Seeking Stability in Armenia, Long After the Earthquake Ended

In the current edition of ONE magazine, Gohar Abrahamyan writes about the remarkable work of Caritas Armenia. Here, she offers more insight.

The more I love the northeastern part of Armenia, which is a home to cultural centers of Lori and Shirak Provinces, the heavier my soul feels every time I go there. After three decades, the ghost of the earthquake — the tragedy in Spitak that left nothing behind — is still looming over these areas. The core of every topic is the earthquake; the cause of every problem is the disaster of 7 December 1988.  It overshadows everything.  

The temporary shelters, nestled in different corners of the communities, make me feel ashamed for not trying to do more to help so many who have suffered so terribly from this tragedy. Even the central streets in big cities, with their stunning renovations and luxurious lights, studded with new buildings, cannot alleviate the sense of duty I feel towards the quake survivors.   

Vardges Grigoryan, age 82, lives near the former municipality of Gyumri. After the earthquake, he was moved into a temporary emergency shelter for an indefinite period. His wife and son passed away, one after another; his other son is in abroad now. As Vardges talks about it, he dreads the coming winter; people are vulnerable to extreme winters in these shabby shelters.

However, Vardges is not only concerned with himself, but also with those who protect the homeland. “My only wish is peace,” he says. In his dilapidated shelter located away from peace, the grandpa asks for peace for the soldiers and wishes them health. I could barely control my emotions when I heard him saying, “Let no hair fall out of their head” —meaning, let the soldiers be safe and sound. 

Then, we walk together to the place where Vardges spends most of the day: Gyumri Day Care Center, which operates under the auspices of Caritas Armenia. The center is a short distance from his shelter.

“To serve with love and care” — this is the motto of Caritas, and you get that sense of love every time you visit its centers.

Flora Sargsyan is the Project Manager of the elderly programs. She is a very kind and generous woman. Together we walk through the big hall of the Day Care Center where around 50 elderly men and women get together every day. 

On a typical visit, during mild weather, you will see men and women sitting outside with the sunshine warming them. They play different games, do hand embroidery, discuss geopolitics and even talk about building peace in different corners of the world that are on edge.

Paintings by 83-year-old Vardush Sargsyan hang on the walls. She says that she started painting at an early age. Then she changes the topic and starts talking about the earthquake. The earthquake destroyed her home and livelihood, leaving her with nothing at all. She decided to find a shelter in a pit that they once built for a toilet. But it seemed that fortune smiled on her. She was provided with a small house by benefactors who, fortunately, were at the city at that time. 

Her only daughter passed away three years ago. If not for the center, she says, she would have been all alone.

When seeing me off, Vardush hugs me warmly and asks how many kids I have. I tell her I have one child.  She says that is not enough. “I had one; now I’m all alone,” she says. Before I got, she offers me this advice, a parting piece of wisdom from one mother to another.

“Please,” she pleads. “Do have at least three kids, so you won’t be alone like me.”

Read more about Conquering Poverty with Love in the December 2019 edition of ONE.

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