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  • ‘By Volunteering, I Am Helping to Make the World at Least a Little Bit of a Better Place’

‘By Volunteering, I Am Helping to Make the World at Least a Little Bit of a Better Place’

In honour of International Volunteer Day, which was celebrated on December 6, HSE News Service spoke with HSE student organization leaders about their volunteer work. It turns out that HSE students are very active members of their communities: from painting with children in local orphanages to helping out at animal shelters, students participate in a wide range of volunteer efforts—and have fun while doing it.

HSE Outreach

The oldest volunteer organization (formerly ICEF Outreach - ed. note) began at HSE in 2007 at the initiative of students of HSE’s International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF). Later, the association expanded as students from other faculties joined as well. Today HSE Outreach has more than ten participants from different degree programmes.

‘A friend of mine who was an ICEF student got me interested in HSE Outreach,’ says Anna Martynenko, current head of HSE Outreach. ‘She learned about the organization and wanted to go to a volunteer meeting. I agreed to tag along—as a first-year, I was looking for interesting extracurricular activities. In the end, she ended up not going to the meeting or joining Outreach, but I did – and, over time, I became the leader of the organization. I was immediately impressed by how cool the volunteers are and how eager they are to help others.’

HSE Outreach, Anna explains, focuses on social volunteerism. Members volunteer at a boarding school in Gavrilov-Yam (Yaroslavl Region) and an orphanage in Yelatma (Ryazan Region). The boarding school houses visually impaired and blind children who have families, while the orphanage houses children with mental and other developmental disabilities who are without parental or legal guardians.

Volunteers visit the children once a month and try to make each visit useful: ‘Even when we draw and paint with the kids, we make sure that the activity has educational value, too. For example, recently in an orphanage we had the children close their eyes and mold different figures out of play dough. This activity illustrated the fact that all people are different, and blind people, too, are a part of our community. Also, in orphanages, children may not have the basic skills necessary in everyday life; they oftentimes do not maintain personal hygiene, etc. We try to educate them and help make their transition into society easier.’

In addition, HSE Outreach volunteers hold bake sales on campus. The proceeds cover travel expenses, the costs of buying books and educational toys for the children, as well as food for dogs and cats at the animal shelters they visit twice a month. HSE Outreach volunteers also support young patients at the Dmitry Rogachev Children's Cancer Centre. Volunteers donate blood—a much needed resource for blood transfusions—in addition to bringing blankets, diapers, and clothing to the clinic.

Anna says that HSE Outreach always welcomes new volunteers. ‘Anyone who is responsible can become a volunteer: it doesn’t matter what year you are or whether you’re a student at HSE or some other university.’ The main thing that matters, she says, is having a desire to help without expecting any material benefit in return; understanding why you want to volunteer; and being able to set specific goals.

There are benefits in our work, such as the incredible energy you get from interacting with children and the opportunity to contribute to solving problems

Anna likes making a difference: ​​‘I understand that by volunteering, I am helping to make the world at least a little bit of a better place.’

The head of the HSE Outreach also warns newcomers against having high expectations. ‘Don’t expect that you will be able to change the system; this will only lead to disappointment, because it is impossible. Also, if you join us in this work, it is important to get a feel for the course of things and find where you fit in. There are many pitfalls—working in orphanages and cancer centres can be hard emotional work.’

Anna Martynenko, Head, HSE Outreach
Photo courtesy of Anna Martynenko

Open Your Eyes

Open Your Eyes is HSE’s largest volunteer association with 55 active long-term volunteers and 174 new volunteers who have joined just this year alone. On top of this, there are about 40 more people who participate in projects of the organization from time to time.

Anastasia Nemykina became the coordinator of the Open Eye Association less than six months ago. For Anastasia, volunteering went from being a hobby to an integral part of her life: ‘At some point, this activity became so second-nature for me that it was impossible to imagine my life without it. And we have quite a few alums who feel the same way—they actively participate in events and trips, simply because for them it does not cease to be important.’

Anastasia Nemykina, Coordinator, Open Your Eyes
Photo courtesy of Open Your Eyes Volunteer Association

Open Your Eyes volunteers work in four main areas: special-needs children, special-needs adults, senior citizens, and animal shelters.

In Moscow, volunteers organize the inclusive Magic World Festival, put on performances for children in conjunction with the HSE Theatre, host holiday events, hold blood drives, and organize charity events for those in need at the university. And, of course, they also organize monthly trips to their beloved shelters, orphanages, and hospices.

‘We sponsor three orphanages in Kolchugino, Yakhroma, and Polotnyany Zavod, as well as the Sobinska Neuropsychiatric Home for adults in Sobinska. For each trip, we prepare games, master classes, and various educational activities. We also put on concerts for folks at a retirement home in Shatura. We visit Kozhukhovo Animal Shelter. We feed the animals, play with the cats, and walk the dogs.’

Tutors for Pupils

HSE’s Tutors for Pupils, which provides tutoring services for children of a Moscow orphanage to help them do better in school, was founded 5 years ago. Volunteers offer tutoring at the wards in general education subjects. The team has seven organizers and 20 tutors. Their task is not only to help students master the material, but to help them prepare for exams as well.

‘We work one-on-one with each student, we hold sessions every day, and all of our tutors coordinate meetings directly with their students,’ says project manager Valeria Nekhozhina. ‘What we do requires a lot of patience—tutoring a child from an orphanage is no easy task, so a positive attitude is key.’

Generally, Valeria says, the tutees are not older than 15-16 years old. They do not aspire to enter universities; their goal is to go to vocational schools. Most often, HSE volunteers tutor the students in mathematics and Russian language.

The value of Tutors for Pupils is its uniqueness. There are very few initiatives like it, especially within university communities

Everyone should try volunteering, Valeria says. The project supervisor began volunteering when she was in high school and then joined Tutors for Pupils as a social media marketing volunteer. In the spring of 2019, she accepted a project leadership position.

Tatyana Zakharova, director of the Centre for Leadership and Volunteer Work, notes that volunteers work year round—after all, helping others is not just a one-time activity. HSE students became especially active in volunteering, says the director, after the Centre for Leadership and Volunteering was created. Moreover, helping the needy is the central tenet of the university’s social mission.

HSE University has a total of nine volunteer organizations. Students are engaged in career guidance and conduct educational campaigns. This year, volunteers carried out a large-scale joint project for the first time: they held a city-wide festival at Bauman Park, which attracted more than five thousand guests. The festival particularly sought to attract children with special needs and children residing in children’s homes. ‘Who said that special needs children require special events? Let everyone play together!’ This phrase became the event’s unique slogan, and it is under this slogan that HSE volunteers continue to work and promote inclusion.

Tatyana Zakharova, Director, Centre for Leadership and Volunteer Work

Tatyana Zakharova, Director, Centre for Leadership and Volunteer Work

On New Year’s Eve, we will hold another charity festival, but this time at HSE. We will create a single space in which children of HSE employees and children from sponsored organizations will be able to interact and play together.

Over the years, we have learned a lot and gained a lot of experience with volunteerism. We not only have organizational and material resources, but motivated students who want and can do great projects. Thanks to them, we have reached a new—citywide—level. And we want to do as many events as possible that are accessible to everyone—particularly as part of the HSE’s Open University Project.

See also:

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