31 July 2018
Svetlana Hovhannisyan lives in a cabin outside of Gyumri with her five sons. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Gayane Abrahamyan how some families are struggling to care for children with disabilities in Armenia—and how a CNEWA-supported facility is giving many a new sense of purpose and hope:
For 15-year-old Artyom Hovhannisyan, every movement is a victory. Confined to a wheelchair in a city without ramps, the boy depends on his mother to carry him from place to place. Even at home, he has very limited space to maneuver; in fact, their dwelling barely warrants “home.”
Artyom’s mother, Svetlana, rears her five sons alone in a wooden cabin — a temporary structure erected following the devastating earthquake of December 1988. What was to be temporary, however, has become permanent, and stands badly in need of repair. The floor and ceiling have been rotting for years. Holes in the faded walls have been papered over with the boys’ drawings, diplomas and various certificates.
When she smiles, the lines on her face reveal years of concerns — years spent tending a small plot of land to try and feed her children while living on a monthly pension of about $90.
Around her cabin, about six miles from Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia after its capital of Yerevan, temporary settlements dot the landscape — a collection of small iron and wooden buildings erected nearly 30 years ago to shelter the suddenly homeless. Over the years, their inhabitants have left the settlement, moving to new buildings in the city. Now, only Ms. Hovhannisyan and her five sons remain. The eldest, 18 years old, will soon leave to join the army, adding another source of concern as Armenia’s army remains on guard.
But for now, Ms. Hovhannisyan finds solace and a sense of order by tending the earth. She has cleaned the stones from the garden and neatly organized them near a fence. She has planted trees, tilled the soil and sowed flowers.
“I am not afraid of work,” she says. “I will do everything. But when my eldest son will be called to the army, I don’t know what I’m going to do, because he is my only help with Artyom.”
She also receives tremendous help and support from the Emili Aregak Center, which helps care for her son.
Inside the glass-covered building, everybody is busy — they sing in one of the rooms, play in another, do exercises in a third, hold discussions in the fourth. Alive and vibrant, this unique space offers children and young adults with special needs and physical challenges room to move and room to live with sun and space in abundance.
“Everything is interesting here,” Artyom says happily. “I have participated in pottery classes. I have many good friends who help me.”
The center has changed Artyom’s life. The view beyond his window is now wider, brighter and full of hope.
“It is so good here. Everyone is joyful, everyone is nice and I love them a lot.”
Read about how the center has become A Source of Light to so many in the June 2018 edition of ONE.