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HSE Students Engaged in Social Volunteerism at Orphanages

In February 2013, students of the Higher School of Economics launched the King Matt Academy with the aim of providing learning assistance to orphaned children. Master’s degree student Vladimir Korshakov of the HSE’s Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, who spearheads the project, recently gave us an interview.

— Vladimir, how did the idea of the King Matt Academy come about? Where did the name come from?

— King Matt is a child character in a children's novel by Polish children’s pedagogue and author Janusz Korczak, and this child had to solve adult problems. The main idea of the project is to help orphaned children prepare for the Unified State Examination and the State Final Certification (final high school examinations). We are not going to re-educate anyone; we just want to do something so that children from orphanages have alternatives in their choice of educational institutions: not only a college or a professional technical school but also a university. I got this idea because I know what it means to prepare for entrance to a prestigious university without parental support. I shared my idea with my friends; they all considered it to be worthy, and we decided to go for it. When we contacted Orphanage No. 5, it was receptive to our idea, and we are now negotiating with several other orphanages.

— Who is on the project team? Can anyone else join in?

— Eight people are now working on the project, and almost all of them are HSE students or graduates. Also, we have a professional psychologist, Marina Kovalevskaya, and she carries out psychological work with the children and volunteers. Currently, each volunteer teaches several hours a week. Ideally, the load per volunteer should be two hours a week.

— We are in the process of recruiting volunteers among HSE students, but we would be glad to attract people from other universities. We are in great need of tutors in Russian language and literature since there are no philologists among us, but other specialists (for example, in chemistry and geography) will also be in demand.

— How do the children in the orphanages react to having such young teachers?

— Right now we have six students at Orphanage No. 5: four ninth-graders and two tenth-graders, and we work with them on four disciplines—mathematics, social studies, Russian, and English. My impression is that the children are more inclined to communicate with us than with their regular teachers.

— In your experience, what future does social volunteerism have in Russia with regards to providing this kind of tutoring assistance?

— It is difficult for me to talk about the whole of Russia, but we have some perspective on what is going on in Moscow and the Moscow region. Here, some social volunteerism projects focused on children in non-Moscow orphanages are in development. For example, the Bolshaya Peremena (Big Change) Foundation and the Khrum Project teach children from several regions of European Russia via Skype. But, although the material level of Moscow orphanages is high, children lack simple human interaction; they exist in a closed world, and the opportunity to communicate with students is one way for the children to receive primary socialization in our society.

Liudmila Mezentseva, HSE News Service

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