Winiklusia “Here, people are measured by their deeds!”

Feature by Lisa Sidorova about the inclusive kindergarten “Winiklusia” for impuls magazine published by the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce Abroad

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Wintershall Dea Torsten Murin in Winiklusia
Wintershall Dea Torsten Murin in Winiklusia
Credit
Press Service of the Governor of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District

Germany has close ties to the city of Novy Urengoy. From here, from the Far North, natural gas has been flowing directly to Western Europe for almost half a century. Today, successfully operating in this harsh northern climate is Wintershall Dea, the largest independent gas and oil company in Europe. Innovative gas production technologies are, however, not the only thing that the company is supporting the region with. In Western Siberia, the German company is putting one of its guiding principles into practice, namely helping the community in the regions where it operates. In March this year, the city’s first inclusive kindergarten was opened in Novy Urengoy: Winiklusia, a joint project between the regional government, the city administration and Wintershall Dea. What makes the kindergarten special and what significance does it have for the West Siberian city?

“Hey, Saschka, why aren’t you dancing? Not in the mood? I would have loved to see you dance. Come on, let’s have a dance, I’ll do it too.” The toddler runs back into the hall where children aged between three and four are dancing on the carpet together with a teacher. Natalia Maximova, Deputy Director of Winiklusia, pauses in the corridor and copies the dance movements. Saschka sees her through the open door, smiles and starts to join in. When asked if she knows all the children by name, Maximowa replies that this is part of her job. “I always work like this. The nursery management shouldn’t distance itself from the daily teaching. It’s important for me to see what’s going on in order to create a comfortable environment for everyone.”

In the few months that the Winiklusia kindergarten in Novy Urengoy has been in existence, there has been created far more here than just a comfortable environment. The opening ceremony in March 2020 was preceded by a considerable amount of work. Located on former wasteland, the regional government of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Novy Urengoy’s city administration and AHK member Wintershall Dea have built a kindergarten for the city’s toddlers entirely from scratch. The kindergarten is unique in Russia’s “gas capital” in the far north, with its 120,000 inhabitants.

The facility is designed to jointly care for children with and without special needs. “Social responsibility is very important to us,” says Torsten Murin, Managing Director of Wintershall Dea Russia. “In particular we focus not only on environmental protection, but also on projects in the fields of education and inclusion. The project is therefore based on the concept of “diversity in action”: children engage with other children with very different skills and abilities, learn to live together and grow up with tolerance towards others, while children with special needs can find their own dignified place in life.

The project has become a partnership on equal terms: “In constant dialogue with the city and regional administrations, we’ve jointly managed to build an inclusive kindergarten to the very latest standard. The facility is unique, not only for Novy Urengoy and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, but for the whole country,” Torsten Murin continues. Winiklusia is a public kindergarten; the daily rate for childcare is 130 roubles, which is equivalent to less than one and a half euros. The kindergarten is designed for 200 children, 50 of them with special needs.

In addition to inclusion, there is also another interesting feature about the kindergarten: the teachers here work according to the methods developed by the Italian doctor and educationalist Maria Montessori. Montessori’s educational approach is a blessing for the toddlers because it doesn’t work against them but with the children. The system has been used for 100 years and has always remained valid. “The guiding principle is ‘help me to do it myself’,” explains Natalia Maximova. “In conventional systems, the tacit principle of ‘do as I do’ applies. I show you, and everyone follows suit. Our principle, however, is to follow the child’s lead.” This accordingly requires committed and understanding staff who aren’t afraid to engage with children with special educational needs and disabilities. “Montessori is a system. To work within this system, first of all you have to work hard on yourself,” says Winiklusia’s Deputy Director.

Teachers aren’t afraid of problems

This active collaboration between the city and the company has its origins in the city partnership between Novy Urengoy and Kassel, where Wintershall Dea has one of its headquarters, which has been established in 2005. Representatives from the two cities from the administrative, educational and cultural spheres have been exchanging professional experience and ideas for a good 15 years now and, with the support of Wintershall Dea, have implemented a whole raft of joint projects – ranging from student exchanges as part of research programmes to management courses for administrative employees.

