After the devastating earthquake in Armenia in December 1988, SOS Children's Villages decided to offer immediate aid to the children who had lost their parents. Following on from the emergency relief activities, the organisation then started offering long-term support to the families and children in the region.
One in five children living in poverty
Boys playing in the kindergarten (photo: K. Ilievska)
SOS Children's Villages first started working in Armenia in Kotayk, just outside the area which had been destroyed by the Spitak earthquake. Kotayk is situated about fifteen kilometres north of Yerevan, the Armenian capital.
According to government statistics, around 24 per cent of Armenian families are poor, meaning they live on 2.7 US dollars or less a day. Although life in Yerevan is better than in rural areas or in other cities in the country, 21 per cent of children live in poverty, and three per cent are extremely poor (surviving on 1.8 US dollars or less a day). These children suffer from malnutrition and are not able to develop intellectually. Children who are most at risk of living in poverty include: younger children, those from larger families (more than two children), those with disabilities, and those living in a household with a female head.
The unemployment rate in the area remains high and, in addition, many people are underemployed or underpaid. Many families survive thanks to aid or remittances sent from family members living abroad.
Providing support for those who need it
The Spitak earthquake had a devastating effect on the lives of many people in the area. The local authorities acknowledged the urgent needs of families and children; and recognising that SOS Children's Villages was the appropriate organisation to meet these needs, the authorities donated land so that we could start working in the area. The provision of support to families, the training of local educational staff, the qualified care of small children during the day, the provision of a loving home to children who have lost parental care and the tailored support to young people embarking on an independent life, have formed the core of our organisation's work in the community.
What we do in Kotayk
Two children from our family strengthening programme (photo: M. M. Morosini)
SOS Children's Villages aims to strengthen local families by offering access to essential education, nutritional and health services. We offer support to families who are at risk of abandoning their children, and enable children to grow up within a caring family environment. Together with local authorities and other agencies, SOS Children's Villages supports families and helps them to take good care of their children.
Provision of day care for young children was lacking in the area and so the SOS Kindergarten, which is able to care for up to 100 children, was opened. The children are offered music, painting and language courses. In order to assist poor families, it was decided that only a symbolic kindergarten fee would be charged.
Children whose families can no longer take care of them can find a loving home in one of the twelve SOS families. In the spring of 1998, an Armenian artist decorated some of the family houses with the children; many walls now have colourful paintings on them. The children from the SOS families attend nearby schools or the SOS Kindergarten together with local children, which helps them become part of the community.
Additionally, in 2001 an SOS Youth Programme was set up in the city of Yerevan. The young people, attending vocational training or further education, are guided by professionals and prepared for an independent life. They are looked after until they feel able to live on their own.