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

Family Devotion: Teenage refugee trades school for work to become bread winner

The family breadwinner.

David Antonyan is 15, and is his family's sole provider. He collects bottles near his home in Abovyan and every day makes the 20 kilometer trip to Yerevan to sell them for money to feed his family.

The Antonyans - David, his 12-year old sister Marine and their mother, Karine - are refugees from Azerbaijan. The Antonyans left Baku in 1989 when it no longer became safe for Armenians to live in Azerbaijan.

Several years ago the father left for Russia and there has been no news from him. Karine has a heart condition, and hasn't been able to work for three years.

That leaves the teenage boy with the burden of a family.

"David used to be a diligent student. However two years ago he started concentrating on work, and hasn't been thinking about studying since," Karine says. "At times when I was depressed and complaining about how hard it was for me he would always say 'Mom, please put up with it for another year, I will start working as soon as I finish the 8th grade, and will help you'."

Five months ago David finished 8th grade and started working, collecting bottles -- buying or simply gathering them, then reselling in Yerevan.

"I knock at the doors and ask if they have any bottles," David explains. "There are some people who don't take the money. They say 'Good for you, you are such a little boy, and you already work. You don't have to pay, please just take the bottles.' But there are also those who curse and say: 'Why are you taking the lift, we don't pay for it so that you could use it.' They want to hit me, but I run away. They get angry that there is always someone knocking at their door every five minutes".

David works about five hours a day and collects an average of 50 bottles. He is not so strong, and can't carry more than that. "I don't take champagne bottles, because they are heavy. Sometimes, when there are more bottles, I leave them at somebody's house to come after them later," he says.

He takes a minibus to Yerevan and although the usual fare is 200 drams (about 30 cents), drivers have become familiar with the boy and charge him half-fare.

On the job in Yerevan, where bottles sell for more.

He makes about 20 drams (about three cents) on each bottle. After transportation costs he brings home about 500 drams (around 85 cents) per day which is a helpful addition to the family poverty pension of about $14 a month.

"We live on money earned by David," says Karine. "We eat mainly bread. We spend 450 drams (80 cents) on bread a day. A month ago David got sick, he had fever, and was in bed for two weeks. We couldn't buy bread during that time."

If the winter is not too harsh, the Antonyans can get by without heating their little apartment, as it faces the sun. Although the children, especially Marine, like watching TV very much, their old-model TV consumes a lot of energy, and they very seldom turn it on.

Marine is in the 6th grade. She says she likes living in Abovyan and that Yerevan is scary.

"Angry and bad people live there," she says. "They slam doors in my brother's face."

Marine's favorite subject is literature, and her favorite novel is "Gikor", about a boy who collected buttons for a dress for his sister.

"The boy had been working since childhood and eating leftovers. Gikor was a good boy. He also cared about his sisters," Marine says.

The sales route takes David down an alley and past St. Gregory The Illuminator Church.

Unlike her mild-mannered brother, Marine reacts to even the slightest insult. She often ends up in fights. But she also takes care of matters at home, doing the house chores.

"When I am ill, Marine is constantly by my side. I am a lucky mother to have such children," Karine says.

Two tears ago the Antonyans were renting an apartment, paying about $9 a month. But then Karine's health got worse, and she could no longer do hard work. She used to work in a bakery, but the heat and humidity there was bad for her heart condition. She applied to the Board of Refugees and got a 14 square meter room on the 9th floor at the dormitory of Auto-Transportation college.

Moving to the dormitory, Karine became eligible for a knitting project sponsored by the Student Association for Medical Aid (SAMA). For two years the students have been providing 58 refugee women from several dormitories with wool, which the women use to knit sweaters and socks. They are paid about $17 for their work, and the clothes are distributed to about 200 children and 60 elderly from poor families.

Karine has knitted six sweaters and six pairs of sox - the last ones were presented by SAMA to Karine's own children.

"I have been knitting since I was 13,"says Karine, needles in her hands, knitting for her children using threads from old clothes. "This project is exactly what I needed. I can knit sitting in my apartment. I wish they would make more orders . . ."

For information about the Student Association for Medical Aid, go to or email SAMA director Stella Ghukasyan can be reached at 48.09.41. To assist the Anotonyans, or to make a general contribution to ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta project, click here.


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