Living by touch

Fourth year student Yevgeny Zelenkevich from the Minsk branch of the Russian State Social University (RGSU) will become a specialist in social work in the next six months
Fourth year student Yevgeny Zelenkevich from the Minsk branch of the Russian State Social University (RGSU) will become a specialist in social work in the next six months. He plans to work in a non-commercial organisation, his interest in the work was stirred up by his practical experiences from co-operation with the public association ‘Positive Movement’ to a social project based on the decoration of the walls in a children’s infectious diseases hospital. The choice of the profession was well-considered by the young man who has first-hand knowledge of how it is hard for those who have serious problems with health. Yevgeny himself is blind, but it does not stop him from living a full life and getting full marks in examinations at the university.

Yevgeny Zelenkevich (centre) at lectures in the library

There are four students living ‘by touch’ in the RGSU branch, and they quickly became part of the group, wanting no special privileges. For example, Masha Rudko is a student in her second year, studying to be a psychologist, and her level of involvement is enviable. The blind girl goes to classes on the tram, dexterously runs up the stairs of the university, and after her studies, finds time for draughts, chess, table tennis and swimming. Masha received her orientation skills at Kursk musical college, where she also mastered the piano, “It was a different country, no relatives nearby, I had to adapt quickly and become more independent. After finishing college, I returned home at the end of June, when the entrance examinations had already ended in the Belarusian universities. While in the Russian university, I had time to pass the examinations in Russian, biology and mathematics with the help of the Braille tactile writing system.”

Masha has already undergone practical training at the regional social services centre and is so far not disappointed with the profession, she is now looking to find her career niche. She is sure that her experience of interacting with such students as herself is important. All the more as her peers are glad to help subtly: they quickly agree who will accompany blind friends to the library or dining room and who will help with clothes etc.

Representatives of the university are ready to share their experience in organising of inclusive education with colleagues. The subject is one currently under discussion. However, it is not easy, after the establishment, initially created with the support of the Union State, had its finances cut in 2013, which means that state-financed places are no longer available. Russian involvement does not help, as distribution of free places from the main university passed to the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science, which decided that it is not expedient to spend money for personnel training in foreign branches. The absurdity of the situation is that the branch was opened shortly afterwards for Russian educational services to Belarusians.

“From 1999 to 2013, for example, it spent over 70mln Russian Roubles on the reconstruction of the educational building and hostel repair, out of these 58 percent of the total is the extra-budgetary funds of RGSU, while 42 percent is from the Union State budget. On the site of the old kindergarten there appeared a modern university,” the Director of the Branch, Sergey Poletayev tells us. “A lot of money was invested, but the problem is that now we do not have a real source of financing, and we are engaged in training experts exclusively at the expense of the students and under tripartite contracts with organisations...”

Today, out of 1,751 students, there are 66 from the CIS countries receiving education in the Minsk branch of  the RGSU. 59 of them are Russians. Yevgeny is the only one of four blind students who has been able to receive state-subsidized education. First-year students, Artem Myalik and Alexandra Krasko, taking courses in conflict resolution, study on a paid basis, though with their abilities they could get education free of charge. In addition, not every university is ready to receive a student with a visual disorder. The quiet Artem chose conflict resolution with great care. He says there are many conflicts and it’s important that there are people to solve them. He has already had time to win the favour of his teachers with his serious attitude to his studies, in the first few days for example, he volunteered to take part in the university subbotnik.

While Sasha, during the first term of study became famous as the owner of the most detailed lecture notes. With the speed of a skilled stenographer she puts all the information into the laptop. During her studies at school, she had mastered piano and singing and was set to enter Grodno medical college to become a masseur, but a medical-rehabilitation commission of experts would not give her permission to study. As a result, instead of the history of Belarus that she’d already learnt by heart, she had to hurriedly learn the history of Russia in two weeks, which she did! Now Sasha is happy to admit that she is pleased about the twist of fortune...
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