Tatarstan’s problem teenagers offered A Friendly Hand

The coronavirus pandemic not only undermined the population’s health and caused a big rise in the death rate but also led to severe consequences in all the spheres of Russians’ lives. Lockdowns, unemployment, the citizens’ lower incomes resulted in many divorces, children growing up in broken families and a child’s worse situation in families with a socially dangerous state. Consequently, child crime rose too. The Tatarstan Union of Fathers seriously started to solve this problem by launching the project A Friendly Hand for problem teenagers’ socialisation late last year. Supervisor of the project, Vice Chairman of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers Amir Mamin told Realnoe Vremya about the first results of the programme and plans for its expansion.

A Friendly Hand: pilot project

A Friendly Hand pilot social project for the adaptation and socialisation for teenagers with a destructive behaviour kicked off in Tatarstan on 1 December. The Tatarstan office of the Federal Prison Service and the Tatarstan Union of Fathers organised it. Supervisor of the project, Vice Chairman of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers Amir Mamin told Realnoe Vremya about the main idea of the initative, how it already managed to change problem teenagers and their custodians, shared plans to help other regions to solve this problem.

A Friendly Hand is a social project designed to help teenagers who are usually called problem. It is youngsters with destructive behaviour that led to criminal records according to the Russian Criminal Code’s articles. Despite their young age, some of them have already managed to do time multiple times. Seven problem teenagers from Zelenodolsk from 14 to 16 years joined the project at the first stage of A Friendly Hand.

“Teenagers from 14 to 16 haven’t yet become major, but they already are aware of their actions, they are almost adults. Many look like men. At the age of 17, in the Russian prison service’s system, they are considered as adults, they are teenagers of full age.”

10 problem teenagers from Zelenodolsk who are specially controlled by juvenile subdivisions were chosen to participate in the project first after consultations with the federal prison service. However, some of them were launched criminal cases before the project began, and now they are in prison.

“Seven lads joined the project in the end. Six of them attend classes, one is investigated. They all come from difficult families,” says Mamin. “9 in 10 teenagers who were chosen don’t have fathers. Seven of them are brought up by a single parent or custodian. Mums of some of them drink alcohol. So the child isn’t educated, in other words, teenagers are simply brought up by the street. All members of the project have already been convicted, some of them did time, mainly for theft, fight with their age mates, robbery.”

“They shouldn’t be considered as subhumans”

According to Mamin, he works with different ministries and agencies aimed to protect children’s rights, there is also close cooperation with the Federal Prison Service or, more precisely, a department taking care of convicts under 18.

“Unfortunately, there is a big problem of divorce, and as a consequence many teenagers grow up in single-parent families. The situation in families with a socially dangerous situation during the pandemic started to get worse. Child crime started to progress as a result. There have appeared a lot of teenagers who were convicted on a criminal charge. Unfortunately, some children have been convicted several time, were held accountable before they reached 16.”

The attitude to such teenagers in their environment is very special — others are scared of them, try to avoid contacts with them. Such teenagers are always controlled by law enforcement agencies, says Mamin: “But they shouldn’t be considered as subhuman. We all can make a mistake and can change. As representatives of the Union of Fathers, a community of parents, the men’s community we want to help such teenagers.

This is how the idea of A Friendly Hand project that doesn’t have analogues in Russia was born. Together with psychologists, experts in conflict resolution of Rostok (the only organisation authorised by the Ministry of Education to do psychological diagnostics of minors), representatives of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers developed a six-month programme that, as the organisers hope, will give the possibility of socialising problem teenagers.

Answering a question about the typical portrait of a problem teenager, a member of the project, the interlocutor says:

“It is a 14-15-year-old boy. He wakes up in the morning and immediately sees his drunk mum or with hangover with the next ‘stepdad’ or lover. He goes to school and sees some Pyotr who has no fault. The thing is that Pyotr is from a good family, his dad takes him to school before going to work. This Pyotr goes home after the classes where his mum waits for him with lunch she cooked. He eats and then goes to the cinema or theatre. While our Oleg has even nothing to eat after he is back from school. He again sees his drunk mum, scandals and quarrels, and it is a vicious circle. And this is why our Oleg hates Pyotr, simply because Pyotr lives in a good full family. Such childish jealousness ‘Why wasn’t I born in such a family?’ accumulates, at some moment Oleg beats Pyotr, takes away his cards and transfers money to his phone. Here is the criminal conviction. So unloved children who was left to his own devices is a typical member of our project.”

From theory to practice

At the first stage of A Friendly Hand, a psychologist made a portrait of every member, collected data about the psychological state the lads joined the project with.

Now on Mondays the members of the project have been going to Port youth centre in Zelenodolsk weekly for three months now. Some of the members of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers comes to a kind of career guidance classes and tell them about their business. In the future, the lads can see themselves where the speakers work and try their hand — the lads will certainly switch to theory to practice. After classes, every mentor gives the lads tasks they need to do in a special diary.