Taking social responsibility seriously is one of the most important principles for Wintershall Dea’s activities in the regions, where the German group operates. The support plan for the local kindergarten is fixed for years in advance and the staff of the German company is actively involved in its implementation. “We care. We trust. We’re open-minded. We’re brave. These are Wintershall Dea’s values. These guide us not only in our production, but also in our collaboration with our partners,” says Torsten Murin. “Winiklusia is a project that embodies the values of our company like no other. We’re very proud to play our part in this.”

The training of Winiklusia’s teachers already has commenced before the construction of the kindergarten started in 2017. The teachers were trained in dealing with autistic children or children with Down’s syndrome, they completed Wallenberg courses and worked with the Upsala Circus in St. Petersburg, another project supported by Wintershall Dea. “The circus was originally founded to give children from disadvantaged social backgrounds the opportunity to realise their own talents through circus and theatre arts, and to help them integrate into society,” explains the Managing Director of Wintershall Dea Russia. “Over time the circus has become inclusive, having children with disabilities actively taking part in it today. This year the circus celebrates its 20th anniversary.”

Wintershall Dea continues to organise face-to-face training for kindergarten staff – despite the corona-induced “brake” put on all business processes, and of course in compliance with all corona requirements. “This weekend we'll all be here again to learn new things. We’re all a little tired, but the knowledge we are able to acquire is immense.” This time sports coach Sergei Reutski, whose training methods are not only applied by physical education teachers but also by psychologists in their work, is visiting Winiklusia. “The colleagues will be wearing sports kit and will be doing some crawling.” When asked “Will you be participating, too?” Mrs Maximova replies unfazed: “Why not? Just like everyone else. This is the only way Montessori can work: only when the teachers themselves have crawled across, trampled on and probed everything do they know exactly what they can teach the children. This is the whole approach.”

Winiklusia’s staff still have three whole years of learning ahead of them, but they’re constantly trying to put all the new things they learn into practice. “Imagine, how bad it would be if we were to waste the money that Wintershall Dea spends on training. It would be really unfortunate if we were to train a teacher who, after a while, realises that working with disabled children is not her thing,” says the Deputy Director. That is why the kindergarten management is very careful in choosing candidates for the new team: making a very conscious choice for this kindergarten is just as essential as a willingness to learn. In return, however, the teachers have the added satisfaction that their commitment can have greater impact at Winiklusia than in other kindergartens. “Elsewhere, you might want to do something new, but instead all you’ll hear is: ‘Why bother, nobody’s interested.’ Here, however, the interest is there, here everyone is open to everything,” speech therapist Valentina Michaylova explains. Together with Natalia Maximova and Elena Talan, the Director of Winiklusia, she has laid the foundation for a team that, with colossal commitment, has built up an exemplary kindergarten in the Far North. This is not the only reason why Director Elena Talan remembers 2020, the terrible year of the pandemic, as a successful year after all: first the long-awaited opening of the kindergarten in March and then, in autumn, the birth of her son Leo. Soon her son will also be old enough to personally experience what his mother has managed to accomplish together with like-minded pioneers.

No room for boredom

There are plenty of opportunities to discover and experience new things at Winiklusia. After breakfast together, the kids start their day – and every minute of it is exciting. First the Montessori circle time: Here, they work with materials, i.e. with Lego, colours, educational toys. The daily routine is designed to be both child- and teacher-friendly. There is no rush whatsoever. In the interactive studio children can make cartoon films, one of which was shown at the kindergarten’s official opening in March – prior to corona restrictions. “It’s unforgettable how we – the Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Mayor of Novy Urengoy and I – were welcomed to the kindergarten,” Torsten Murin recalls. “Seeing the results of the hard work and hearing the laughter of the children brings us a feeling of real joy.”

