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‘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.

See also:

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‘We Are Trying to Change Attitudes Towards Homelessness’

HSE University graduates and the Nochlezhka charity organisation have launched a social media project called ‘Gde-to ryadom’ (‘Somewhere Nearby’) about volunteering to help homeless people. The project offers a look at volunteer work from various perspectives through personal stories, expert opinions, and interactive cases.

HSE University Situation Centre Assists Over a Thousand Students

HSE Rector Nikita Anisimov met representatives of the HSE Situation Centre to discuss the results of its volunteers’ efforts. The meeting focused on new forms of support and the problems faced by students.

Researchers from HSE University Compare Motivations of Volunteers at Winter Olympics in Sochi and Beijing

The Sochi 2014 Olympics volunteer programme involved 25,000 people. It was the first such volunteer project in Russia and was organised with support from the government, educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

Charity Festival Held by HSE University

HSE University Student Development Office held its traditional Charity Xmas festival from December 1th to 5th. The event was open to HSE University students, staff and graduates, and anybody else who wished to attend. This year for the first time, it was online, but nonetheless brought together a large number of guests and speakers. The HSE News Service spoke about volunteering and charity in the Coronavirus era.

Online Courses and Psychological Assistance: How HSE Volunteers Are Working During the Pandemic

On March 18, the Older Generation Support Centre opened at HSE University. HSE News Service continues to interview students and employees of the university who are helping senior citizens through the difficulties of self-isolation by delivering medicine and food, sharing useful information, and holding online classes. Today, volunteers who teach foreign languages to pensioners speak about how they have become volunteers.

English Lessons, Yoga, and Medical Masks: How HSE Volunteers Are Helping Senior Citizens

The COVID-19 pandemic, which was announced in March, is not winding down anytime soon. The coronavirus is especially dangerous for senior citizens. Due to the threat of infection, older Muscovites are spending their days in self-isolation. But many HSE students are working to ensure Moscow’s elderly don’t get too lonely by communicating with them remotely.

‘Inclusive Events Make the World a Better Place’

HSE volunteers together with the HSE Theatre have held a New Year event for the children and grandchildren of the university staff and students of the ‘Pokrovsky Kvartal’ school, where children with disabilities also study.

‘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.

Charity Xmas Festival Brings Together 13 Charity Organizations at HSE University

A New Year's fair, information about non-commercial organisations,  masterclasses, lectures and an obstacle demonstration with a guide dog: just some of the events that occurred as part of HSE’s contribution to the International Day of Charity, which took place at HSE Central atrium on 11 Pokrovsky Boulevard.