A Safe Haven for Children and Parents in Armenia

Editors’ note: Journalist Gohar Abrahamyan traveled to Artashat, a small town in southwest Armenia, close to the Turkish border, to cover a special project of a local church organization that aims to address the problem of child poverty in Armenia. Listen to her reflection on her experience in her audio report and read the full story in “A Bright Spot” in the December issue of ONE. A full transcript of the audio report follows.

For several days now, the words of the children attending the Little Prince Center have been ringing in my ear: “It feels good here.”

“They serve delicious food.”

“No one is yelling.”

“I’m happy here.”

The center is supported by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. It’s located in downtown Artashat, the regional center of Ararat Region, about 40 km from Armenia’s capital, Yerevan.

It provides social and psychological support and conducts life skills lessons, as well as promotes a healthy lifestyle for 95 children and their families. Every day the building is filled with a joyful noise of the children attending this center.

When everyone gathers, they sit in the kitchen, pray, then eat together. Mashed potatoes, meat cutlets, salads, cheese, bread, the day’s menu. The children who come here right after school are not always able to control themselves and hide the fact that they are famished. Hence, the room is filled with the clicking of dishes and cutlery.

It is an emotional moment. Most of the children have not eaten anything today, and probably this will be the last meal for them for the day. Most of them eat nutritious food only here. Most of them probably come here to have a warm meal two or three times a week. I feel just powerless. I leave the room and decide to wait in a lobby until the classes start.

A woman is waiting there as well. I start asking her questions. She says she brings her daughter here. Then she starts telling how the center has become a safe haven in her troubled life, full of abuse and dishonor.

The dance class starts. The woman’s daughter is among the best dancers. The woman lives with her daughter’s every move, and it seems like she sees the key to her salvation in every move that her daughter masters. If only many doors could be opened with that key.

The sewing machines come to life filling the room with a work atmosphere. Both girls and boys are included in the groups. Here they learn to sew and knit. They will be able to use these skills throughout their whole life wherever they are. At the same time, a physical education class is taking place in the yard, which strengthens the children and teaches them to carry their bodies correctly.

In the center, every second is used to manage time efficiently to acquire new abilities, new capacities and to respond adequately to every situation in life.

Of course, I feel pain that my country is burdened with many difficulties and there are still children who go to sleep half-hungry. There are even regions that each second child is hungry. But at the same time, I’m relieved that they are in safe hands in this center and that the knowledge and skills they receive here will one day undoubtedly break the chain of poverty and hardships.

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