Gevork and Narineh at home in a former cowshed
Arsen, 11, and his brother Andranik, 12, used
to go to Yerevan from Parakar to beg for money
to save their family from hunger. They had not
been to school for two years because their single-mother
Narineh could hardly provide food for her four
sons and could not afford other expenses.
Since September, the boys were reinstated in
night school and a third brother Arthur entered
the village school's first form (the fourth brother
Gevork is six). They returned to their studies
after the family was included in the Prevention
program of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors
Without Borders). Narineh was given clothes for
the children, stationery and other household items.
The program, created in 2000, offers assistance
to poor families so that their children don't
become vagrants and beggars and risk being sent
to special institutions by the Government. During
these three years, MSF has helped 700 people and
is presently taking care of 200 children, mainly
from Yerevan and neighboring regions, who were
either beggars or on the brink of life on the
The Prevention program renders medical and psychological
assistance to poor families. It helps children
to attend school, finds work for parents, reconstructs
their apartments (many of these families live
in basements, semi-dilapidated buildings and train
cars) and provides them with household necessities.
A team of six staff patrol the streets offering
MSF's visiting card to vagrant children they encounter,
encouraging their parents to visit the organization's
"Andranik was begging for money in Vernissage.
When I tried to approach him he was scared as
he thought I was a policeman. But when I talked
to him he took the visiting card," says MSF's
social worker Roman Harutyunyan.
Andranik was among a group of children taken
to the city to beg by a villager. The woman stood
at a distance as the children went begging, and
would take a portion of their collection from
them every so often. Andranik says: "Each
time we collected 1,000 drams (about $1.80). We
bought doughnuts for us and the rest of money
we gave to ma."
Narineh only recently learnt that her sons were
begging. She says: "They lied to me saying
that they were collecting aluminum and changing
it for money. How could I know that they had gone
to Yerevan begging for money."
Narineh resided in Hrazdan in the house of her
husband's relatives before a family dispute resulted
in the house being sold. She and her husband moved
with their children to the Kashatagh region (Lachin)
of Karabakh, where the fourth son was born. (A
daughter died in a home accident.)
"We were hungry. My husband didn't want to
work and didn't like to do anything," she
Her husband was later jailed for three years
for committing theft. Narineh left Lachin and
moved from place to place before settling in her
current home, a disused cowshed on the territory
of the former restaurant called Chtanots in Parakar.
"We cleaned our home until we finally removed
the smell of cattle. Now there is no smell any
more, is there?" says Narineh. The spacious
room is furnished only with one small table and
two beds where they all sleep.
Narine cleans houses for living. This is not a
permanent work. "People clean their house
seasonally. You clean somebody's house, and in
five months will be asked to clean it again".
She doesn't work at the moment, and doesn't know
if somebody would like to have her clean their
house in a couple of weeks. The only problem of
the family is to find food.
Her elder sons were attending the school for
retarded children. None of them is retarded, but
their mother sent them to that school only because
they weren't asked to pay and the children were
being fed there.
"I can't afford to send them to the local
school. Every day they collect money for a broom,
a curtain. I just can't send them to that school.
If all other children brought the money, and mine
wouldn't, everybody would laugh at them".
Two years ago she couldn't even afford to send
children to night school, saying: "They had
no shoes, no clothes and that's why they didn't
Then Andranik encountered the MSF worker. Narineh
says: "I didn't think it was something serious.
I was always told you have four children, go to
that place, go to another place, but I believed
nobody. This time my mother visited me and made
me go to Doctors Without Borders. They helped
me very much and my children again began attending
MSF workers are going to prepare their home for
winter, repairing a broken window and closing
gaps to keep the room warm. The family may also
be provided with some firewood.
"They had so many problems especially with
food that they didn't pay attention to other things
such as registering with a medical institution
and sending the children to school," says
MSF's Harutyunyan, who acts as a guardian to the
family. "This woman just needed a little
support at least for the children to start going
During all this time, Narineh hasn't been provided
with any official aid. The authorities refuse
to include her in the state's "Paros"
program for such families because she is not officially
Although out of prison now, the father has abandoned
his family. The last news they got about him was
a year ago when Andranik, begging money by the
GUM shopping mall suddenly saw him. The father
gave him 3,000 drams (about $9) and some food
and agreed on meeting Andranik in two days. However
Andranik wouldn't find him in the agreed place.
"They say I must give them a divorce certificate.
But where can I find my husband? I must look for
him for six months then wait for six months till
we get divorced. And my children will die from
Thanks to the Medecins Sans Frontieres organization
after two years of interruption, the children
started to go to school again.
Only 55 percent of families that are in care
of MSF get aid from "Paros" program,
which provides 10,000 drams (about $18). MSF calculations
suggest a family of five spends 15,000 drams (about
$26) just on food.
But in cases such as Narine's family, getting
help from Paros is impossible because that program
requires official registration with the government.
But a portion of those helped by MSF do not have
passports, birth certificates or a permanent residence.
Even families that get Paros assistance can't
solve the problems of the minimum necessity for
their families to keep their children away from
the streets, and then from the facilities for
"This type of aid is less expensive than
keeping children in institutions," says head
of MSF mission Samuel Hanryon, "The Government
spends 1,500 drams (about $2.50) to keep a child
in an institution, or $300 a month for four children.
If, instead, the mother gets 50,000 drams (about
$88) in aid every month then she will be able
to live without problems with the four children."
Since May 2000, MSF workers have met about 300
vagrant and beggar children in Yerevan's streets
(the program functions only in Yerevan). Approximately
100 were occasional beggars, who were included
in the Prevention program.
Now 90 of them don't beg any more, so are no
longer involved in the program. Next summer, MSF
plans to discontinue its street-kid program, moving
on to other issues. It hopes, however that another
organization will pick up where it leaves off.