Wednesday, 08 November 2017 17:00

Mitko Yakimov: Silence is Beautiful. Never give up on your dreams!

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He comes from the little village named Nefela, near to Vratsa. He grew up in a poor family, showing particular interest in magazines on cinema, fashion and high life. He used to cut pieces of articles about movie stars off the issues and paste them on cardboard. He would secretly dream of becoming an actor just like the ones he would see on the pages. His dream was especially fragile for his mother showed real doubts he would ever succeed in becoming an actor. The reason she was doubtful about it is Mitko’s hearing is impaired. Nevertheless, he did make his dream come true. Yakimov got a few roles in theatrical productions as follows: Blacksmiths (Kovachi) and Cherry sisters (Vishnevi sestri) produced by Vazkresia Viharova; Two poor Romanians speaking Polish (Dvama bedni rumantzi, govoreshti polski) produced by Desislava Shpatova. Last year, Mitko graduated from New Bulgarian University, getting bachelor’s degrees in Acting in Film & Television. With his active imagination, he would write scripts in hope that some day, he’ll see them playing on the screen. Mitko Yakimov is the founder of Foundation Deaf Unlimited Bulgaria, the organization doing the National research on Bulgarian Sign Language. He was also a part of the international judging committee of the Miss and Mister Deaf Stars 2017 beauty contest, which recently took place in Paris. Ladies and gentleman, allow me to present Mitko Yakimov!

 

Mitko, you’re so involved in many different areas! Acting, fashion and sign language … Tell us something we’ve never heard about you. Now that your dream came true, I’d like to express my admiration for your effort to keep it up and make it a reality. Who would support you in your endeavours? Were you interested in any other areas?

When I was a little boy, I enjoyed doing sports. I used to play gymnastics but had to stop the training sessions because there wasn’t anybody to take me to the gym. By the time, my trainer went to live in England and my mother used to work in Greece. This is when I decided to take up aerobics. I used to do dancesport at the Specialized School for Children with Hearing Impairment in Sofia. We traveled abroad on tours and took part in concerts. My big dream was to become an actor, but there were people who would tell me being deaf will prevent me from doing my job well. I’ve always thought my condition is not something to worry about since we’re human beings after all. I’ll never give up on my dreams and will keep on fighting til the end. I firmly believe I was born to be an actor. I might be deaf but I’m proud to have met such amazing people as my teachers from university, my fellow students and the producers I worked with. I’m truly thankful for their attention, patience, useful tips and the aid they gave me on my path to becoming an actor. I’ve always had my grandmother by my side. My mother would support me and my brother while she was working abroad over a long period of time. During the summer breaks, I would go to Greece and stay with her taking a job to earn enough money for my tuition fees. I’m grateful to all the people who would believe in me and give me the chance to be the first deaf actor in Bulgaria.

What’s next?

Perhaps, a master’s degree to obtain. I have plenty of ideas and plans in mind…

You were particularly excited about the beauty contest in Paris at the end of October. We’re really proud with Cyril Slavov’s third place! Tell us all about this contest and the magical experience you’ve had in the capital city if France.

Deaf Unlimited Bulgaria hosts the Miss and Mister Deaf Bulgaria beauty contest for the fifth year now. Over the past two years, we’ve made the initial selection of contestants over the Internet as this is the worldwide way to do it. In the early years, we used to organize live contests but there seems to be a decrease of the funding of such events. Unlike the international editions of the contests, we don’t have strict criteria on height. What’s most important to us is the candidate’s ability to showcase the Beauty of Silence. This year, a total of 6 candidates sent their applications to us – 3 ladies and 3 gentlemen. They presented recent full-height images of themselves dressed in swimwear and in formal clothes. The contestants were selected according to the number of likes they gathered on the facebook page of the contest and the assessment of the Bulgarian representatives of the hosting organization “Miss and Mister Deaf Stars” (Berlin, Germany). Cyril Slavov was chosen to be our Mister Deaf Stars candidate because he has the looks of a professional model and has some former experience in beauty contests. He’s also the first deaf bartender in Bulgaria. Svetla Ibrishimova won the sympathy of the deaf community in Bulgaria with her authenticity and sweet smile.

The contest took place over the course of 10 days. The contestants would take part in everyday rehearsals, when deaf choreographers would teach them how to walk, present themselves and behave impressively on stage. Surprisingly, two of the candidates for the title, Cyril and Miss Transnistria, had their birthday on 25th of October. The hosts knew about it and gave them a surprise cake, which was particularly touching. During the finale, the contestants had to perform on stage wearing swimwear, national costumes, casual clothes and formal wear. Every candidate had to present their names, age and country. The finale taking place on the 28th of October, Cyril Slavov claimed third place and was crowned second vice Mister Deaf Star of 2017. 33 ladies and 28 gentlemen from around the world participated in the contest. Cyril’s top performance got us really excited and overjoyed as it’s a sort of international acknowledgement. We rarely see such moments of pride that prove our contribution to the world worthy. Both Cyril and Svetla made friends with many people out there. As a second runner-up of Mister Deaf Star 2017, Cyril has the responsibility to give a message to all people: Bulgaria can and should offer a better social status for the deaf people in the country as well as acknowledge sign language. In Sweden, the country where Cyril was brought up, social service is of high quality. It’s high time our country will provide the same level of service as is the case of other European countries.

