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 September 12, 2003 




"Special" School: Afflicted children must survive in damaged conditions at No. 2


The 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.

Not 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 hand.

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 Mirakyan.

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 water main.

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?"

Children 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.

Deputy 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.

Students 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.

Rainwater 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.

But 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.

"They probably 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," says Mirakyan.

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.

Hranush Sargsyan says that the school hasn’t 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.

"On 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.

Sargsyan adds that unlike past years the number of children has increased.

"Years 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 doubts."

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 eyes.

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.

And 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.

 



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September 11, Yerevan. Commemorating the American tragedy, events at Moscow cinema hosted by the US embassy became a solemn tribute due to Armenian citizens -- officials, clergymen, simple people, children, who came to join their voices to the world's choir condemning terrorism.

 

 





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