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Regular version of the site

‘The Club Offers People with Mental Disabilities Something They Lack—Communication’

HSE University is known for its active extracurricular life. There are many student organisations at the university, so everyone can find something for themselves. Anna Lulikyan, fourth-year bachelor student in Sociology, told the HSE News Service about the Best Buddies HSE volunteer club.

Best Buddies HSE helps adults with mental disabilities and HSE students communicate and make friends. Created by HSE University in collaboration with Best Buddies, a charity for supporting people with disabilities, the club has been running since 2013. Anna Lulikyan heads the volunteer student organisation.

Anna Lulikyan

How It All Began

How I got into Best Buddies is a funny story. Before my first year of university studies in 2019, I was enjoying the summer, as any school graduate usually does. One day, I received a newsletter in my email saying that the Best Buddies inclusive camp was looking for volunteers. I love all sorts of outings, so even though I had no experience working with people with disabilities, I offered to lead a choir there. I liked the atmosphere of the camp and the energy I got from the participants. Everyone was positive and sincere, and it was interesting to interact with them. As you can see, I got into the organisation quite by chance, but it was my conscious decision to stay there.

Back at the camp, I met some of the volunteers, many of whom were HSE students, so I realised that it was only a matter of time before I joined the HSE club. I came back to Moscow and continued to participate in the foundation and club events. I helped organise them and kept in touch with the participants. At one of these events, an inclusive picnic in Tsaritsyno in September this year, a member of the foundation suggested I head the club as the most active volunteer from HSE club at the time.

About the Best Buddies HSE Club

We give people with mental disabilities something they lack in everyday life—communication. We make it possible for adults with autism, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome to find friends. We have an individual friendship programme, where participants with disabilities communicate regularly with individual student volunteers. We also organise regular events where volunteers and participants can communicate freely. These include visits to museums and discos, workshops and training courses, and trips out of town.

The people whom the foundation works with become more independent and self-confident, and on top of this, they can simply have a great time. The foundation also helps them to find jobs, while our student club focuses only on the social aspect.

Who Can Join the Club

Any HSE student can join us. No special training is needed. The foundation recommends that applicants watch a dedicated course on mental disability on the Stepik platform. However, the foundation's policy is not to disclose participants' disabilities—this is to ensure that volunteers communicate with participants without concentrating on their disability. Besides, success in communication does not depend on specialist knowledge, but on the empathy and intuition of the volunteer. We need to stick to the same social norms that we know well: listen and hear, respect others, and be interested in them.

Applying to and Studying at HSE University

I like studying at HSE University and I think that sociology does broaden my horizons. I found out about HSE from my older sister’s classmate, who got good grades at school and became a scholarship student. I knew I needed high grades to be admitted to HSE University, which meant I would most probably be surrounded by smart and talented people there. I generally associated HSE University with a positive image of the future. I thought my admission would prove that I was on the right path in life.

The Sociology curriculum offers a good balance of theoretical and empirical knowledge: you feel like you are being moulded into a complete person. But the popular advice ‘forget everything you were taught at school’ turned out to be completely irrelevant to me. For example, in data analysis, I regularly use the knowledge I acquired in my school maths classes, and my experience of writing long essays in literature helps me with my university essays.

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