You were also part of the judging committee of the contest in Paris along with the The Maloes duo and Ayiu John Wuol. We met the guys in Sofia at John Maucere’s performance hosted by your organization. What is it like being a part of the prestigious rating committee?

These people are truly amazing and I’m glad I was able to see them again. It was a great honor for me to be invited to be a member of the international judging committee. That’s the first time I’ve been a judge at a contest of such high level. Assessing candidates is not an easy job having in mind the large number of contestants and the heavy competition the latter faced. We had to rate each candidate based on the following criteria: body type, walk on stage, smile, choice of clothes and artisticity. Since the contest took place in late October, some contestants decided to be creative in their performance showing up Halloween outfits. Despite the high level of competition, our candidates’ performance was at the top. Cyril instantly impressed the judges with his appearance and professional behavior. He’s tall enough to meet the international beauty contest criteria for height. We also saw a Fashion models performance with deaf models presenting outfits of deaf designers. I must admit the clothes shown up were as good as any renown brand’s collection I’ve seen. This just goes to show that you can achieve anything regardless of your condition.

Deaf Unlimited Bulgaria is currently doing the National Research on Bulgarian Sign Language, which is a pretty responsible undertaking. How did you actually come up with the idea to start the Foundation? What are the big ideas getting you all together?

We are a community of able and well-informed deaf people that came up with the idea to aid other deaf people. We initially started a campaign entitled “Deaf people helping the deaf” and it’s when the project for a Foundation made its way around. On the 30th of January 2013, Foundation Deaf Unlimited Bulgaria was founded and we got the opportunity to make our big idea real. The administrative council of the Foundation is made up of deaf people exclusively, most of whom have university degrees in different areas. We’ve had our significant achievements and hard times through the years but what keep us going forward is our faith and the fight for a brighter future. We’ve sent letters to various companies and institutions stating our need for support. Alas, we don’t always get the necessary funding, so we sometimes have to operate on private funds. The Foundation is a non-governmental organization pursuing public benefit. It’s an independent and voluntary organization. Our mission has always been to work in favour of people at risk and their families. We do this by ensuring improvement of their living standards and by helping them become enabled while keeping up their values. We help deaf people and support them in their development and integration. The Sign Language project we’re currently working on is our biggest chance to promote the legal recognition of Bulgarian Sign Language. The latter is a big dream for us! We’re doing the National Research on Bulgarian Sign Language as part of project Support for Equal Access and Personal Development funded by European Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth 2014 – 2020. We employed 6 lingusits from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” to study the grammar of Bulgarian Sign Language. We’re about to complete the Research and I hope Bulgaria will join the group of European countries where Sign Languages are valid and official. I’m really looking forward to seeing this happen in 2018 when Bulgaria will be hosting the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Foundation offers plenty of activities. In 2013, we were partners of the Miss and Mister Deaf International beauty contest hosted in Sofia. This year, we have achieved the most significant results in the field ever since we started hosting beauty contests. Three international beauty contests for the deaf models are held throughout the world. We’re extremely glad to announce we’re taking part in these events and our performance is marked by our hard work and courage. During the contest in Paris this year, it was suggested that „Miss and Mister Deaf Stars 2018” be held in Bulgaria. This is a great honor for us, yet we don’t know if it’s going to happen for sure since they’re looking into all the possible host countries and negotiations are about to be held.

Looks like plenty of dreams are about to come true in 2018. What’s the innermost dream you wish would happen in reality during the following year?

I wish deaf people would be free to better communicate with others. There would be more real time news programs in Bulgarian Sign Language. There would be more captioned Bulgarian movies. I strongly suggest that journalists would stop using the term ‘deaf-mute’ – it’s an outdated word. There are deaf people who could speak fluently. I’d also like to mention that ‘hearing impairment’ is another vague term that I don’t fancy. Deaf people have no hearing at every, hence it could not be impaired. I wish people in Bulgaria would refer to deaf people with respect, as is the case in other countries throughout the world. I really hope the Parliament will legally recognize Bulgarian Sign Language for this will allow us to seek support when teaching and learning BgSL. Such a law will also promote the sign language interpreter job. At the moment, there are hardly enough SL interpreters to aid the deaf around the country. I wish Bulgaria would be a country where Sign Language interpreters are paid for their work and are able to reach out to the deaf people in need of sign language translation through the social services in provision. Whenever legal recognition of Bulgarian Sign Language happens, we`ll be ready to organize learning courses inviting deaf lecturers to teach others BgSL. A Sign Language Learning Centre will be established by Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski.” The establishment will be able to do regular research on BgSL. It will deal with the invention and introduction of new signs that are currently used in spoken language and don’t have their analogue in Bulgarian Sign Language.

Mitko’s dreams are certainly big. We wish the odds will be in his favor. Most importantly, we wish that he will have the right people around, so that they would work together towards making these dreams a reality.

Interview by Christina Tchoparova

Photo credits: Cyril Slavov and Foundation Deaf Unlimited Bulgaria

EN Translation by: Maria Mihailova

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