Last week our host organisation World Without Borders held a youth gathering for teenagers in closed institutions. There was a group from each of the four institutions in Belarus and also from the social pedigogical centre.
I didn’t know what the few days were going to have in store for us. It was our first camp with World Without Borders and there were a lot of unknowns.
To be honest, I felt like a bit of a spare wheel at first. Not understanding the conversations and meetings of the adults and not knowing any of the teenagers. It was frustrating not knowing what to do during the group work sessions where there was a lot of words and very little comprehension. I felt like a spectator that was in the way more than a participant or volunteer, or helper of any kind. But as the time went on we found our feet and began to get our rhythm. I was never so happy to be handed a (beautiful) camera! I was in my element, and adopted the job of photographer.
The days were long and jam packed with activities (and food!) for the teens. There were group work sessions in the morning and afternoon with lots of time allocated to sports after these and of course, discos in the evenings. There was divil the fear of them wasting away this week. they were fed like kings, 3 main meals and 2 coffee breaks with mountains of biscuits each time! This was a real treat. It was great!
The group sessions were very good. After each one, we’d be filled-in on what the topics were and how the discussions went. They were held in a very nice way where the teens felt comfortable to talk. Each day the discussion would deal with different aspects of life in the institutions. The youth workers did great work with the teenagers, really got them to think about things that they might not have considered before. I was surprised at how open some of them were about certain things. It’s sad to realise they see some of these as normal and just part of life, that they don’t question them.
At the end of the week all the groups presented their work with posters and slideshows and they each had to act out a scenario too.
The sports activities were very good. There were volleyball and swimming sessions, some serious games of table tennis too! We had a sports day where they were to play in their group work teams and compete in some brilliant games (even if we do say so ourselves!). Aino and I were tasked with coming up with some of these. I wasn’t sure how they’d go down as they were teens of all ages and abilities but competition is competition and boy did they give it welly! Fearless some of them were!! I was wincing watching them at times. They all had a great laugh though and I got some ideas for other activities.
One of my favourite parts of the week was when they had to do a scavenger hunt around the complex and complete tasks at different stations. My station was highly entertaining. They had to teach me Russian tongue twisters.
Yep. Me! Their faces when they realised it was ME who had to say them and not them were priceless!!! I thought they were taking the mickey when Sasha read out the first one it sounded like utter gibberish. I feel I made a good attempt anyway…haha
We had a talent show one of the nights. This was so much more than I expected. I couldn’t believe how supportive they all were for each other. The usual antics of teenage lads, snickering at the younger ones on stage was nowhere to be seen. They all applauded and cheered. There were standing ovations and impromptu backing dancers – where 20 or so of them would run up and sway their hands in the air while someone was singing a solo. There really was a lovely atmosphere in the room.
The discos. Oh the discos! Shout out to my fellow Burren Chernobyl Project volunteers who have experienced one of the Belarusian discos!
We arrived in on the first night and I felt like an absolute granny, “What sort of noise is this at all! It’s too loud.” Well let’s just say by the end of the week we knew all the songs and were even singing to them (ok, granted they were our own lyrics but still!). The discos were great craic. Utter madness, dancing and singing/shouting, crazy lights etc. Of course, amidst all the madness there were plenty of slow songs for all the newly formed couples. This was definitely the anthem of the week, not only was it played at all the discos (twice most nights!) but we also all went up on stage after the talent show and sang. One of the volunteers Kosita had a guitar and played it with us. It was brilliant even if Aino and I swayed cluelessly.
Enjoy! О-оу-и-я-и-ё! Батарейка! Oh Ohee ya ee oh! Batareka!
Over the few days the gap between us (the foreign speaking people) and them(the teenagers) grew smaller. We’d play simple games and have a laugh. I wanted the camp to be just one day longer, events like this always feel like they finish just that little bit too soon.
The goodbyes were tougher than I’d expected, I took this as a good sign, that friendships were beginning and hopefully we can build on them throughout the year. They were particularly difficult with the girls as it was only when I was saying bye to them that I learned they wouldn’t be there when we visit them in the summer because they’ll be gone home. Espeically this gem Masha, such a sweet girl. She was in my group and had a little English too, we got on so well. I wished her the best in the future. I have a good feeling about her, she’ll be ok.
I’m looking forward to the next one already!
As you can appreciate a lot of what we hear and learn is confidential. I want to give as much information as possible of my experiences here. Please bear in mind that not everything is written here. Which can lead to conflicting opinions and can make it difficult to write these. I hope you can understand.