Unsung Heroes: Magdalena Simeonova - Doctors of the World

Unsung Heroes: Magdalena Simeonova

My name is Magdalena Simeonova. I am 28 years old and I have two children who are 9 and 5.

I was born and raised in the Nadezhda neighborhood in the Bulgarian town of Sliven

We only moved out of the ghetto a year ago to settle in Sini Kamani. 

I got married when I was 14. Today, I am strongly opposed to people getting married so young, but the environment in the Nadezhda neighborhood influences your decisions. I had lovely parents who wanted me to continue with my education and I had good grades at school, but I was influenced by my environment.


I met my husband and wanted to get married, but my parents were firmly against it. I insisted, and in the end, they stopped fighting it and we got married. My husband was 18 but I was only 14. Marrying young is the tradition in Nadezhda and the people themselves accept it as something normal. They do not see it as a problem and think that that’s how it should be.

Once you are married, as a woman in Nadezhda you are expected to drop out of school. You are supposed to have children and look after your family. In our community, your husband and in-laws expect you to have children straight away. There’s no waiting.

Doctors of the World France was running a project for women on how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and avoid sexually transmitted diseases. I took part and followed their 4-week training course. At the course I met Fanya Rameva, a lecturer and midwife. After I met her, I knew I wanted to go back to school and pursue higher education.

At the time, my husband and father-in-law had decided to finally finish their secondary education. I secretly wanted to do the same, but I was scared to tell anyone because women are not allowed to study in Nadezhda.

“In a sense I feel blessed because I was the first woman in Nadezhda to be able to study and to do what I have done.”

But my husband knew about my dreams

One day he surprised me and told me that he had enrolled me at night school. At first, everyone was against it. People had problems with us because I had decided to continue my education.

But we never gave up. I completed my secondary education, then I started studying at Varna Medical University and was accepted with a focus on midwifery. I am now in my last year and am completing an internship. Once it is finished, I will graduate.



I don’t want the same thing to happen to my children, so we moved out of the Nadezhda neighborhood. My husband and I will do our best to educate them and make sure they have a better life.

I also decided to work in a center for mothers in the ghetto. I help to motivate them, discuss their dreams, and to make sure they don’t drop out of school. I feel confident that more women will decide to pursue their education and play their part in society.

In a sense I feel blessed because I was the first woman in Nadezhda to be able to study and to do what I have done. I believe there will be many more after me.