- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 12 , 2003 

Facing Life's Elements: Orphanage has warm environment, but cold conditions

Looking for the next potential parent . . .

When the door to their room opens the children of Qanaqer-Zeitun orphanage look with anticipation, as if any adult could be the one who has come to take them home.

Two year old Vahan runs forward and warmly hugs a woman who has come to visit, kissing her and patting her face. One of the other children asks: "Are you going to take him home?"

It is not often that the question is answered affirmatively.

From 1967 to 1999 this building was a kindergarten, where children rested and played and at the end of the day walked home with hands safely held by mothers and fathers. But four years ago it was converted into an orphanage, to serve the growing need to care for Armenian children who either were unwanted or were born into families that could not afford them.

The orphanage became a home for 113 such children. They are divided into groups according to age, ranging from one to eight years. Here they are fed and educated, surrounded by toys and kind faces.

Each age group shares a room that is for living, sleeping, playing. Bathrooms at the orphanage have recently been repaired by a French benevolent organization. When they pass age eight, the children are sent to Zatik orphanage, which provides for older orphans.

"It is extremely difficult to let children dear to your heart go to another place, but it is impossible to keep them here," says Knarik Zakaryan, senior pedagogue. "Parents" of this big family very often visit the children that have left and never forget their birthdays.

The youngest resident, one-year old Taguhi, was brought here only a week ago. This day she is hugging her caretaker to keep warm, with her head on the woman's lap.

Four-year old Julia is painting. She says the image is her mother. "I know that my mommy will not come after me," the little girl says. "I will stay here. This is my home."

A new boiler could more efficiently warm a room full of babies .

The 34-year old building has not been repaired since it was built. Still, the walls have been thoughtfully decorated with pictures, art work and dolls made by the children.

Qanaqer-Zeitun orphanage is not a perfect place, but what place could be for children of such fates? It becomes less suitable, though, when autumn and winter arrive.

The rooms are insulated by putting plastic over windows and electric heaters are brought in. Still, though, the temperature in the 60 to 70-square meter rooms does not go above 55 degrees (Farenheit).

The orphanage needs its own heating boiler. But such an expensive item, approximately $22,000, is not conceivable from the State budget. Annually the state pays the orphanage $80,000, while it costs more than $140,000 for it to operate.

"We are spending a tremendous amount of money each year on the electric heating, and we still suffer from the cold," says Greta Harutyunyan, director of the orphanage.

According to initial calculations, a boiler would quickly pay for itself, as it would replace the need for expensive electric heaters, while providing the temperature considered healthy for children.

And Harutyunyan says that if the orphanage could save money on electric bills, it could improve the quality of meals and clothing, and offer more excursions for the children.

"Children deprived from the warmth of their parents, more than anybody else need to be warm and live in comfortable conditions, so that they could forget the memory of being abandoned here and dream of having a home," Zakaryan says.

For more information about Qanaqer-Zeitun orphanage: Call (374 1) 25.15.86 or (374 1) 25.65.92. To make a contribution to ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta project, click here.


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