It all started with a dream

Improved quality of life among children with disabilities, enhanced economic opportunities for social enterprises and for beneficiary families

  • February 25, 2022
  • Mediamax
  • 9 photo(s)

It all started with a dream

The Source Foundation was founded by two mothers of children with disabilities, Marina Parazyan and Lilia Karapetyan, in Yerevan in 2013. In a short while, it became a community of parents of children with disabilities, where parents join efforts to meet the children’s health and rehabilitation needs. The foundation is a daycare center in Yerevan for children with disabilities, which also carries out projects aimed at promoting the children's health, physical and mental development and improving the quality of life for their families. The Izmirlian Foundation supports and contributes to the implementation of the foundation’s projects. Mediamax spoke with the director of the Source Foundation, Marina Parazyan.

Everything changed in Marina Parazyan's life eleven years ago, when she unexpectedly discovered that her child had a severe disability. The life of a child that was absolutely health until the age of two turned into an endless chain of medical examinations, treatment, and rehabilitation.

"When I first traveled to Europe to find out more about the syndrome my child had been diagnosed with, I went to visit rehabilitation centers. The rooms were colorful, with various amenities and equipment of all kinds and shapes. I kept looking around longing for the day when we would have similar centers in Armenia. That dream seemed so far-fetched and unattainable. These centers had the most essential things for rehabilitation therapy and care, which were provided by the government. They were simple and colorful, but also expensive. For instance, the price of a cushion started at 200 Euros.

While there are certainly publicly financed rehabilitation centers in Armenia, only the parents of children in need of special care know how they provide their services, and how cold and unappealing the rooms in these centers are. As a result, every parent spends a fortune trying to take care of their child at home to provide the colorful environment the child needs to the best of their means," says Marina.

A designer and an engineer, Marina talked about her dream all the time. In 2013, while establishing the Source Foundation, she simultaneously launched the Source House development and daycare center. Four years ago, she decided to go even further and produce the assistive devices and equipment the center needed.

Marina turned one of the rooms in the rented house where the center was located into a workshop, offering the mothers of the children attending the daycare center an opportunity to learn sewing right at the center and start working afterwards. A number of donor organizations assisted in acquiring the sewing machines.

“We purchased industrial sewing machines and started our special project, which we called “Special Parents for Special Children”.

The workshop developed into a social project: soft furniture is sewn by parents of children with special needs that visit the daycare center. While the children are in the Source House, the mothers work in the next room. Currently, there are seven mothers working part-time or full-time.

Over the past four to five years, besides the Source Foundation’s rehabilitation center, they have produced soft furniture for 23 other centers, selling it or providing it under a grant project.

“In 2019, I participated in the Izmirlian Foundation–Impact Hub Yerevan fellowship program, which became the reason for my fateful meeting with the Izmirlian Foundation.”

The fateful meeting

Marina says that in addition to the sewing workshop, the foundation had, in the meantime, set up a woodworking workshop as well.

The fathers of children in need of special care worked there, making furniture, despite the fact that the machines were old and malfunctioning due to which the work was slow.

“Shortly after our meeting, the Izmirlian Foundation decided to support our initiative, which was aimed at improving the quality of life for children with disabilities, while expanding the economic opportunities of the beneficiary families and ensuring the financial sustainability of the social enterprise. During the most difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the borders were closed, the Izmirlian Foundation had two woodworking machines shipped to Armenia at their own expense and donated them to our workshop. They are amazing, state-of-the-art pieces of machinery.”

“Along with providing the woodworking machinery, The Izmirlian Foundation approached Source Foundation with the request to carry out a needs assessment on the adaptive equipment and devices required in Marie Izmirlian Orphanage, since the Foundation continuously supports the orphanage. . . Today, 102 children of the orphanage benefit from the new group room furnished with 35 types of new adaptive equipment and devices.

The above mentioned works implemented for the Marie Izmirlian orphanage, enabled the project “Special Parents for Special Children”  to continue its operation during the difficult period of the pandemic.

At the moment, the woodworking workshop has four employees, three of which are fathers of children with disabilities, and the fourth employee is one of the children’s brother.”

In the workshop

Hakob Petrosyan, a woodworker at the woodworking workshop, has three children. The youngest one was born a few days ago. One of the children has a disability and is a beneficiary of the daycare center.

Hakob comes to the workshop in the second half of the day. This is his second job and an additional, stable source of income. He says that apart from the financial aspect, this job solves a more important issue by making him feel useful.

“The furniture we make here is both for healthy children and children with special needs.” The mere fact that I’m doing something good and significant for children with disabilities already inspires me,” says Hakob.

Talking about old woodworking machines, he says that in the past, to make one complete piece of furniture, he had to go to several workshops to cut the wood in one place, smooth out the corners in another and do another task in the third. The new equipment has made the job much easier, saving the woodworkers the hustle of running around.

“You cannot imagine how much easier our job has become. We don’t run from one place to another anymore. Now we do everything in one place, very quickly and efficiently. You wouldn’t be able to find the likes of these machines in Armenia. Those are super-professional. To my surprise, it was not at all difficult to work with them. We have already got the hang of it, and we get the job done very quickly.”

The money is revolving

All the profits from the sales of the furniture produced in the workshop are directed to making more adaptive furniture and equipment for children. The Source Foundation has a development, rehabilitation, and daycare center in Yerevan, where 200 children with disabilities receive the social and health services they need every day.

“Centers or rooms like this need to offer a play environment that will appeal to children. The Izmirlian Foundation is doing a wonderful job in this regard, moving forward step by step. We are jointly implementing a project aimed at setting up an art room in Marie Izmirlian Orphanage: the equipment for the pottery room will be handed over soon, and when it is done, we will start furnishing the rooms for rehabilitation therapy and care. The Izmirlian Foundation is also our customer, they strive to make synergies between their different projects” Marina explains.

The jobs created due to the sewing and woodworking machines have changed the lives of the parents of children in need of special care. Apart from the additional income and employment, the small house has become an area where the parents realize that they are not alone.

“Here we discuss the problems and find solutions together. Here the parents get both training and a job with a flexible schedule and a decent pay. This is very important. Children with physical, mental and behavioral problems require a special environment that needs to meet international standards.

The soft furniture we make might be exported to France, Germany, and Russia soon since there is high demand.”

The Izmirlian Foundation has been implementing numerous charitable and development projects in education, healthcare, social, innovation and tourism sectors in Armenia and Artsakh since 1990 with the aim of supporting the socio-economic development of Armenia and Artsakh. The Izmirlian Foundation remains committed to continuing to implement varied philanthropic projects moving forward in line with Armenia’s ongoing challenges and developments.