NAME OF THE ORGANISATION
Informal active youth group from Švenčionys
“We change ourselves – we change the world!”
What is this initiative about?
“Change Yourself – Change the World!” aimed to reduce exclusion among people with disabilities and involve them in social activities. An active group of students from Švenčionys noticed the exclusion of their peers and decided that something had to be done – “After all, they are just like us! It’s just that we have our own fears and we don’t know how to behave around them”. So after talking to the mother of a friend with a disability, they came up with the idea of writing and implementing a project with these excluded young people.
With the help of their teachers, the young people devised and implemented various activities with young people with disabilities: they went on trips, for example, the first educational activity was at the Ryškutėnai Craft Centre, where they all baked muffins together. Each disabled person was assigned one member of the Švenčionys Initiative group, who was obliged to befriend and care for the disabled person, communicate with him/her, and not neglect him/her during the whole project. The second trip was to horse therapy, the second to dog therapy in Vilnius, and the last trip was to the café “Pirmas blynas”, where people with disabilities work. The young people also danced together, both live and later on the Zoom platform – the school’s dance teacher agreed to join the initiative and give them lessons every Wednesday.
When and how did this initiative start?
This initiative was launched just before the pandemic, in spring 2020. Silvija recognised the exclusion of people with disabilities and the “black spot” in society that if you have a disability, it is better to stay away from them because they may react inappropriately. She began to think, why is this? After all, they are just like us, but maybe they have some kind of illness or disorder. So she decided that something had to be done. She talked to young people and found like-minded people to work with.
What prompted the initiative?
There is a disabled section in Švenčionys Gymnasium, where these young people have a different curriculum, and the lessons are held until they are 20 years old. Silvija (one of the creators of the initiative) herself noticed that she and her friends avoid disabled young people, that there is a stereotype that they need to be able to communicate in a specific way, that you can’t ask them something. The more the young people delved into this topic, the more they realised how big a problem it is in society. The sense of injustice spurred the activists into action.
What is the target group? How are they reached?
The target group of the initiative was young people with disabilities and their peers in grammar school (up to 20 years old).
Most of the young people were attracted to participate in the project through acquaintances and then through good feedback on the activities!
The number of young people participating in the initiative kept changing, some coming and others dropping out. However, most of the time around 11 people took part in the initiative. “
How did the pandemic affect the initiative?
When the pandemic started, young people had to stop meeting in person, stop going out, and go online. This was quite difficult because it was harder to attract participants, keep the attention of some, and keep them motivated, so some left the initiative.
However, there were many positive and surprising things: although it was awkward to communicate online at first, it was difficult to maintain friendships, but over time they became braver. During the meetings, they came up with all kinds of activities, such as dancing every Wednesday or making cards.
How did the pandemic affect you personally?
For Silvija, one of the initiative’s representatives, the pandemic was a difficult period. She is a person who does not like to stay at home and do nothing. The pandemic has affected extracurricular activities because everything has been put on hold. So this project was an activity that saved her from grief and allowed her to at least act, learn and create change in society.
Why is this initiative relevant?
The initiator noted that there is still a lack of respect for the minority of people with disabilities. And even if we see young people with disabilities together at school every day, unfortunately, this does not diminish, and students’ attitudes towards these peers do not change. Silvija wanted to change these attitudes and prove that everyone is equal, unique and good to get along with.
What made the initiative effective?
External factors contributed to the success of the initiative. Teachers were very supportive of the idea: giving advice, helping to come up with suitable activities. Of course, the shared vision of all the people working together made their idea effective. Many of them saw and understood the problem of exclusion of disabled people and in the team, they interacted with disabled people like friends.
And the communication itself was encouraged by the fact that each young person divided up which young person with a disability would be their project ‘friend’, with whom they would always be together in the activities, in case they had to do something in groups or ride the bus side by side, or something like that – that was definitely one of the ways that encouraged communication and reduced the risk of having a segregated group of disabled people in the activities.”
What are the difficulties faced in implementing the initiative?
The main challenge during the pandemic was to maintain friendly relations. Although they communicated, played, danced and met remotely, unfortunately not everyone was as attracted as with live contact.
The main surprise of the “Change Yourself – Change the World!” process was the very friendly interaction with young people with disabilities. The communication also extended beyond the project, for example in school. The young people who initiated this project did not expect such friendliness and fun time with people with disabilities.
Also, the volunteers of the initiative have made great friends with the teachers, who have been unexpectedly very willing and very helpful. So, the activists in the town experienced a lot of goodwill and support from the community.
We asked a representative of the initiative:
How can young people help each other during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“The most important thing is that if you want to do something, you have to communicate first. If you feel uncomfortable communicating with someone who is excluded, talk to your friend, decide what you can do, try to understand them, how they live, how they feel. Try, try. When you try, when you try, a solution does appear. But the most important thing is to communicate. In general, the main thing we are dealing with is stereotypes, and in the 21st century, we need to break them and change them. Society’s attitudes have to change if we want to succeed.”
This initiative was created by an active group of young people in Švenčionyste who participate together in everything.
Name Surname: Silvija Sinytė
Telephone: +370 6 251 9017