Physics and chemistry experiments are conducted just around the corner in the research laboratory – in the conservatory opposite children can watch plants, which they cultivate and care for themselves, grow. The ant farm is also located here. “The ant is the symbol of Montessori education, a diligent little worker,” explains Mrs Maximowa. A pre-school class  preparing the children for school is also set up within the kindergarten. The main goal is to recreate the teaching environment in a classroom. Sitting at the school desk for a short time, working a little on the blackboard, hearing the school bell: thereby the children become accustomed to new learning processes and social manners. Logic, memory, attention and communication skills are fostered.

Even those, who enjoy moving around a lot will certainly not be bored in this kindergarten. Winiklusia is equipped with a special swimming pool for disabled children. A fitness room is also available – the programme includes dance, sports and music. At the end of an exciting day, the children can relax in a heat-light sauna or an artificial salt dome. The kids particularly enjoy working in the workshop. Branding designs into wood, moulding clay and woodworking. The older ones are allowed to have a go with real tools, while the teachers keep a safe eye on things. “With the Montessori method, everything comes from life and can be applied to it. For example, when children brand the word ‘bread’ into a knife handle, our cooks use the knife in the kitchen,” the Deputy Director explains.

All rooms are furnished in a modern style – with lots of light and pleasant, natural colours. They all converge around a piazza – a huge, brightly lit hall, an inclusive space with upward-soaring, transparent walls, flooded with morning light from the bright northern sun. “Always venturous,” Natalia Maximowa points to a group of children, who have gotten comfortable on the piazza and attempt to catch soap bubbles. “Our football team. These children have already settled in here and are not afraid to venture out into the large space.” Here, children from different groups with varying degrees of disability play together. And how do the children get along with each other? “It’s only adults who react to children with disabilities; children themselves couldn’t care less about what other children look like,” explains Maximowa.

About parents and plans for the future

In the evening, the teachers can chat with the parents in a relaxed atmosphere, right in the same location. They are given as much attention as their children. This is also a key task of the educational staff: involving the parents in the educational care, because the children’s development depends primarily on their parents. This is even more important for children with severe disabilities. There are groups of five-to-six people, exclusively for children with especially high support needs due to their learning disabilities. Conventional care is not possible in such groups; special needs teachers are required here. These children have their own plans in their minds, and parents often do not know how to deal with them at home. Some do everything for their child, believing that they don’t have to be like everyone else – if they just want to lie down, let them, if they cannot walk, there is nothing you can do about it. A teacher explains: “When we talk to the parents, they frequently say this is the way the child behaves like at home. We then explain that things are different at the kindergarten. The parents then experience an “Aha!” moment and get involved in the support process. They come to us on their own accord and ask how things went today. Could he focus his eyes? Wonderful! The mothers are delighted about every little detail. This way, we also receive something in return. Everything works a bit differently here, in very small steps.” After all, this is what Winiklusia is all about: helping these special children and giving them the opportunity to develop together with other children in one space.

The nursery management’s plans for the future include obtaining a medical licence, although this process is by no means straightforward. “Just imagine we could involve health workers in our team. We have an excellently equipped physiotherapy room, but there is a lack of qualified staff. Medical massages would do the children a huge amount of good,” says the Deputy Director of the kindergarten. What unites their staff is not only the common vision of what the kindergarten should be like. It is also the willingness to work tirelessly to achieve it. “I myself spent three years in Novy Urengoy, as deputy head of finance at Achimgaz,” says Torsten Murin. “During that time, the people living here influenced me the most. Their honesty and the expectation that you will definitely deliver what you promised. People here are measured by their deeds, everything else is less important.”

 

Further information can be found here.

Contact:
Thorsten Gutmann
Head of the Communications Department
German-Russian Chamber of Commerce Abroad  
E-Mail: presse​@russland-ahk.ru
Tel.: +7 (495) 234 49 50
www.russland.ahk.de

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