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A Fragile Lifeline

A modest facility offers Armenia’s impoverished Tashir province more than day care

by Gayane Abrahamyan with photographs by Justyna Mielnikiewicz

For the young, life in Tashir is not unlike the exile the Molokans endured several generations ago. Many migrate to other cities or further afield to escape the endemic poverty and unemployment. Some young parents leave children and spouses behind and alone to fend for themselves. Anna and Dianna, 8-year-old twins, last saw their father a year ago when he kissed them goodbye on his way to Moscow to find work.

“He left and got rid of these problems. Many have left the village and have not been back,”said Roza, the twins’ grandmother. Mrs. Movsesian cares for the girls as well as their older brother and sister, whose mother works in Yerevan.

Longhaired Anna playfully looks from side to side and says in a low voice that she misses her father, but she knows she will never see him again. Her older sister, 11-year-old Madlena, sits quietly. She places her hand on the chest pocket of her shirt, where she keeps an old photo of her mother.

“I also miss my mother very much. We have not seen her for two months,” she said, shyly pulling the picture from her pocket.

“The only joy in these children’s life is the sisters’ center. They forget everything when they go there,” their grandmother said of the Our Lady of Armenia Center.

Run by the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the day care center, with funding from CNEWA, has been providing a host of services to the region’s needy children since 1994. Currently, the day care center serves more than 2,000 children.

“Our children receive food, clothes and stationery. They teach them. They even give them lessons in music and take them to camp in the summer,” said Mrs. Movsesian. “I think sometimes that, were it not for the center, what would we do?”

The sisters recently purchased a dilapidated building, which they had planned to renovate and open as a charity center and school within the next year. Construction of the center, which will provide food and other basics as well as quality education to the region’s neediest families, has been postponed.

“The price of construction materials in Armenia has risen dramatically within the last year,” said Sister Arousiag Sajonian, an Armenian Sister of the Immaculate Conception who spearheads her community’s many programs. “Now the money we have, which before would have fully covered the expenses, is just half of what we need.

“We had hoped to open the center this autumn, but were forced to suspend the work.”

“We receive medicines from the sisters,” said 70-year-old Garegin Arakelian, “but we remain dependent on the mercy of God when it comes to getting treatment,” he continued.

“We have a hospital, but many have to sell their houses to pay for treatment. I don’t have that either. All I have is a rusty metal shelter of about 66 square feet built after the earthquake. In winter, it’s warmer outside than inside.”

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