“I bring speakers for the guys every Monday, A dad from the Union of Fathers working as project manager in Innopolis came to us. He talked about information technologies, how robots work and why they are needed. A dad who works as garage foreman at Delovye Linii courier service, he talked about a truck driver’s work. A dad working as plumber came and showed a number of instruments he uses in his work. These classes are of great interest. We think that male jobs are police officer, rescuer, firefighter, astronaut, taxi driver, bricklayer and even a doctor,” Mamin explains.

Now a theoretical course is planned for the lads, then a practical one will be. Innopolis invited us and the mayor will personally do an excursion for our lads, tell them about what developments are made. Then we will go the garage of the courier service where the lads can test themselves as a lorry driver in a simulator. Also, we pay a lot of attention to the religious component — representatives of different religions come to classes. A hazrat from the mosque how men who made a mistake but want to improve are treated. We already went to the Ramazan Mosque in Kirov District, Kazan. Next time we will go to a church in Zelenodolsk District,” the supervisor of the project notes.

Talking about homework, Mamin admits that his students aren’t good at grammar. But if a theme is interesting, everybody tries to express an opinion.

“A speaker talking about IT gave them a task what kinds of robots they know, if this sphere is interesting for them. Three of them wrote this sphere wasn’t interesting for them at all and they didn’t want to go to such classes, and it is fine. This doesn’t interest them. When the hazrat delivered a lecture, he asked to write how every religion treats courage and asked them to answer what it meant to be courageous, to be a man for them personally. Here every member wrote a whole treatise. For 90% of these lads, courage means care,” says Mamin who is always in touch with the members of the project.

“Not to teach but try to make friends”

Over three months of work with the members of the project, the mentors see visual, mental and behavioural changes in their students, moreover, A Friendly Hand helps not only problem teenagers themselves but also their parents and custodians and eve the supervisors of the project.

“If earlier these lads used to throw a cigarette on the threshold and replied: ‘What’s up?’, and a 15-year-old boy says this to a 45-year-old man, now they respect me, come to the classes with their hair brushed, nice, we have common topics to talk about,” the supervisor of the project is happy. “Some lads whom the prison service of Zelenodolsk forced to come to the classes via their parents or custodians. While now I see that they come to the classes in advance and wait for everything to begin. The lads’ parents and custodians are special people. But I was pleased to hear an opinion of one mum. She said: ‘You know, I have a problem child. And I am displeased when everybody tries to teach us, show where we made a mistake. Unfortunately, my convicted child is treated as subhuman. I am very pleased that you don’t teach here but try to make friends with them. and I would really want my child to attend these classes,” Mamin says.

The project will end on 1 June, on Children’s Day. A trip in May will become the final stage. After this trip, a psychologist will make a statement, how and what the project changed its members.

“It is obvious that we cannot do the project forever, and the final is scheduled for 1 June. We perfectly understand that within such a short period of work with such problem teenagers we won’t get perfect boys who will wear a white shirt with bowtie and use a fork and a knife. But we want these teenagers to believe that they have friends. And these friends can and want to help them so they will believe adults and won’t think that all adult men want to offend them,” the interlocutor enumerates key tasks of the project. “We want to show that there is another life one should aspire for. Yes, it is tougher, it is necessary to study, achieve something, there can be slips, bad moments, but that life is much better and more correct than the one they led by robbing and beating somebody. Our main task is to socialise a teenager and show him that there is another, better life than the one he had.”

Mamin hopes that the graduates of the pilot project can become mentors for the lads they will offer A Friendly Hand at the next stages.

Plans for expansion

The project is based on sheer enthusiasm, admits Mamin.

“Before starting the project, we had a general meeting of the Kazan Council of Fathers including Laishevo and Zelenodosk Districts and an expanded panel meeting of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers. We made a decision there that we would finance the pilot project in Zelenodolsk with our own money first,” he notes.

Due to a lack of funding, the psychologists works with the members of the project online, monthly receiving a detailed report on every teenager’s successes from Mamin. In the future, A Friendly Help hopes to invite a psychologist and expert in conflict resolution who will work on a regular basis. Moreover, specialists designed to work with teenagers during puberty are needed, he stresses.

Mamin shares expansion plans for A Friendly Hand:

“Seeing how well our project is implemented, while it caused respect and approval in the federal prison service system, we are offered to deal with the Kazan zone too. Moreover, Kazan has much more lads who are in tough conditions than in Zelenodolsk. With the support of the republic’s government, the federal prison service, grants, we hope to do this project on a large scale,” he says.

Answering the question if the project A Friendly Help can try to stop the teenagers who plot attacks on their educational institutions, Mamin assures us:

“I am convinced that such projects, which will change a bit perhaps, will have a good impact. And in the situations how it was in School No. 175, we can foresee the behaviour talking with this teenager about certain moments.”

Chairman of the Tatarstan Union of Fathers, Director of Power in Children charity foundation Adel Zagretdinov concludes that the project A Friendly Hand will have a good impact on the teenagers, their parents and mentors.

Kristina Ivanova