proud she felt to see everyone in the room working together to make the world a better place. The speeches ended with a song from a beautiful lady from Nigeria and there were lots of cheers and laughter from everyone in the room by the end of the night.
I am certain Rob and Julie will never stop, no matter how exhausted they become, or how many challenges they face. The world is already a better place because of the work that they, and the members of the FCT are doing. I was there on this occasion as an observer, however, Padraig O’Malley welcomed me to the FCT ‘family’ and that is something that I will not take lightly. Through luck or fate, whatever it may be, I am now a part of this family, and I will do everything I can to support them. A crucial message that I will remember from this night was that each and every one of us CAN make a difference. As one of the delegates, a brave young man from Syria said, “Use your voice wisely”. I am following that advice now and will ask each and every one of you who read this, to do the same.
If you would like to learn more about Stone and Compass, or the Forum for Cities in Transition, please visit their Facebook pages, Stone and Compass & Forum for Cities in Transition or contact me and I will put you in touch with them. I urge you to spread the word about the annual FCT event and these wonderful people involved and support in any way you can. If you’re wondering how you can help, liking their Facebook pages and following their news can help, sharing this article can help, booking a tour at Stone and Compass can help or donating to the next FCT forum can help. Whatever you can do will help …
Use your voice wisely.
Here’s the full list of FCT cities and links to more information about each of them:
- Mitte (Berlin)
- Tripoli (Lebanon)
I will be sharing another article soon showing the Forum for Cities in Transition in Pictures, please follow our Facebook page to be sure not to miss it!