Following the devastating 1988 Spitak earthquake which killed around 25,000 people and made half a million homeless in Armenia, SOS Children's Villages decided to offer immediate aid to the children who had lost their parents. A short while later, the organisation started working on a permanent basis in Kotayk, just outside the area that had been destroyed. Since then, SOS Children's Villages has continued to support children, young people and families, and it is now present in three locations.
At the crossroads of Europe and Asia
Children in our care grow up together in loving homes (photo: K. Ilievska).
The Republic of Armenia is a mountainous country bordered by western Asia, between the Black and the Caspian seas. It borders with Iran to the south-east, Azerbaijan to the east, Turkey to the south-west and west, and Georgia to the north. Around three million people live in Armenia, with the capital city of Yerevan being home to about one million inhabitants.
Armenia became an officially recognised independent nation in 1991. The years that followed independence from the Soviet Union were difficult: Armenia faced economic instability and took part in violent confrontations between the Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan. A ceasefire was reached in 1994 but by that time around 30,000 people had been killed and one million displaced.
A society with a sharp rural-urban divide
Armenia’s complex diplomatic relations with its neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan had a negative impact on the country’s economic development, and therefore on the lives of ordinary Armenians. Reports from international organisations state that 35 per cent of the population lives in poverty. The unemployment rate stands at 17 per cent.
Prior to 1991 Armenia’s economy was primarily industry-based. After independence, the agricultural share of the economy increased. The service industry has also become increasingly important: around 17 per cent of the population works in this sector.
People in rural areas are disadvantaged due to poor infrastructure and the lack of employment opportunities. Improved water and sanitation is not always available in rural areas and the quality of health care remains poor. Children living in rural areas are more likely to die under the age of five, than those in urban areas. As a result of migration to urban areas or abroad, some areas are facing depopulation.
The population of Armenia declined after 1990 due to the emigration of people in search of a higher standard of living. Cash remittances sent back home from Armenians working abroad have always been an important part of Armenia’s gross domestic product.
A need to invest in children's future
Thanks to the support of SOS Children's Villages, this little girl was able to live with her birth mother again (photo: K. Ilievska).
Family life has changed due to the recent social, economic and political changes. Many parents, especially fathers, have emigrated in search of employment: the typical Armenian migrant worker is a married man between the ages of 41 and 50. The women who stay behind find it harder to find employment and earn less than their male counterparts. This, in turn affects the lives of the children in their care. An estimated four per cent of children under the age of 14 go out to work in order to make extra money.
Although the situation has improved in recent years, health and education services continue to be under-funded. The government has made the improvement of education a priority. Regarding health: some mothers and children, particularly in rural areas, have difficulties accessing high quality health care.
In spite of recent initiatives, families are often not given the support they need to be able to stay together. As a result, the majority of children who are taken into care are the so-called “social orphans” who have one or two parents still alive. They are mostly taken into institutions due to poverty, or issues related to it. Many continue to be placed in orphanages, some of which have existed since the Soviet era. Children growing up in these settings are often stigmatized and their future development is therefore limited. Alternative care settings are particularly limited for disabled children.
SOS Children's Villages in Armenia
The first SOS Children's Village was opened in Kotayk in 1990. In 1995, the SOS Kindergarten opened its doors and local children could be cared for by qualified staff. In 2006, SOS Children’s Villages started running family-strengthening programmes. These programmes work directly with families, communities, local authorities and other service providers to empower families to effectively care for their children. Thus, SOS Children's Villages ensures that children can grow up within their own families. Children whose parents cannot take care of them will find a loving home in one of the SOS families.
In 2014, we started an emergency programme to support the Syrian-Armenian refugees arriving in Yerevan. We assisted 300 children from 150 families with housing and health, educational and economic support.