«I became an activist because of my son’s disease». How does it feel to study at 50 at a university and to be an activist? – OEEC

«I became an activist because of my son’s disease». How does it feel to study at 50 at a university and to be an activist?

Taćciana is 51 years old. She is a mother of four children, Chairperson of Peer Territorial Public Self-Government Authority (PTPSGA) No. 127 and, besides, a student at the University of Culture. How does she have enough time for all these things, what for is she studying to get her second university education and why does she help teenagers to become socially responsible – we shall tell today in Taćciana Dziaškievič’s success story.

In the fullness of time, Taćciana had graduated from the University of Communications, ran a business of her own and then worked at a petrol station. When her third child developed epileptic seizures, she had to quit her job. Yet, she had no plans to sit still.

«I became an activist because of my son’s disease»

– My life entered its new stage, that of my son’s treatment. Together with Nataĺlia Vapniarskaja we organised an epilepsy school. I pressed on hard to understand what was in store for me and my son in the future. In plain terms, Belarus lacks any serious relevant medical or social adaptation background. Having had a word with parents of some already adult epileptic patients and becoming aware of the situation’s graveness, I understood that I should not be able to live this kind of life. 

Taćciana made up her mind to help her son by forming a team, a group of kids who wanted to go in for creative occupations together. This is how the Bryliki children and parents’ club sprang up. 

– My sister had a similar experience: her son had been born with his arm damaged at childbirth, i.e. he had hemiparesis, and his arm and hand did not function. Occupations like sculpturing, drawing, art therapy, balalaika playing and then a theatre school have helped him to adapt. Now he is about to enrol to the Academy of Arts. I decided to follow the same way. 

Together with the kids we have been touring for a few years general schools, boarding schools and psychoneurologic dispensaries. We have organised festivities at our residential neighbourhood of Brylievičy and at other Minsk’s housing estates. And all this time my son has been spared seizures.

«Before learning about the office I thought there were few persons like myself»

– Activism has drawn me by its gravity because of my son’s disease. But epilepsy was not the only thing that mattered. I have always been a socially active person. Which is why I used to send my second oldest son (today he is 27 years old) to volunteer summer camps. And when he was 18, he actively engaged in the Voluntary Youth Labour League. I remember my husband being upset that I had committed our son to slavery, – recalls Taćciana with a smile on her face.

– I used to instil a proactive attitude to their environment to my children from childhood up. The epilepsy has merely led me to the point where I am now. 

When Liza was born (our family’s fourth child), we were allocated a free flat and we moved to the residential neighbourhood of Brylievičy. Liza has been fond of drawing since childhood, which is why she took to wall paper drawing in our flat. But I suggested a further move and we decorated with her the entrance hall and staircase walls. At first we did it at our floor and later at the remaining eight. This is how we came to know our neighbours and, most importantly, all the children, because they acted as our chief assistants.

Unwittingly, Taćciana has engaged pro-actively in her block of flats’ affairs. And she was offered the position of the Housing Cooperative Chairperson. She took a long time to think it over, but accepted the offer at last. Today it is her main job. 

– The first thing I focused on was the courtyard safety. We installed CCTV cameras along its perimeter and in the entrance halls, put the lighting in order and then put our sights on pavilion improvement, open air gym, arborvitae, blossoming shrubs and games painted on asphalt with a road marking material. While this year we have plans underway to build a terrace board site complete with pallet benches and rest hammocks. All this time I have acted intuitively based on my previous experiences and used to think that there were not so many crazy individuals like myself. Until I came across the Office for European Expertise and Communication, – says Taćciana with a smile.

– While previously I did everything for the sake of my son, due to my training under the Leadership in Local Community programme I could see that activism may benefit all. Feedback, support or communication are irreplaceable, aren’t they? 

But the main life hack I have taken over is the need assessment. It works for any audience and at any situation in life. I am a self-motivated person and once I am carried away, I get unstoppable. However, thanks to the Office I understood that my decision cannot always be correct. 

I have learnt how to share and distribute responsibility. Even when working with children it is key to comprehend each one’s necessities and proceed from this point on, only. Be able to delegate and hear what other say! And if people disagree with you, it does not mean that they are wicked – they merely have different needs. Activism does not mean marching alone in the vanguard, it is vital to build a team, to help others and to hear each other.

«I grabbled imitating an environmentalist hedgehog»

At present, Taćciana has set up her Centre for Support of Family Traditions Give Fun as a Gift! Jointly with teenagers they organise courtyard festivities. In order to develop further, our protagonist is set to get a specialist major degree at the University of Culture.

– All this courtyard festivity initiative is a good opportunity for teenagers to go in for their preferred occupations, while making some money along the way, albeit not a lot of it, indeed. Within the 5 years the shows are staged the teenagers have grown professional: they are capable of conducting events, staging dance routines or handling audiences. Yet, money is not the main thing that matters, primarily, it is about participation. 

By the way, last year we arranged an open-air dancing party at a Brylievičy basketball pitch. The kids performed their show items and taught how to dance all those willing to learn. It seems like a simplistic initiative, but it is so great at uniting people.

– Not to lag behind the children, I have enrolled to the University of Culture to study the Socio-Cultural Activities major. I need this community and the environment to better understand what I am in for. 

Besides, for two years now I have been attending the Fialta’s Minsk-Impro Improvisation Theatre. It is there that you learn a lot about yourself and about the people around you, and forget about your age restrictions. It is a real freedom. That being said, I relay the basics to the Centre’s teenagers. 

I recall having to film a video about an animal – such was my homework. So what, I asked my teenagers to follow me to a park and to film the video with myself acting. For me body mobility is a challenge and so I tied up a stool to my back and grabbled around imitating an environmentalist hedgehog. 

The whole thing happened not far away from a school, so the folks there were watching and collapsing with laughter. By the way, the concept was like this: at first the hedgehog used to put all the waste behind its back, but then the load became too heavy to carry and I had to resort to grabbling. When the hedgehog’s waste load became beyond endurance, I got to crawling on my stomach. 

Today I am not scared to discover new things within my ego or starting up new projects – I am self-sufficient and do not care what others will think of me. I am simply aware that I have around me support, mutual understanding and some socially responsible people.

Taćciana’s story serves as the best example of how activism does not end simply as a personal story. Many Belarusians, female and male alike, are now doing everything they can to make life in our country better for all. Concern, unindifference, solidarity and support are the best fit words to describe the year of 2020 in Belarus!