By Florence Avakian
YEREVAN — They are 3- and 4-year-olds who excitedly run over to a new visitor with ear-to-ear smiles at the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) Children’s Center. Their cherubic faces are aglow with the happiness that only children of this age can express unabashedly.
But their joyous greeting belies a darker history of the 38 children at the center — ages 3 to 18 — of possible abuse, abandonment, homelessness, sexual trafficking or simply parents so poor they cannot afford to raise them. Though the number of children at this center is very small, it nonetheless exposes a condition that is on the rise due to the severe economic conditions in Armenia.
It was during my recent trip to Armenia that I had the privilege of visiting this amazing institution, which is supported by the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). The buildings are nestled among trees, playgrounds and fragrant flowerbeds planted and cared for by the children. There is even a sandbox for the more aggressive youngsters to relieve their frustrations and anxieties.
The younger children live in one building and the teenagers are housed in a second one, both kept in immaculate condition. During my walk-through, a class was taking place with an instructor questioning the older ones about Armenian history. In another room, a therapist was counseling a weeping child. And in a nearby bedroom, two teenagers were quietly discussing personal issues. In the two art rooms, the drawing, painting and sculpting talents of these youngsters were proudly displayed.
The usual stay for a child at the center is 30 to 40 days, after which some return to their biological families (65 percent), go into foster care (with funds from FAR and UNICEF) or stay with relatives. The last option is either an orphanage, night care or special educational schools. More than 400 youngsters go through this center, and find a better life every year.