Last December, Barauliany institution “Leisure Centre for Adults and Children “EcoZhizn” (“EcoLife”) turned two years old. At the moment, the centre occupies a large space of 80 sq. meters with authentic Indian furniture. It is here that we meet its founder Aksana Bernatskaya to talk about her reasons to participate in the Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship programme and plans to develop leisure opportunities for adults and children in Barauliany.
Biz4all-2 training is part of the “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator”, organized by ODB Brussels (Belgium) in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands) and financial support of the European Union.
Not having to go to the city for fun
Feeding lettuce to permanent residents of the centre — snails, Aksana describes how she began in a basement room of twenty square meters as a leisure centre for teenagers. Then Aksana and her team decided that they needed to expand and make the multifunctional space, offering as many service as possible, so that Barauliany residents would not have to constantly go to Minsk to access them. As a results, over the thirty days they revamped a large space: painted the walls, updated the wiring and plumbing, found furniture and made it cosy. Aksana remembers: “Originally, we planned to only work with teenagers, but over time, we realized that leisure and educational activities were also in demand among other age groups. Today, we continue to develop this area, but it is not the only one”.
At the end of last year, the team organized a charity campaign — they collected New Year presents for the lonely residents of Barauliany. The town has 107 elderly people who do not have anyone. “This is a very emotional event. Together, we managed to get 50 presents, and we have decided that we will definitely work with this group of people in future. Our specialists have already done an internship in the Golden Age University in Hrodna, and we are now planning events to bring social engagement to the elderly people".
Presents for the lonely elderly people of Barauliany, collected during a charity campaign organized by “EcoZhizn”
In order to cover the current expenses, administrative costs and the rent, the leisure centre needs to make money, so it offers both free and fee-based services. The focus of the centre is in bringing residents of Barauliany together and creating a friendly neighbourhood where one can spend time with benefit. Several times during the year, employees of ”EcoZhizn” with volunteers and local residents organize thematic festivals that bring together hundreds of participants. Very recently, they finished their “Active Parenthood” campaign, which organized meetings with a family psychologist, held lectures on relationships within a couple and printed brochures on how to interact with the child in the family. This campaign was launched with a “Barauliany Batski Fest” ("Barauliany Parents Festival"), which brought together more than 1000 people.
For more than a year now, “EcoZhizn” has had a mini kindergarten, where parents can bring their kids for half a day. Visiting the kindergarten, which works for four hours on weekdays, costs 280BYN per month. They also organize a Slavic gymnastics club, classes in a Psychology Art Workshop, film viewings, children’s journalistic, editing, arts and crafts clubs. Barauliany teenagers actively participate in the “Blogger School” and the “Project Management School”.
Photo: official Facebook page
Aiming for expansion
In order to have resources to provide free-of-charge services, work with teenagers and the elderly, the centre needs to make money. Even though “EcoZhizn” has provided a number of fee-based services for years, this has not been enough. It was for the business skills and new approaches that the team came to Biz4all social entrepreneurship school. Oksana says that participation in the programme has already yielded first results. “We have just finished a client interviewing module, which made it clear to us that we had did not get our target group — young mothers with children — exactly right. All our initiatives were focused on joint time of mothers and children, but surveys found that mothers were actually quite happy spending some time apart from their kids. At the moment we are thinking about this: organizing activities for mothers, while their children will be doing something useful and interesting in the next room”.
Aksana Bernatskaya and Yauheniya Pron, ”EcoZhizn” team members, at one of the Biz4all-2 trainings in Minsk
Photo by: Anzhelika Hrakovich
At the moment, a team of four people is working on a unique trade proposal for mothers and children, so that they could be engaged simultaneously but in different rooms in accordance with their interests. According to Aksana, Barauliany does not yet have anything like that. Luckily, all team members are innovators to a certain extent. Volha Karatay is an active mother with three children who manages a toy shop "Umniashka" ("Smartie"). She has organized board game contests in “EcoZhizn”. Now they plan to make this interesting and useful pastime a permanent feature. Yauheniya Pron is a talented psychologist and craftswoman. In “EcoZhizn”, she organizes a Psychology Art Workshop and various trainings for children and teenagers, as well as consultations for parents. Siarhei Pryschepau, the only man on the team, specializes in organizing pub quizzes. They have already organized one in Barauliany on the basis of “EcoZhizn”, and now plan to do the same monthly.
Photo: official Facebook page
Alina Stankevich, mentor of the ”EcoZhizn” team at the Biz4all-2 kick-off event in Minsk
Photo by: Anzhelika Hrakovich
The team of “EcoZhizn” connected with their mentor Alina Stankevich during the first offline Biz4all-2 session at the end of last year. Alina, who lives in Germany, came for the kick-off event of the programme to introduce herself and to get to know the teams better. “Alina did a lot of volunteering, including work with teenagers and youth. Since this is one of our target groups, we immediately agreed to work with each other. We have already had a number of Skype conferences to discuss surveys and the lean canvas model”.
At the moment, ”EcoZhizn" offers a variety of interesting leisure options in Barauliany village council area, so people no longer need to go to Minsk to get high-quality services. After each event, "EcoZhizn" receive new friends, volunteers and customers. Over the two years, they have brought together a team of 15 people who can organize large-scale and complex events, such as community festivals, on their own and with no additional supervision. “My position is that local residents must be involved in organization of any event — the have to feel involved. Together with the residents of the house where our space is located, we tidied up the playground and painted the children’s play houses. We are now considering organizing a crowdfunding campaign to create a workout area and a petanque ground”. Over the years, the organization managed to find support among both locals and the local authorities and administration, which is crucial for a small town.
Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.