Aemenuhi Khachatrian, 73, has lived alone for more than six years in Yerevan. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Flora Sargsyan, project manager for Caritas Armenia, works to assist Armenia’s elderly. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Senior citizens gather at a day care center run by Flora Sargsyan in Gyumri. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
Hamaspyur Nazaretian in her shelter in Gyumri. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Life seems so short, but it remains full — full of pleasant and memorable events, and also painful and harrowing experiences.
I lived a happy childhood, for my parents had done their best to make it interesting for us, their children.
They began their married life after World War II and lived through hard times to make ends meet.
Both my parents were true believers. I remember them praying before going to bed. When my grandfather — a former village priest — visited us, my parents always asked him to pray before dinner. I listened to him, but I did not understand the real essence of those prayers or the singing; I hadn’t heard them anywhere else, and no one ever told me about them. We lived in a state that denied religion; we were supposed to be atheists. Nothing on religion was taught at schools or universities.
But one thing remained in me: I had the sacred feeling of God’s being, and the understanding that one should believe in God.
I remember visiting the local, half-ruined Kobayr Church, built in the 12th century. Here, we prayed and lighted beeswax candles my mother had made. I am truly thankful to my parents, and especially my grandpa, who used to tell a lot of stories and tales that were real lessons for me — lessons on being kind, doing everything with love and compassion, performing acts of good will for others.
Pope Benedict said in our lives we are called to practice God’s charity, since every person is called upon to develop and fulfill God’s design. In this way, every life is a vocation. Thus, I am convinced that all the things I had experienced in my childhood and youth had their expression in my later life and work — my experiences helped me to become who I am today.
For 27 years, I taught English at a secondary school in Gyumri, at the Shirak Regional Center. Teaching children from their early age, from the first grade up to high school, allowed me to observe and understand from another perspective the changes that take place as we grow older.
With my language skills, I joined the NGO Training/Resource Center in Gyumri, working as a technical assistant and later as a center coordinator for about ten years. There, I learned to develop, run and manage an organization.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Armenia established Caritas in the northern city of Gyumri, which became one of the most active organizations supporting humanitarian activities in the poorest regions of the country. Quickly, Caritas Armenia added development projects as well, and joined the Caritas family of organizations worldwide.
It was my pleasure to join Caritas Armenia and to work with the elderly. Despite years of work experience, Armenia’s elderly find themselves in hard socioeconomic situations in this post-Soviet period — deprived of jobs and a steady income while trying to live on miserable, inadequate pensions. Unfortunately, their situation has worsened with the massive migration of young people seeking jobs outside the country, leaving their aged parents alone and helpless.
The elderly encounter a lot of hardships; some can’t take care of their health needs, or even handle the routines of daily life. It is a challenge for them just to survive in their late age. They need support — physical, material, psychological and spiritual.
The initiatives we implement are intended to improve their quality of life. We work to help those who are physically and mentally frail to be integrated into society and to be treated with respect and care. We provide an array of supportive services conducted by social workers, medical nurses, caregivers and volunteers.
Each time I visit the people we serve, I feel I need to offer them encouragement. Most are alone and have lost hope. They are anxious for our visits; they long to engage with others, to speak and to be heard. The elderly need proper hygiene, clean homes, hot meals; they also need medical care and attention. This is what our programs help provide. A caregiver or nurse might help bathe the patient or offer to cook or clean — even dress their hair.
Our caregivers are vital to the elderly because they soothe their pain — both physical and emotional. They help ease the sufferings of their souls.
Sometimes Caritas’s service providers are the only visitors for those living alone, so their companionship is of great psychological and moral support. We serve with love and compassion, for we want to see our elderly as full members of society. After all, they are the creators of our past — and our present. We are thankful to them for the legacy they have left for future generations.
We want them to have healthy and peaceful lives.