Belarus: Elderly and disabled people in Biaroza escape social isolation with help from the EU

22-07-2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariya Bakhur would visit the Biaroza Territorial Centre for Social Services several times a week, where she took singing, knitting and Nordic walking classes. Now all centre activities are held online, but this isn’t an obstacle for the elderly woman, who learnt how to use a computer at the centre before the lockdown.

The IT equipment was provided by the EU project Support to local development in the Republic of Belarus, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme. The project supported the local initiative ‘Creating a psychological support centre for retirees and people with disabilities’. “Thanks to this initiative, we opened an art therapy studio, a film club and a computer club,” says Lyudmila Moroz, director of the Biaroza Territorial Centre.

Fighting isolation with technology

In total, there are 63,000 people in Biaroza District. A third of the population is registered at the Biaroza Territorial Centre, and over 8,000 of them live alone or do not have families. Other centre-goers include families with multiple children or children with disabilities, disabled people, young orphans and nearly 60 former prisoners.

Before the pandemic, the centre used the EU-provided laptops to train more than a hundred locals in computer literacy.

“We taught people how to use various messaging tools and pay their bills online. Many elderly people no longer need to go to the bank or the post office. This is very important during the pandemic. Some needed only one or two lessons, while others needed more. The training we provided was free of charge,” explains Lyudmila.

“I learnt how to use a computer at the Day Care Unit. Now I speak with my classmates via the internet, watch news about the elections and read articles. It is impossible to go anywhere due to the pandemic, and thanks to the internet I can communicate with other people. Otherwise, I would just sit at home doing nothing,” a Biaroza resident says.

‘When I retired, I thought I would die of boredom’

When the Biaroza Centre’s management realised that COVID-19 was here to stay for more than a month, and the ban on holding physical events would last a while, they started thinking about how to continue the centre’s multiple activities, and eventually decided to move all possible workshops online.

The centre organises different competitions and classes for elderly and disabled people, and disseminates videos via Viber to make them feel less isolated.

“The Super Grandma competition that we are holding right now is only possible because our elderly members know how to use a computer,” notes Inna Bolgert, head of the centre's Day Care Unit for elderly and disabled people.

Every Friday, five women present their skills as part of the competition. In the first stage the competitors introduced themselves with short videos. The next stage is called ‘I Can’, where participants will showcase their creative skills, the third round is ‘Chef’, and the last one is ‘My Garden’.

Super Grandma competitor, Tatyana Mikitich, says:

“When I retired, I thought I would die of boredom, so I am happy I started attending the centre. I am taking part in the competition and I practice Nordic walking. And before that, I took art therapy lessons.” 

Lyudmila Moroz says that at the moment the centre’s work is aimed at supporting vulnerable people.

Author: Elena Spasyuk

Article published in Russian by naviny.by