Society 13:00 03/06/2011

One Day in the Gyumri “Children's Home” Orphanage

The Children's Home is a well-known orphanage throughout the Republic, established in 1924 in Gyumri. The orphanage serves children ages 0-6 years old, who suffer from severe health and development problems. Although, the RA Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Issues, Mr. Filaret Berikyan, assured that we could visit any orphanage without any difficulty or obstacles, the orphanage deputy director Artur Movsisyan, at first, refused to allow us to enter the orphanage and especially to meet with the children. He, only after seeing the member of the National Assembly and member of the Heritage party, Anahit Bakhshyan, gave the permission to enter the orphanage. We should note that unfortunately, the director of the orphanage, Ruzanna Avagyan was in Yerevan. As a result, we have written this article based solely upon what we have personally seen or was partially presented by the nurses and caregivers. The deputy director, A. Movsisyan, would reply to every question related to documentation, information on the children, and even regarding the number of children who had died in 2010, with “I have been here (only) since September. I do not know”.

The orphanage serves 128 children, 69 boys and 59 girls, who are divided by age groups and placed in different sections. Grouping children according to their age alone, is perhaps wrong, because, we noticed for instance, a child who suffers only from a speech disorder, spends the whole day in a room with children suffering from Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy. The same situation also applies to a girl with a physical disability, who is stuck in a wheelchair, yet has no other concerns, spends her whole time with children with severe developmental problems. Behind these walls, a number of children also suffer from Microcephaly, heart diseases, blindness, deafness, central nerves system disorders, etc. In a nutshell, it is an indescribable and heartbreaking scene.

While visiting the first section, we were astonished by the fact that they weighed the children like a cat; hanging them on the scale from their clothes. Later on, we learned, that there was special equipment for weighing the children, called a “parachute”. However, we only found out about this when the workers noticed we were going to take pictures.

That section, which was located in the building renovated back in the 1990s, had a strong odor. They justified the strong smell, with the excuse that it was time for changing children’s diapers. However, none of the children were being fitted with diapers, since they stated “If we have diapers, we’ll use them, if not, we won’t”. In the other sections, the absence of diapers was explained by the fact that each child “wears” 4-5 diapers per day, but it is not enough. It is worth mentioning that we visited the orphanage at 10:00 a.m., in other words, when the day had just started.

In fact, they informed us, they mainly receive diapers from benefactors, and the last time they did was through Sister Arousyak's donation from Rome. Annually, the government allocates approximately 2,700,000 AMD for each child, which mainly covers nutrition and medication expenses. However, we did not find out the exact amount allocated by the government in 2010, as the deputy director was not aware of this fact as well.

It is worth mentioning, according to UNICEF’s recently presented research, in 2009 the Children’s Home orphanage received an allocation of U.S. $ 7,600 for each child. However, only 14% is allocated the children’s nutrition and care, while 68% is allocated for salaries, and 18% is being spent for communal (utilities) expenses and building maintenance. We should stress that, the orphanage not only receives annually remarkable financial aid, but also various furnishings and other items from the Diaspora.

According to the children’s daily schedule which was posted on the wall, from 10:00-11:30 a.m., was the time for teaching of the curriculum. However, during that period of time, we only saw junior medical staff members in this section and later on we saw few educators in the other sections; according to the registered staff list, the number of junior medical staff consists of 41 members and 11 educators. Besides the above mentioned staff members, according to the registered staff list, two speech therapists, one social worker, and only two psychologists work with the children. Hence, the deputy director justifiably stated, that they are in great need of specialized professionals, specifically during the night shifts.

Moreover, as we mentioned earlier, the old building of the orphanage is in need of renovation, especially the quarantine section, where the children lay on hard floor mats, or no less hard, uncomfortable chairs for the entire day, while the walls smell foul and are about to fall apart, and here again, the children did not have diapers. And if we do not consider the above mentioned two sections, it is important to note that the entire orphanage was clean; not only the rooms, corridors and beds, but also the children and their clothes. The laundry room is located outside the orphanage and the children’s underwear is daily washed.

However, as A. Bakhshyan emphasized, these types of issues are not as important to the children, as the staff’s interest and care for them. Almost in every section we visited, we were told about the children’s problems. Mrs. A. Bakhshyan was interested to know whether the children attend kindergarten or not. The question, however, would remain and the staff would answer, that the children are “defective”, which consequently greatly aggravated the National Assembly member, and after witnessing her strong reaction, the staff remained silent, after all, what could the staff say when the only one who could answer was the absent director?

Besides all this, we noticed that, one of the blind orphans, who was already seven years old, but had not been transferred to another orphanage at the age of six, was not receiving education. Samvel was singing and reciting in such a way during rehearsal for the Children’s Protection Day, that made us realize, that he could have a normal future outside the orphanage, only if he was given that chance and was not bound to live in the same room like the others, where the “Downies” are cared for, as the doctors of the orphanage themselves said. We also met with shy Elona, who in comparison with the rest, is completely healthy, and even though her parents are aware of this fact, have only taken her home for one day and returned her back to the orphanage, because her appearance did not satisfy the parents. There are even some parents, who do not show up even when they are informed about the death of their child, and some, who only call once or twice a year, consequently, the number of parents visiting the orphanage is declining.

After hearing Samvel’s confident voice singing “Our childhood sun is shining”, we heard another orphan’s voice in the hall, who is blind and suffers from heart disease and a number of nearly incurable illnesses, reciting, “How nice you are my lovely childhood”. From the windows of the room we could see the newly constructed beautiful and colorful playground; however who was it for? What is the point of having it? …When only a few of these children are able to stand on their own two feet, and even then only when the caregiver is ready to extend a helping hand.

Source: 13:35 31/05/2011

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