«What good will it be to you!» How a maths teacher becomes her village’s activist to inspire others – OEEC

«What good will it be to you!» How a maths teacher becomes her village’s activist to inspire others

Six years ago Maryna Aliaksiejenka learned about the Leadership in Local Community programme. At that time she dreamt of reviving her village of Bašni, where she had spent most of her lifetime and worked for 34 years as a Maths teacher at a local school.

We got in touch with Maryna by phone at 9 pm on Friday. No way at any time earlier, since her day had been a very busy one. On Thursday she had gone hiking with her pupils to measure together the local river’s pollution levels, explore a nature reserve and to pitch up a tent camp. While on Friday they caught an early morning bus to be back in time for school. 

– I’ve loved hiking ever since I was a student. I remember sitting my pass-fail exams well ahead of schedule just to have enough time to go hiking with the rest of the guys, – Maryna recollects, – and the habit is still here to stay. It’s much more than an adventure for children. It’s also about conscious consumption, environment protection and meeting the local residents. Besides, it’s about responsibility for the places they live in, too.

This time the night happened to be a very cold one, which is why we asked the local villagers to heat up for us a sauna to stay there. And so we enjoyed its warmth while having very little sleep. But what great memories we all have!

Why do you need it? You only waste your private time!

– People have got used to my pro-active position and my school is supportive. Many teachers join in and the kids model me. One of my pupils Maša struggled to be successful at school and she had negative references from many persons around. But she took a serious interest in the topic of river pollution. For two years we were taking measurements looking for the pollution source and, finally, located it.

Together with the children we cleaned up the place and the spring water became pure again. As a result, we decided to take part in a research paper contest. I made a suggestion that Maša should write the paper. Other teachers would say: “Maryna, she won’t make it; she would rather catch up with her syllabus. Why do you select her?” But they proved to be wrong. Maša wrote an excellent paper and took the first place. 

Despite a massive support from her colleagues and fellow villagers, Maryna is sometimes, nonetheless, asked questions, like “Why do you need it? You only waste your private time. Activism is not paid for!” And she keeps on answering straightforward: “Money is not the main thing that matters!”

– After completing my training under the Office programme Leadership in Local Community many things have changed. For the first time ever in my whole life I organised a local residents’ meeting. We identified jointly our momentous challenges and assigned tasks. This means a whole like-minded persons’ team has been formed. And questions of the ‘Why do you need it?’ type somehow ceased to be asked.

«We communicate using a noticeboard»

– The first meeting showed that the people wanted to modernise a local beach, create a recreational area and, at last, address the water problem, which has always been a challenging one. Our village has very poor quality turbid water with a high iron content. It causes washing machines to break down and it is not potable. Many residents have shared their water wells to make pure water accessible to all. 

Since 2014 we had been campaigning for more petition signatories, made requests and done all we could to address the issue. But it was not after we began addressing our problems jointly that we could make it. Next year, in 2021, we have been promised to build a water de-ironing unit. The campaign needed plenty of time and efforts exerted, but rallied the residents around the tasks and demonstrated that we are a force to reckon with, if we are together. 

The people have been willing for a long time to engage in the village life, but simply lacked the knowledge how to do it. And it was thanks to the Office programme that we could see for ourselves how we were in a position to interact and help each other, and to identify problems. And now it is no longer the matter of my activism. The village life has undergone a drastic change: the people have become active, compassionate and cohesive. 

The village is populated by people of various ages, which is why we communicate using a noticeboard – in our village the approach works well. The Viber chats are not available for all, whereas a notice on a shop or post-office board will be read by all. 

Any private issues relating, for instance, to a courtyard or a condo staircase, we tend to tackle using a small meeting. Recently, our roof has developed a leak. All the communal entrance residents began writing grievances and making requests, but to no avail. This is why we decided to chip in and repair it all by ourselves. The next-door staircases followed our suit and acted in a similar way – why should we sit and wait for somebody, if we are able to address an issue ourselves. Otherwise, we shall live with wet walls and ceiling, shall we not?

This is the site built by combined efforts by the residents of the village of Bašni.

Now we teach activism to neighbouring villages

– The news of our success has spread across entire Šumilina District. Now the neighbouring villages invite us to share our experience and to get advice, – says Maryna. – We tell them how we conduct our meetings, how we identify our problems and work as a team. 

Besides, we assist in conducting village feasts. Some time ago we held a feast at a small village of Saladuchi inhabited by approximately 10 persons. The District authorities do not organise any events for such small communities, but we did it. 

The people were very happy and grateful, because every single resident was mentioned and rewarded as the best tractor operator or the best milkmaid. It mattered a lot for us that the people feel valuable and sought for. 

A similar festivity was staged in the village of Polcieva, whereas in Liaskovičy we helped to conduct a meeting of local residents to identify problems and find some active persons prepared to run their solution.

On the one hand, Maryna’s life has well remained as active as it was before with her tourist rallies, hiking tours, hobby clubs and NGOs. But, on the other hand, according to Maryna, following the Leadership in Local Community programme, life in the village itself has been drastically transformed. 

– The people have become friendlier and more open-minded. Now we get together to address our issues, but also to make fun. Sometimes we arrange tea parties and sometimes we hold sportive events. People are no longer indifferent to each other and this is, after all, what matters most.