- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 2, 2003 

Stocking the Cradle: Ororots ready to help infants but needs help itself

Jemma Hasratyan is Ororots' coordinator.

Last summer in one of Yerevan's maternity hospitals a newborn girl named Liana was abandoned.

The child was healthy. But conditions in the mother's home were not. No electricity because of unpaid debts. An income of $12 a month to feed the mother and Liana's two sisters, ages four and six.

Liana's father had been unemployed for four years. He left to find work in Moscow six months before the baby was born. But he failed to get work and could not afford to return to Yerevan.

So the mother escaped from the hospital leaving Liana behind rather than face the difficulty of trying to care for her.

The hospital kept Liana for a month, then she was either adopted or turned over to an orphanage; the hospital isn't sure.

An estimated 5,000 families in Armenia with children less than one year old face such conditions as Liana's parents. And such conditions are one reason why the birth rate has decreased by almost three times in the past decade.

"During 10 years this is the first year when there was no decrease in birth rate in the republic, but there also was no increase," says president of the Association of Women with University Education Jemma Hasratyan.

"Armenian families realize that it is necessary to have a second or third child, but it is impossible because of lack of money."

One year ago the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund and 30 women's public organizations established "Ororots" (cradle) a project aimed at bringing relief to families such as Liana's.

It is aimed at helping any needy family with a child under age one by providing a "healthy baby package", valued at $150, and containing clothes, food and other nursing items.

The first stage of Ororots is to be started this month in the Syunik region, where the birth rate is about half that of other regions. About 100 families with infants will receive the Ororots packages.

It has taken organizers longer than they had hoped to get the program started.

"Any similar work requires organization in the beginning," says Hasratyan, leader of the Women's Council of Public Organizations coordinating the Ororots project. "Unfortunately the work of this project lasted longer than it was planned."

Hasratyan says the work has been curtailed because the project did not collect the necessary funds.

"We personally applied to all the Ministers of Armenia and to Parliament Members, public organizations, businessmen and Diaspora Armenians asking to help to fulfill our project as far as possible," says Hasratyan, adding uneasily that Diaspora responded more than locals.

To meet the necessities of 5,000 families, the project needs $750,000 ($150-package to each child, from which $90 is for clothes and nursing items and the rest is for food). However, during the past year the fund collected only $22,000.

"In this project participation of each Armenian is important," says Hasratyan. "Each Armenian person must realize that he or she is extending a helping hand to a newborn child by helping our project."

Hasratyan believes that each resident of Armenia can help to solve this problem with only a small donation.

The healthy baby package containing clothes, food and other items in value of $150.

"According to official data, about one million, four hundred thousand people participated in the recent Armenian presidential elections. I deduct half of this number considering that many people are not able to help, but if the remaining 700,000 people give one dollar to the fund this problem will be solved for one year," Hasratyan says.

She says Ororots gets better support from average citizens than from the rich.

"There are too few benefactors among our entrepreneurs," says Hasratyan. "If they earn exorbitant incomes, they should realize that they got it from their people and return at least a part of it to them."

The project has approached various international organizations over the past year. UMCOR (United Methodist Council on Relief) responded with 1,300 packages for newborns.

In April those packages were distributed in the neediest regions - Gegharkunik and Lori. About 500 needy families with babies under 6 months were given two packages each.

The packages for Syunik region are almost ready. According to Hasratyan, the last problem to be solved is the dark color of babies' blankets.

"We should replace them with a brighter color," says Hasratyan. "The purpose of Ororots is that the aid does not leave an impression of a poor sack. It should be both nice and colorful, so that a family feels that in our country there is also an atmosphere of kindness and care."

In the coming months project organizers are planning to organize a Charity marathon as soon as the "election marathon" in the republic finishes at the end of the year.

"We'll start our actions after parliamentarian elections, so that candidates participating in the elections do not use this project for their interest," Hasratyan says.

"We don't want 'Ororots' to penetrate into politics, to be within political actions, we want it to be a part of development process of a normal, human country."

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