When his mother was imprisoned for trading illegal substances, nine-year-old Tigran Papikyan was left without parental care. The one adult assigned to take care of him, his grandfather, had an alcohol addiction. So, Tigran found himself in a boarding school in Yerevan.
Unfortunately, the Yerevan Childcare and Boarding Institution N1 was not safe for Tigran, either. He recalls one of his teachers, Miss Lilit, often beating him for any possible reason she could find. After yet another abusive episode from Lilit, Tigran ran away from the boarding school. He made it all the way home on foot, but there was no one there to let him in. He spent that night in a metro station.
The metro station had long felt like a second home for the boy, who had previously spent many hours in the underground shops and befriended many of the shopkeepers. They had always treated him kindly, so he naturally ran to them for refuge. This time, however, these friends reached out to child protection services at the Armenian Ombudsman’s Office and other entities. Eventually, when the police became involved, they guided Tigran safety at the FAR Children’s Center, where staff had already received reports about the case from both the Save the Children organization and the Ministry of Social Affairs. Tigran’s story has highlighted the prevalence of violence and abuse in Armenian child care centers and orphanages.
Since his arrival at the Children’s Center on December 21, Tigran has been meeting regularly with psychologists, social workers, and other specialized staff members. Though he’s still working to overcome the effects of the traumatic circumstances he has escaped, his mood has definitely improved. In fact, he has actively participated in various holidays events and celebrations at the Center. Tigran is also a very talented dancer, and we hope that he will soon join the dance classes organized by volunteers at the Children’s Center.
You may watch a video segment featuring Tigran’s story by Shant TV [in Armenian] below.
December 21st was a very special day for the beneficiaries of the FAR Children’s Center. The youngsters were visited a puppet, clown, and fairy tale characters who dazzled them with songs, dances, and stunts. The special guests from the Puppeteers Union had been invited by Children’s Center Circle of Friends Member Mr. Avetik Nazaretyan to make the children’s day unforgettable and dreamlike.
The boys and girls were delighted to participate in juggling matches and competitions. They were especially excited to become acquainted with several live animals, including a rabbit, monkey, snake, and a lizard.
Following the interactive performances, the children were surprised by Santa Claus who had come to meet the children and deliver gifts. His greetings and advice were a great inspiration for the young ones. The icing on top of the cake was quite literally the icing on top of a delicious cake presented by Agnes Cakes to brighten up the children’s holidays.
What might a simple visit mean to childish human minds that seek communication but struggle to fully express how much they really wish to communicate? They are exhilarated by a mere visit of a group of people who bring them gifts and the joy of an annual celebration that they always associate with the Dzmer Papik (The Armenian Santa Claus) – Christmas and New Year.
Such energy filled the room during the holiday celebration held at the Nubarashen #11 Special School this past December. The students had prepared a Christmas show that embodied the heroes of an Armenian fairy tale – all on their own. They performed songs and dances as a special act of gratitude for their kind benefactors and captivated audience members, among whom were delighted FAR staff members. Afterwards, they enjoyed a nutritious dinner and received the benefactors’ presents delivered by Dzmer Papik.
The event takes place every year thanks to the generous support of outstanding benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Michael and Marie Haratunian. The Haratunians have helped to renovate the facilities and provided the School with foodstuff and presents for the children on special occasions.
For its selflessly devoted staff, Nubarashen #11 Special School seems a lifelong vocation, a place of everyday input of energy and professional potential. It is only by the generosity of benefactors that this shelter, which operates with practically no state support, still consoles the hearts of the parents who come to see smiles on their children’s innocent faces.
She first proposed to organize dance classes for the children during a meeting with the Mathevosian Scholarship Program beneficiaries at FAR’s Yerevan office. Now, the classes take place twice a week – to the delight and happiness of the children.
Satenik’s classmate Ani Cherbechyan, who has also studies at a dance college, has gladly joined her for this wonderful initiative. Together, the young women involve the children in fun training sessions where they not only teach Armenian national dances and discipline, but also instill the values of self-confidence and teamwork.
“Besides the dancing practice itself, you feel there is something very positive that you can pass to those children,” Satenik points out.
In 2009, UNICEF defined child poverty as one of the most acute manifestations of human poverty. It is today one of the most critical problems in Armenia, as it negatively affects children throughout their lives.
The Fund for Armenian Relief is about to launch a new social project channelled toward the reduction of child poverty rates in Armenia thanks to the commitment and willingness of the Ajemian Foundation and FAR’s outstanding benefactor Peter Sarkessian of Detroit, MI. The program envisions targeted assistance to children and their families who face financial hardship and are exposed to various risks.
Through this project, FAR will identify families with children who are living in poverty, and provide them with adequate nutrition and small grants to develop a sustainable living, among other forms of economic support, as well as ensure access to healthcare services, psychological assistance, education, and other basic needs.
The program is a five-year intervention targeted towards struggling families with three or more children in the towns of Masis and Artashat in the Republic of Armenia’s Ararat marz. Within the proposed five-year period, FAR and its Children’s Center envision serving an average of 130 families with three or more children (400+ children).
To identify the socially disadvantaged families, FAR will contact the local social services to obtain data and select those families who:
have a minimum of 3 children aged 0-18,
are rated as poor according to the Republic of Armenia’s Family Poverty Benefit System,
and are willing to cooperate with FAR and its Children’s Center to overcome the crisis situation.
The goal of this new program is to empower Armenian families to sustain themselves and lead better lives.
Photos contributed by the Rotary Club “Yerevan International”
Beneficiaries of the Children’s Support Center are often directed there as victims of domestic violence and trafficking, children with behavioral problems, teenagers in trouble with the law and runaway youth who are tracked down by the police. Statistics show that children from single-parent households and of underprivileged parents are more likely to run away and become involved in dangerous activities. Many children come to the center with health problems, and nearly all of them are psychologically depressed.
Children’s relationships with their parents often get strained at the stage of adolescence, to a critical point, as a result of which many of them run away from home. This happens especially in cases of drastic deterioration of life circumstances. Many children remember growing up in a happy family with both mother and father, but the reality they face is a result of the quarrels between and the eventual divorce of their parents. Busy contending for their parental rights in continuous trials, the former couple often disregards the children’s opinions and well-being.
Such tribulations hinder youngsters from opening up about their troubles. Only some of them may tell their stories, but for others, it takes long months – even years – to somehow reveal their problems. Once at the Children’s Center, many remain silent during their first meeting with the specialists. In fact, they stay protective of their personal space for a long time after being welcomed to the Center. Even in their scarce communication within this new environment, they often look at their elder siblings as if asking for permission to speak out.
It is vital that these children stop considering themselves inadequate. The Center works to alter beneficiaries’ perception of their lives as toys scattered on the floor by uncaring parents and adverse life circumstances. Here, children receive special individualized care from professionally trained staff of social workers, psychologists, and nurses work to return them to a safe family environment and avoid the methodical institutionalization that so many troubled children in Armenia face.
The Children’s Support Center, established in 1999 by the Fund for Armenian Relief, has since pursued its distinct mission as a full-service facility for at-risk children and their families. It is unique in working with both the children and their families to counsel, educate, and support them every step of the way with the goal of securing a stable and loving home for beneficiaries. In the process, the Center serves as a safe welcoming hearth for vulnerable children to lift them up from despair and to guide them to a better future.