Our main project while in Belarus on our EVS is to help with the ‘Youth in conflict with the law’ works of World Without Boarders. This is working with teenagers who are in closed institutions for minor crimes.
There’s no direct translation for words we would use but these institutions are somewhere between a boarding school and juvenile detention. They do go to lessons as they are still of school going age. They also take part in workshops where they learn skills that they can use in the future.
They are in these institutions for minor crimes, resulting from a disadvantaged upbringing, very little support or guidance. No role models to look up to. They generally have been badly influenced by someone older or even their peers.
You get 3 chances, and if you lose these 3 then you’re sent to one of these institutions for between 3 months and 2 years.
When I say minor crimes, some of them have been as minor as drinking in public…
I wasn’t nervous to visit but became a little apprehensive on the journey there. The unknown I guess.
I had pictured much larger institutions but the girls’ institution that we visited on Thursday last, Petrikov, only has 46 girls at the moment.
I’d forgotten that there would be certain features on the outside so I was a little taken aback when I saw them, barbed wire along the fences and bars on the windows.
I had also expected to be met by a bunch of teens glaring at me, staring me up and down. I expected to be extremely intimidated by them.
Instead, there was a group of excited young girls, smiling and waving. They were so much younger than I’d expected.
I really was bewildered by how young they were. There was an innocence about them that was endearing and heart-breaking all at once. Then I realised the main reason why they seemed so young was they weren’t caked in makeup like girls would be at home. It was quite refreshing. Obviously I know that if they were allowed.
I say heart-breaking because despite having spent such a short time with them I know that so many of them really were just badly influenced and if they’d had someone to guide them on the right path it could have been a very different story for them.
It can be very difficult when they leave these institutions to integrate back into society.
Firstly, depending on how many years of school they’ve completed their school can refuse to take them back. It’s compulsory to do 9 years in Belarus but some of these teenagers could still have a couple of years to go before reaching 18.
Also, they will be going back home where the same temptations still surround them. Where the same bad influences are. You have to be very strong to avoid them.
World Without Boarders has set up brilliant program called ‘Contact People’. These volunteers are there for these young people to be the good influence in their lives, to be someone to support them. They write letters and visit the institutions while they are there but also keep in touch when they have left to provide guidance if the teenager asks for help. I think it’s a fantastic idea, and we met some of the ‘Contact People’ volunteers on this trip. It was lovely to see the girls running to greet them and speak and build their relationship.
This program gives the teenagers a chance to see how a happy and healthy life can be obtained. I look forward to learning more about it.
I’m really looking forward to meeting the girls again during the summer and helping them in any way I can.
For more info on our visit, and Aino’s thoughts: https://www.facebook.com/cpawwb1/posts/716361541878038