In the poorest corners of Armenia, the children grow up in such extreme poverty that it becomes harmful to their mental and physical wellbeing.
These problems can be rectified or even totally eliminated through attending school. In the poor Armenian province of Tavush, close to the border with Azerbaijan, two siblings Karine and Hakob, 9 and 12 years old, live in a trailer. Both of them have a learning disability and they live in such poor condition, that their parents are unable to provide them with the attention and stimuli, which children their age need.
Surviving by gathering berries
The family’s home is a trailer without running water and sanitary facilities. The daily washing is done with water from the river. The children's father Gegham works as a guard in the local municipality, and mother Laura is a cleaning lady. Together they earn the equivalent of 60 US dollars per month. Although the living cost in Armenia is lower than in the West, it is still not enough for the family to live on this salary. They therefore earn a little extra by selling jam made from berries which they pick from bushes that grow down by the river.
There is no doubt that Karine and Hakobs learning difficulties are due to the massive poverty that the family lives in. And they are far from the only ones. According to national statistics 42 percent of Armenia's children live below the official poverty line of 3 US dollars per day. And it has crippling consequences for the children physical and especially mental health.
Enjoying math and physical education
The traditional Armenian school system is not particularly flexible.
The teaching is based on the view that disability is a defect. But in Tavush region, where Karine
and Hakob live, Mission East has worked for many years to make schools inclusive. This means that children get an education that takes into account their learning difficulties, and the two children have therefore are able to enjoy going to school. Karine likes to draw, and Hakob’s favorite subjects are math, Armenian and sports.
The hope of a future
Karine and Hakob also go to a rehabilitation center run by Mission East partner Bridge of Hope. Here they can sing and play with other children, and they get the positive attention that parents do not have the energy to give them. Improvement of children's language and learning abilities and increase their chances of getting a job and start a family when they become adults and thus breaking the cycle of poverty and disability.
Did you know that …
... in the Soviet Union disability was considered a defect. Instead of teaching children with special needs on their own terms, they were locked away in institutions. Mission East is helping to break this mindset.
... only 9 percent of adults Armenians with disabilities have a job. Many, both employers and people with disabilities do not know that it is possible to perform a job, even though you have a disability. We aim to assist local communities to change this attitude.