17 July 2018
The Emili Aregak Center provides personalized support and resources for young people with disabilities in and near Gyumri. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, Gayane Abrahamyan takes readers on a journey to A Source of Light, the Emili Aregak Center in Armenia, which helps children with disabilities. Here, she reflects on some of the political upheaval facing the country during her visit.
This is Gyumri: the second city of Armenia, with still-visible traces of the earthquake 30 years ago — temporary metal huts, homeless people and around 40 percent living in poverty. It is difficult to go there; the stories are mostly sad, with the main cause of problems being the earthquake itself.
This time, however, the atmosphere was different.
I arrived in Gyumri on 6 May, just ahead of elections that would see the people’s candidate, Nicole Pashinyan, become Prime Minister. This was the first and most explicit victory of the people in the 26-year post-Soviet history of the independent Armenia.
It was a hard struggle for the people. In recent days, there had been massive protests, with more than one thousand people detained by police. The country was facing a time of challenge and change.
Against this backdrop, I found myself heading for one of the brightest spots in Gyumri: the Emili Aregak Center, established by Caritas Armenia, with support from CNEWA, to help care for kids with disabilities.
This day, before the coordinators of the center received me, I toured the building. Pashinyan had been to Gyumri a few days earlier, so everyone was talking about the election and the hopes for a revived Armenia. Shortly after I arrived, a boy slowly walked up to me with a scrutinizing look, and as he accompanied me into the room he asked if I have seen Nicole Pashinyan. Without even waiting for my response, he said, ”I attended the demonstration. I saw ... it was raining, I stood there for four hours.” Michael, a young man with Down syndrome, looked into my eyes and cried. I hugged him.
Nearby, 18-year old Edward, one of the ”old timers” of the center, was sitting by the table. He offered me cookies. He has infantile cerebral palsy. He kept on distracting me, making all efforts to talk in a way understandable to me. He said, “You know, his mom helps him a lot, my mom, my dad also help me a lot, but there are kids whose parents have abandoned them and sent to orphanage, because they are sick. It is difficult for them, but we are lucky.”
His enthusiasm is infectious.
At the center, these young people have a sense of hope, a feeling of independence and possibility.
Those are sentiments, I think, shared these days by many in Armenia.
Read more about her visit to Gyumri in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
And watch a video about the center below.