number of students is growing, as conditions get worse.
Three classmates, 10- year old boys Mher, Armen and Narek have hardly
sat down at one school desk and are drawing with colored pencils. Three of them
drew the same houses with colorful roofs.
"I will build the roof of my
house with such colorful wooden beams, it is my dream," explains Mher.
far away from them 12 year old Hayk is diligently making packages for sunflower
seeds from newspapers. He can hardly talk and even forgets his own age. But his
eyes seem to always be smiling. He tries to communicate using strange words and
movements. He writes down only parts of words and only when someone holds his
The boys are pupils of the Echmiatsin No. 2 special assistant school
for children with mental deficiency. There are 140 children like them studying
here, including 11 who entered this new year.
From the outside, the children's problems are
obvious; though the light inside is often calm.
Their school is the opposite. Outside it is attractive
and landscaped, however, the picture inside the
building is completely different. The new school
year has started with new problems; and with old
ones that haven't been tended for many years.
"Since September 1 instead
of taking care of educational issues I've been solving problems connected with
water, food and clothes," complains the director of the school, Eleanora
The children share the concerns of the administration.
They carry water in buckets from the aqueduct
located next to the school, as the building has
had no water for four months because of a broken
All 140 children use only one toilet
which is on the way to the dinning hall. As a result of the lack of water the
bad smell spreads in the entire building.
Mirakyan says, "We feed children
four times a day. How can they go to dinning hall without washing? And at nights,
is it normal when they go to sleep without washing their feet?"
whose lives have been lessons in adapting, accept the circumstances and manage
through the difficulties. The special school is not only for their education.
It is also where they live.
Bedrooms on the second floor are more like barracks.
A piece of wood with nails is attached to the
wall for hanging clothes.
director of the school Hranush Sargsyan says that the school hasn't been provided
with anything for more than 20 years. They use everything that is left from Soviet
times but many things have simply worn out.
The school was built in 1969
and it has never been renovated. Only two of five sectors of the building are
functioning. Ceilings bear the effects of rainwater through a leaking roof.
with special needs live in a building that is itself in need of attention.
"You must see what our workers do when it rains. We can say that
now it is the best time period for us," says the director.
filled classrooms and playrooms. They covered ceilings with polythene in different
places for protecting themselves from rain.
Hranush Sargsyan explains:
"It's easier to empty the water into buckets from polythene."
And the director says that they can even grow
mushrooms in their auditorium. Doors of the auditorium
are always closed. Events such as holiday celebrations
are held in the corridor.
as bad as the beginning of the school year has begun, things will only get worse
as winter comes.
The school is allotted only 1.7 liters of heating
fuel per day? "Normal" schools get two
liters for heating up until 2 p.m.
forget that these children spend nights here. We must heat up the rooms all day.
This year we even have no heaters. All that we have are old and broken,"
This school is the only one in the Echmiadzin region. Children
from Ashtarak, Artashat and Yerevan attend this school as well. Director Mirakyan
accuses officials of being apathetic to their needs.
"I applied to
the Ministry of Science and Education, Office of the Head of Armavir's region,
Echmiadzin municipality but all of them tell us to wait. I don't know who we belong
to," says Mirakyan. "These children have already been punished by God,
why are punishing them too?"
Children study in School No. 2 for eight years,
and leave with the equivalent of a fourth-form
education. The last time special schools were
provided with textbooks was 1983.
"We even haven't got
a TV-set and audio recorder, which is of great importance for carrying out special
exercises with children, who have mental deficiency. And when we say sport accessories
they understand only balls," complains deputy director.
There are no
doctors or psychologists in the school. Only one nurse takes care of these physically
weak children with mental complications.
The only positive factor there
is food and the hard work of teachers. The government allots 504 drams (approximately
80 cents) per day for each child.
Sargsyan says that the school hasnt been provided with anything for more
than 20 years.
"Before (in Soviet times) our salaries were
more for 15% than salaries of teachers working
in public schools. But today we haven't got that
privilege any more," says the director. (Salaries
range from $25-40 a month.)
Even in its current state, Mirakyan says the school is a salvation
for many parents. They are freed from the burdens of everyday care of the children.
Children often come without shoes and dressed in worn clothes.
Saturdays after lessons they come to see their children and I'm often surprised
when I see the indifference of many parents. They don't even kiss their own children
and send them back to school on Mondays without even bathing them and dressed
in the same clothes," says the director.
The school is not responsible
for providing clothes, but Mirakyan has connections with many organizations that
help the school not only with clothes but with stationary products as well.
adds that unlike past years the number of children has increased.
ago many parents used to keep such children at their homes hiding them from society,"
the deputy director says. "Now they bring their children here without any
Children at School No. 2 live isolated from the world. Their
days start and come to an end inside the school, where time seems to have stopped
and the school even smells old.
The children look at any visitor with surprised
Hayk, who suffers from Down's Syndrome, is trying to prove something
with the numerous packages for sunflower seeds that he has made. Maybe he is trying
to say that one shouldn't litter the ground with the seeds when eating them.
Mher tries to show that they need a permanent place where they can play. Then
he adds that he is going to become a dentist and will be receiving all his patients
in his house with the colorful roof.