Every child deserves a chance. You won’t find this mantra inscribed anywhere at the Gyumri Orphanage for Physically and Mentally Disabled Children – but it’s the principle that drives the people who work there. Mentally challenged or physically disabled, the children come from families who do not have the resources to take care of them so they are sent to stay here.
Despite the impressive work being done there, the orphanage was in bad shape: most of the rooms, including the kitchen, were rundown, the flooring was damaged, and outdated and unsuitable pipe, drainage, and sewage systems.
Once learning about the orphanage, the work they did, and the needs they had, Armenia Fund swiftly got to work.
The Gyumri Orphanage for Physically and Mentally Disabled Children is the only school of its kind in all of Armenia and it has been operating as an orphanage for disabled children in the northwestern city of Gyumri since the 1970s. Between the ages of 1 and 6, this is the only place in the country where children with these special needs can go.
Although Gyumri suffered a massive earthquake in 1988 that destroyed or severely affected much of the city’s infrastructure, the school’s importance is undeniable and it has been kept open. In fact, the staff has led by example: while the buildings were so badly damaged during the earthquake that they had to be abandoned because they were unsafe, the staff remained and continued working in tents set up in the facility’s yard.
The orphanage is not passive about attending to the children: trained specialists work with the mentally challenged children to improve their motor skills and thinking abilities. They also maintain a relationship with the hospital in Gyumri and physically deformed children are sent there for plastic surgery and other procedures that might help them lead more comfortable lives.
With 121 children and 74 doctors, nurses, and support staff, there is one professional to every 1.6 children, ensuring that each child gets the attention they need.
So devoted are the staff that because of their efforts, every year there are a handful of children who are reunited with their families because of the marked improvements they register while being at the Gyumri Orphanage.
But for many years, the staff was doing their great work helping these children in destitute conditions. Not just a typical school, the facility includes therapy rooms, dormitories, medical rooms, classrooms, a pharmacy, special education rooms, and a kitchen, among others.
Given its specialized nature and the significant expenses required made it impossible for the Home itself to perform the much-needed renovations to continue operating in a relatively normal conditions. Armenia Fund, seeing that the improvements were needed, spared no effort in implementing renovations and upgrades according to its renowned standards.
Several spaces within the buildings that comprise the facility were renovated, including the kitchen. The water supply and sewage lines were upgraded, as were the ventilation and electrical systems. The floors were completely changed and an internal communication network was installed to help staff be more accessible. The exteriors of the building, as well as the premises, were also renovated.
Perhaps the most welcome improvement for the children, though, was that the inside of the buildings were cheerily decorated, the place where they spend almost all of their time turned into a bright environment that complements their teachers’ smiles.
Continuing to improve the orphanage’s capabilities, Armenia Fund will begin constructing a facility in May 2014 where crucial therapy will be administered. The new building will include a specially equipped swimming pool and other areas where specialists will work with the youngsters to further develop their motor skills.
There is a special relationship between the children and their teachers, nurses, and doctors. These professionals dedicate their lives to helping the children who come to the Gyumri Orphanage because they think they deserve a chance at a better life. Armenia Fund agrees. And with the help of Armenians worldwide, the chance for those children is a little bit higher.
This piece was written for Armenia Fund and was originally published here on May 22, 2014.