are the main source of warmth..
Edgar, 17, and his 20-year old sister Lala have
fourth-grade educations. Attending school is an
unattainable luxury for them. As is having a heated
apartment. Warmth is a dream.
This family, taking shelter in a shabby room
of a ruined hostel on Atarbekyan street in Etchmiadsin
is a victim of interest money. (In the 1990s,
many people borrowed money to start businesses
that went broke. They covered their debts by selling
their apartments and went to live on the streets.)
Their father died in 1990. After losing everything
(apartment and documents) as a result of unsuccessful
business their mother, Narineh, found shelter
in this hostel where only some miserable families
are living. The whole family stays in bed as blankets
are the only protection against the cold.
In three months Lala, who is recently divorced,
will become a mother. "I don't know whether
I will succeed or not as I've been sick and feeling
cold for a long time," she says, her face
flushed by flu. She is the only breadwinner in
the family. In summers she washes dishes in cafés
(her brother has a crippled leg and the mother
has thrombosis). In winters there is no job and
hunger starts to torture them, and only one thought
occupies them: how to get bread not to die of
This is not the only family in Echmiadsin with
children who haven't attended school and where
overcoming hunger becomes the family obsession.
(According to the National Statistical Service
of Armenia, 77,332 children didn't attend school
last year - 13 percent of the school age population.)
Chief director of the Joint Educational Administration
of the Municipality Susanna Harutyunyan found
120 children in the town who don't attend school.
This figure is much more than presented by official
information. According to Educational Department
of Armavir Region, only 30 children don't attend
school in the entire region. Echmiadsin is only
one of the region's communities.
took it on herself to help.
Kindergartners are under the authority of the
administration of the Municipality Department.
Schools are not within the department's competence
as they are under the authority of the Region's
Head Office. However, on her own initiative Harutyunyan
began delving into the issues of children who
don't attend school.
"In summer two boys from Petrozavodsk orphanage
stayed in our home," she says. "When
we were drinking tea one of them asked, 'May I
pour one more spoon of sugar into tea?' I was
surprised at what he asked. These boys became
the reason I began paying attention to poor children.
Vagrant children gather near the church. I started
to collect information about them and as a result
it became clear that none of them attend school."
Last July Harutyunyan made an announcement on
television that all parents whose children don't
attend school can visit her department. Parents
of 120 children showed up, but the department
managed to help only 18 of them to begin attending
school. Probably there are more such children,
whose parents either haven't heard the statement
made on TV or simply haven't visited the Municipality.
"Just because children haven't got shoes
to wear they don't attend school. Poor children
are also teased in schools. When a child didn't
attend school during Soviet times that information
was reported to a minister," says Harutyunyan,
who had worked in school as a teacher of history
for 20 years. She received higher education in
Moscow and says that if she were young these days
then she wouldn't be able to receive an education,
as she grew up in a poor family.
It is also the case for 13-year old Serzh Gharslyan.
He hadn't attended school for two years because
he didn't have proper clothes. He had no shoes,
and his trousers turned into rags.
family of three exists on Lala's seasonal
"I was ashamed to go to school and meet
with children in these trousers. I couldn't wear
my shoes because they were torn."
His father hasn't visited him for two years and
before that was in prison. His mother, Burastan,
has no job. Grandmother Yelena heard that the
municipality is interested in children who don't
attend school and applied to that department.
Harutyunyan gave them 6000 drams (about $10.60)
so that they could buy clothes for the child and
send him to school. In autumn Serozh attended
school for children with mental deficiency (he
is not mentally disabled), however, he says that
children began teasing him for the short skirt
his mother was wearing and again he is ashamed
to go to school, "I will attend another school
as there they tease me."
Since midday the family hasn't eaten anything.
On the previous day they ate only boiled cabbage.
"Now I've borrowed bread so that my child
waasn't hungry. It's true, the municipality helped
us, they gave us money so that we could buy clothes,
but again he lagged behind in education. This
child has never had a full belly. He is hungry
the whole day. I don't know what to do. I can't
even think about school," says Elena, who
with the help of the municipality was hired to
work as an office cleaner. She has been working
there for 15 days but she hasn't gotten paid yet.
Susanna Harutyunyan says that it is not possible
to solve the problem of children's education only
on your own initiative. It requires coordinated
work, which can be conducted only by some non-governmental
organization. She applied to numerous organizations,
however, nobody was interested in these children.
Only once the World Vision organization helped
with clothes and Armavir Diocese of the Armenian
Apostolic Church helped several children to start
"The problem cannot be solved by sending
one child to school with the help of an acquaintance,"
says Harutyunyan. "It's a shame that nobody
in the spiritual center is interested in these
children. The Church is also indifferent. And
if you want to realize a public program for children,
who don't attend schools, then you have to have
acquaintances in that sphere. In this country
even charity is made through good connections."