Borders Exist Only in the Mind: Theatre Workshops for Integration Groups

Kseniya Kireeva has entered her third year of social design studies at BSU.  This is a fairly new specialty at the university, which is about creating and managing social projects. However, according to the graduate of the First Social Entrepreneurship School for Teenagers “SEI Youth. My First Business”, organized by Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and ODB Brussels within the framework of the EU-funded project “Social Entrepreneurship  Incubator”, the university course lacks focus on business skills and a non-formal approach. Kseniya was able to learn both of those during the school for teenagers. Kseniya talked to ODB Brussels about her social project on inclusive theatre.

Inclusive theatre: barriers in your mind are worst than any curbs

When she was in her first year of studies, the girl became interested in a theatre project organized by her fellow classmates. The goal was to bring together an integrated theatre group including people with disabilities, organize workshops and training events for them to help them with voice, speech, gestures and facial expressions. “When I was still in school, I was part of the theatre group called “Clartés”, so I could learn from experience how it helped people to open up. Such workshops give people a chance to integrate into society, feel bolder and more confident, take a different look at themselves and the world, and believe in themselves. It is important for everyone, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Ideally, I would like all the schools, theatres and other spaces to lose the descriptor “inclusive”, because inclusion must become something that is present in society by default. However, for that to happen, the notion must first become a norm in Belarus. This is what we are striving for."

Kseniya Kireeva (second on the right), graduate of the First Social Entrepreneurship School for Teenagers “SEI Youth. My First Business” in the jury for a training event of the second Social Entrepreneurship School  Photo: Alyona Lis


During her time on “SEI Youth. My First Business”, Kseniya worked on a different social project because she joined an already existing team. Unfortunately, the team did not follow through on their project of a platform to find employment for people with disabilities. However, the idea to organize theatre workshops inspired the girl, so after the school ended, she set off to realize it right away. Thanks to Aliaksei Strelnikau, who mentored the project, Kseniya got in touch with the Belarusian Drama Theatre and came to work there as a cloakroom attendant for a short period, so she could study all of the inner workings of the theatre, learning how the whole system is organized. She plans to hold the workshops on the basis of the theatre because the building has accessible design, and she found both amateurs and professionals who got on board with the idea and are ready to organize group classes.

Social design workflow at a training of the second Social Entrepreneurship School for Teenagers “SEI Youth. My First Business”.  Photo: Alyona Lis

At the same time, Kseniya got in touch with the Republican Association of Wheelchair Users, who became interested in her project. After taking part in Social weekend 8, a competition of social projects, it underwent certain changes that made it scalable to the whole country, now including online webcasts for people in the regions. The student admits that at the time, she simply did not have the skills and resolve to coordinate all the arrangements and organize the first training, even though almost all the necessary resources were on hand. At the Social Weekend's Hackathon, I met the team from Babruisk who were developing the project of an inclusive theatre school “Zerkalo” (“Mirror”). It was great that we could work together during the hackaton, and now the school meets in Babruisk every week. It is in demand there. Of course, it’s a shame that I invested so much energy, brought in so many people and could not bring the project to an end. That is why I’m planning to get on with the project in Minsk with redoubled energy. This issue means a lot to me, and I believe that I need to realize this”.

Olga Kapachenia and Mikhail Lyah, trainers at the second Social Entrepreneurship School for Teenagers "SEI Youth. My First Business", and mentor Kseniya Kireeva Photo: Alyona Lis


Now Kseniya helps to organize trainings for TiES, which is managed by Mikhail Lyah, a soft skills coach, who has been actively engaged in the first, and now also in the second Social Entrepreneurship School for Teenagers “SEI Youth. My First Business”. They have launched a project called SOFT SKILLS GYM.

A communication skills gym

Kseniya says: "Soft Skills GYM is an exercise room, but for perfecting one’s communication skills instead of perfecting one’s body. We focus on practical aspects: minimum of theory and just practice. We work to develop four main areas: communicative skills, creativity, self-organization and productivity, and public speaking skills. An essential part of the training is to analyse things that did not work out and how we can improve on them next time. We wish to build a permanent community that would meet regularly and strive for changes for the better. It’s quite funny: it turns out that things I wanted to develop in the theatre workshops actually are soft skills. I think it’s a sign that I’m going in the right direction: while I’m doing something else, I’m actually going in the direction the project needs.” The girl admits that when she first saw the call for applications, she doubted her abilities and was not sure if she should actually apply but then she decided to do it when she saw the phrase “Borders exist only in our mind” on the main page of, because this is exactly the idea she puts into her project.

A session in the Soft Skills GYM Photo: official facebook page


This year’s teenagers are the second group of the social entrepreneurship school to have Mikhail Lyah as a coach for important aspects of communication skills. The session for the first year’s graduates was added after the main training programme had already ended. The participants then gave positive feedback and suggested that in the second year, soft skills training must be part of the main programme.

At the moment, Kseniya is looking for active young men and women to join her team and work on the inclusive theatre workshops: “The social entrepreneurship school taught me a crucial thing: how important the team is to realize any idea. It gives you the confidence and support, it fills the gap for the resources you personally lack. I would like to find like-minded people who would also believe in this idea and dedicate their lives to seeing it through”.

Text by: Valerya Nikalaichyk

The publication 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 the fiancial support from the European Union.

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.


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