This is the first post in our ‘People not places’ series – we hope you enjoy!
At Byalynichy boarding school in the Mogilev region of Belarus, 83 children attend the special education needs and disabilities school year-round. A group of 53 children participated in our annual summer camp named “You’re Special”. The aim of the camp was to restore a positive sense of self, and for the children to leave with the precious knowledge that they’re special. The children that attend the school are orphans, and the advent of such status causes a child’s sense of self to become insecure in dramatic ways.
We asked the children on the first day if they considered themselves special, and what it meant to them. The children unanimously answered, ‘we are special’, ‘special because of our needs’. Well that makes it easy, let’s pack up camp…
Though there is a duality to this truth; one side the children knew, the other side seemed to be in process that ‘my story is special’. The children personally own stories uncommon, and so the camp made efforts to help them children process their history.
One of the girls, Anya, said, ‘I was able to forgive my parents, and stop being angry at people. Then I began to sleep better and stop worrying’. Tanya said that she was very angry with God for being born without an ear and having hearing problems with her other ear. She asked God for forgiveness for her grudges and anger.
All the children shared similar reflections on how to go back in time, and say I love that person, or I forgive this person, and to conclude with ‘this is my
story’. As the camp came to an end, the teachers were amazed at how the children had grown in confidence and play, in a relatively short space of time.
The camp facilitated sports, arts, crafts, celebration, plenty of activities for body, mind and soul. The children of Byalynichy are teaching us a lesson in acceptance and forgiveness. They have fully embraced who they are and regard it special, rightly so. They have learned to share this knowledge with the child next to them, and behind them, ‘you too, you’re special’, and ‘not just you, but your story, where you came from, and how you got here’. Thank you Anya, and all the girls like you for teaching us.
The work done at Byalynichy boarding school has gone on for 17 years, 17 years of ‘You’re Special’, may it long continue!