On December 16, Minsk School for Orphans with Special Developmental Needs No.7 received a visit from a large group of volunteers who wished to organize an interactive New Year’s celebration for children. When the volunteers were finalizing the preparations, the children assembled at the entrance to the assembly hall, eagerly waiting for the call to go in. The event was organized by the Katsiaryna Kaurova Family Centre, a public organization "Healthy Choice", project "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!" (It's Belarus, baby!) and ODB Brussels.
A beneficial celebration
Children of Minsk Special Needs School No. 7 have known volunteers from the Katsiaryna Kaurova Family Centre for several years already, but it was the first time organizing such an event for creators of the "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!" project. When children were invited to enter the decorated auditorium divided into several thematic zones, they immediately recognized Grandfather Frost (Santa Claus in the Slavic tradition), Snow Maiden (Grandfather Frost’s granddaughter) and coordinators of the children’s programme.
Children painting small figurines produced by the social enterprise «Our Masters»
This time, there were no chairs in the small auditorium, the stage was empty, and everything was organized in a new and unusual way. Right at the door, children were welcomed by Grandfather Frost, Snow Maiden and fairy volunteers, who immediately divided the children into several groups. Some of them sat at the round tables to pain plaster figurines and postcards specially made for the celebration by artisans from the social enterprise "Our Masters" - the first and only enterprise in the country, which rehabilitates alcohol addicts. Others came to sit by the tree with the friendly therapy dogs and their handlers.
Anastasiya Sikhno with a child from the School for Orphans with Special Developmental Needs No. 7
Anastasiya Sikhno, Children Programme Coordinator, Katsiaryna Kaurova Family Centre: "We have worked with children from this school for over three years now, and we have seen them grow. We didn’t want to simply put on a show for them, we wanted to organize an interactive New Year celebration where every child could participate. The children were split into three groups to mix things up and let them try different activities. Santa Claus and the Snow Maiden got to perform in the breaks between creative workshops. Thus, every child could take an active part in no less than three creative activities. The child is an active participant of the celebration and not just a spectator".
Canis therapy as a mood booster
Children were particularly drawn to the small corner near the Christmas tree, where three therapy dogs and their handlers were eagerly waiting for the little guests. These dogs can be touched or hugged, which brings a whole range of positive emotions. Unlike people, dogs easily pick up on the person’s mood and needs, which means they can help people feel the emotions they require at this particular moment in time.
In Belarus, therapy dogs that are specially trained and certified to work with people with special needs appeared very recently. This area of therapy is developed by the initiative canis therapy group "Korsa". Any dog can become a therapy one, but it needs to get special training and international certification first. At the moment, they have to get certified in Russia or Lithuania. Children especially loved this activity, so dogs were surrounded by eager little guests all the time. Fortunately, we had a chance to talk to volunteers from the initiative group before the event started.
Yuliya Altunyuva (on the left), founder and volunteer of the initiative canis therapy group "Korsa"
Santa Claus "with a twist"
The event had a special guest: Andrus Takindang, Belarusian artist, musician from Harotnica and leader of Recha band. He was virtually impossible to recognize in the Grandfather Frost costume. By the end of the celebration, children surrounded Grandfather Frost, loudly singing his songs while he played the guitar. Andrus Takindang is also an ambassador for "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!"
Andrus Takindang: "This is my first time as Grandfather Frost, but when I was offered the opportunity, I immediately agreed. Although I did not really expect it would be this hot in the costume and a beard!"
Maria Cheriakova and the team of "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!" were actively involved in all the preparations. It was their idea to invite Andrus to be Grandfather Frost. According to Maria, author of the book and the main inspiration behind the project, it was a dynamic and fun celebration, which turned out even better than expected, and Andrus was great as Grandfather Frost.
Alyona Lis, ODB Brussels
Text: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
Photo: Vitaly Brazousky
The team of volunteers (including the tail-wagging ones)