My name is Masha Cheriakova, and I have a confession to make: I am addicted to Belarus.
Belarus is my motherland, my great love. While I didn’t grow up in Belarus (my family moved when I was 8), I was fortunate enough to be born here. After my Masters, I decided to come back to Minsk to discover this country as an adult.
The plan was to stay there for half a year, but I ended up living and working in Belarus for three years. Then I moved back to the Netherlands to raise a family with my Swiss husband.
But even after this, I kept working in Belarus, traveling back and forth every month from Amsterdam to Minsk. I worked on a large variety of projects, including training and mentoring social entrepreneurs, and writing books.
I still do this every month because Belarusians give me energy and purpose that I struggle to find anywhere else.
When I first came back, I met the most incredible people. I thought then that I was just lucky. But I kept meeting more and more of them.
In Belarus, I discovered so much talent – people making their own clothing, painting, volunteering or running a business. For example, I remember so well when I walked into a shopping mall with my Belarusian friend and I saw a beautiful lamp. She said, ‘I can make one like this for you.’ And I was like, HOW? She was a student back then!
Next month she presented me with an even better version of that lamp. Wow!
From my experience, Belarusian people love to make things themselves, whether it’s clothing, brooches or lamps.
Another thing I love about Belarus is the sheer number of opportunities I see to make a positive contribution in many areas.
You mean problems, one may say. Yes, you can see them as problems. However, maybe due to my double identity giving me a different perspective, but I treat them as perfect opportunities. My issue was to decide which ones to work on: I realized that I could not spend my limited time on 100 things.
I decided to focus on providing Belarusians the tools and knowledge to improve their lives and lives of other people. That is exactly why I have been developing and promoting social entrepreneurship in Belarus for more than 5 years now via various educational programs.
This gave me a chance to get to know many entrepreneurial-minded people.
I met and educated over 1,000 Belarusians who wanted to change something in this country using the social business model. And this was just amazing! I have seen them coming in with ideas such as starting a cafe where people with disabilities would work, or making tangible paintings for blind people or creating centers for elderly people.
So many great ideas turning into projects or social businesses and changing many lives.
Show Belarusians how great their country is
I believe it will be very hard to take ownership and improve anything if many citizens of a country don’t know who they are, and aren’t able to fully recognize their own potential. To see it, most people need to see some examples and get inspiration to muck in.
Some Belarusians I met couldn’t name anything they were proud of concerning Belarus. They were of different ages, and couldn’t name one reason why tourists would want to come to Belarus.
So if locals don’t see it, how on earth do we expect foreigners to see it?
It is the time that more Belarusians started to take pride in who they are, their culture and history; but most importantly in their future.
Celebrate Belarusian uniqueness
The opportunity I saw here for myself was to celebrate my motherland together with Belarusians.
Two of them I am particularly proud of are ‘Heta Belarus Dzietka’, a project that celebrates Belarusian uniqueness via different books, and HiFive Belarus, an online and printed travel guide to Belarus.
Now I found one more way that started as a hobby – via paintings. You know the many paintings, sketches, and illustrations about Amsterdam that are for sale in the Netherlands? I got inspired to give Belarus, starting with Minskers, beautiful and fun paintings of their land (and develop a bit of my own handcraft talents, hopefully making me also a talented Belarusian). I have added animals, which for me represent the hidden potential of this country, to each painting.
The paintings will be soon exhibited in the Beans and Leaves cafe in Minsk (early November – note BelarusFeed). So if you like it come and check them out!
So, guys, let’s start celebrating Belarus! In any way. It is time to show the world how great this country, and especially its people, are.
Masha Cheriakova is a social entrepreneur, the author of several books, co-author of a best-seller Heta Belarus Dzietka, and co-founder at HiFive Belarus. Masha constantly inspires travel and tourism-related projects in Belarus and actively helps them grow and develop.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff.