entered an office room and saw Emma crying. She
asked what had happened and found out that Emma's
grandfather had died. Katarina was persuading
Emma to go home, but she didn't want to. About
30 minutes later Katarina realized from the conversation
that it was not Emma's grandfather who died, but
an elderly refugee whom Emma had been caring for.
Like about 60 others, Emma is a volunteer in
the Youth Department of the Armenian Red Cross,
in a special program called "Social and Psychological
Service for the Refugee Elderly". The project's
goal is to console lonely refugee old people,
who live in hard social conditions. The young
volunteers make them forget their losses, help
them to integrate into society and communicate
with its members.
About 330 elderly are visited by 60 volunteers
(30 in Yerevan and 30 in different regions of
Armenia). The project started three years ago
with 20 volunteers taking care of 120 elderly,
mainly refugees from Baku living in Yerevan hostels.
idea was born in the Youth Department," says
the head of the Youth Department of Armenian Red
Cross Society (ARCS) Katarina Vardanyan. "We
had social nurses who were visiting old people
and helping them. And when the project was over
we had a whole voluntary army. And the idea was
born to create a similar project with the help
The Red Cross Department of Population Movement
offer special care for the elderly refugees. The
idea was originally met with skepticism by those
who thought a volunteer couldn't do the work of
But during the volunteer program's first year,
representatives from the Emigration Department
of the US Government visited Armenia twice, talking
to volunteers and refugees. As a result, the following
year the project was expanded.
The structure of the program is that old people
are visited once or twice a week. During the time
of visits young volunteers are talking to them,
finding out their problems, and listening to the
life stories of those who soon become dear to
is one of those.
"In Baku I was working in a circus,"
the old woman recalls. "My chiefs wanted
to take me to Moscow but my mother didn't allow
me to go. I got married when I was 19."
And following the loss of her husband, a military
man, doctors advised Rigaleta to stay in touch
with people, to not draw within herself with her
So each week she eagerly waits for a visit from
her "grandchild" Margarita, one of the
"I fell in love with Margarita," she
says, "I always wait for her visit to talk
to her for at least 5-10 minutes. These days it
is the only happy minutes of my life for me. I'm
alone now. I can go nowhere as I have no friends
and I don't know anybody."
Like Rigaleta waits for Margarita, another of
the elderly, Natasha, waits for Kristine.
In her room she has a few photographs with family,
but others with her volunteer grandchild.
Kristine says that they have already become something
like relatives. She visits Natasha more than her
"When she knew that I got engaged she said
she wanted to give a present," Kristine says.
"I took my skirt to her and she together
with her friend Asya made some changes on it.
When I visited her again they dressed me, then
told me to stand between them and then started
to examine me. They started to give me different
advices like how I must treat my future mother-in-law.
Very often I tell my secrets only to them."
part of the program, once every month or two volunteers
organize visits to different sights, taking the
elderly to concerts, cinemas and theatres.
One of the old women, Lusic, remembers very well
her visit to Victory Park.
"That was so great," she says, "we
saw everything, I was crazy for that monument.
I have never been in a place like that during
whole my life. I was telling I wish I slept and
stay there. Nakhichevan was a small city and I
didn't see places like that there."
Volunteers celebrate their grandparents' birthdays
with small gifts, having learned over the years
what each prefers.
Volunteer Emma says that sometimes it happened
when some stage of the project was over but all
the volunteers continued to visit their old people.
"We became relatives. Once a month I visit
them," she says, "you already know enough
things about them, it looks like you lived through
something with them."
Emma felt the project's influence even on her.
"Now I understand my own grandmothers and
grandfathers better than before," she says.
Anna Martirosyan is a coordinator of the psychological
service in the Post-traumatic Recovery Center.
Starting this year she is a member of the project
as a psychologist.
was very surprised," she says, "when
I see how 19-21 year old young volunteers managed
to do such a difficult work, which can be done
only by specialists. They are old people, whose
age is more than 70, who lived through grief and
they have been bearing their grief through years
and lived with that. They need to be treated in
psychological centers. And these young people
managed to help them without hurting them. They
have lived with them as one family for thee to
four years. Volunteers were taking from their
home different things, clothes and food to those
old people and in their turn those old people
were happy with their grandchildren's successes
and tried to help them with any useful advice
and treat them with candies or soup."
The project is scheduled to conclude at the end
of this month, as funding has run out. However,
Anna Martirosyan says if the volunteers stop visiting
the elderly, it will cause damage to the old people.
"For three years those people were treated
like human beings and now if they are back again
in their previous state that will be very difficult
for them," she says.
But the volunteers say that their visits will
continue, although not as frequently without the
assistance of the Red Cross program.
Both Katarina Vardanyan and Anna Martirosyan believe
that they will find donors who will finance the
project and it won't be finished.
One of the old women said: "If they leave
us then we will become complete orphans."