At risk

Last Sunday I was in the “Closed school” in Mogilev, Belarus. “Closed school” is for kids at risk, who committed a small crime. Young teenagers 11-15 years old boys live and study there. School has 49 students this year. Previous years it was much more. Around 200.

Trip to Mogilev takes about 3 hours by car from the capital Minsk
What a teenager “needs” to do to end up here?

Steal something, smoke a cigarette (spice, etc.) next to his(her) school, drink alcohol and be caught by the police. All this he(she) needs to commit at least 3 times. Thinking of my teenage age I realized that I could definitely end up in the school like that…

Why is it different from other schools?

  • Boys can’t leave the territory. There are a big fence around the school and grids on windows
  • School has a very strict discipline and regime. Every new activity is announces with the shrill sound transmitted across the school. It started ringing, when we were standing in the corridor. Honestly, I’ve almost became deaf after that.
  • Boys can be visited by parents and relatives in some certain hours. They are free to make a skype call as well.
  • Buys have almost no personal belongings. (And this I find the most harmful one). All their stuff is collected once they arrive and put in the storage. They get 3 types of clothes (sport clothes, study clothes and winter jacket) underwear and other stuff they need to live in school. They can store some toys in their study and bedside tables.
  • There are always 4-5 guards patrolling school on each floor. To check that boys are not trying to escape.
  • No girls allowed. There is a separate “closed school” for girls in another Belarusian town.
  • One boy can be here maximum for two years. Sometimes boys are sent here by the court only for 6 months.

What are the boys doing there?

Strict discipline is one of the most important things at school. Boys have classes from 9 until 3 pm and sport/art/hobbies after that. They have a religious session once a week.

How do they live?

The school’s building has a special not very nice smell. It’s a combination of smelly bathrooms, old floors, walls, cheap cleaning chemicals and food. All together it forms the cloud of unpleasant odor.It soaks in your clothing in 5 minutes and you might never get rid of it.

The place to eat is situated on the first floor of the building. I found a paper on a wall with the rules on how to eat. See translation capture.

Go to the dinning room after the call (ring) . Go only in range. Wash your hands before eating and show them, if the comandor asks. Do not talk while eating.
First floor also has mechanic workshops

Boys are sleeping in small rooms. 9 persons per room. Beds are standing really close to each over (about 30 sm distance).

There is one big wardrobe for the whole room. Each bed has a wooden name tag. Boys can take a shower couple of days per week, not every day.

This small icon I found on the window in one of the rooms

We saw a first group of kids in the chemistry class. They all had the same sport clothes and exactly the same hairstyle. Kids were a little shy, but happily said “Yes”, when I asked them for the picture.

The walls of the second floor were full of social advertising. Against smoking, against consuming alcohol and drugs. I never even heard of some drugs, which were mentioned on the posters. The art corner where boys could show their works had only the posters against bad habits.

One of the rooms had a fantastic trees standing on the tables. Those were made by boys

  I recorded little part of the concert prepared by the boys. Here they are playing on the wooden spoons. They hold two spoons in one hand and make a sound by hitting them against other hand, knee or shoulders of their mate. All that is combined with the sounds of accordion.

They are sitting in a half-moon shape, all dressed in national Belarusian costumes. Very scared, excited and shy. They are looking at us (10 people from Sweden) like a little scared animal is looking at something big and unknown.

After the concert their teacher holds a small speech: “Don’t judge strictly our boys. They are special. They are all beaten up by their lives”.





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