Life Outside Orphanage - Children with Disabilities Learning to Live Independently

Reunified families, improved livelihoods, improved life skills and greater economic opportunities among graduates of Marie Izmirlian Orphanage

  • December 15, 2022
  • Mediamax
  • 8 photo(s)

About 90% of children residing in orphanages or other care institutions in Armenia have at least one parent. These children have ended up in institutions because of disability, poverty, or other reasons that made it difficult for the families to take care of them.

Children with disabilities are often perceived as a burden by their parents and as a result become deprived of family warmth. To address this issue, the Izmirlian Foundation, together with Bari Mama NGO and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs implemented a project aimed at supporting the graduates of Mari Izmirlian Orphanage.

The goal of the project was to improve the life skills of the disabled children of the orphanage enabling them to live a full life outside the orphanage.

Living on their own

The project on “Supporting the graduates of Mari Izmirlian Orphanage” lasted approximately a year, starting from May last year.

“The project beneficiaries are not only the youth who have already graduated from the orphanage, but also those who still live there, even though they have reached adulthood. With the financial support of the Izmirlian Foundation, two rooms and a kitchen on the second floor of Bari Tnak were built and furnished to allow the beneficiaries of the project to have an independent life for a certain period of time, applying the skills we taught them,” explains Marina Adulyan, the founder of Bari Mama NGO.

The orphanage graduates participating in the project are in the 16-26 age group. Among them are youth with cerebral palsy, developmental delay, down's syndrome, and other disabilities.

Working with parents

“In the beginning, when these children first moved to the so called “transitional house”, the families continued perceiving them as a burden, a cross to bear until the end of their lives. After the project, the parents look at their children through completely different lenses, having realized that they are capable of being independent.

According to Nina Petrosyan, the psychologist of Bari Mama NGO, working with parents was quite challenging, because they had to deal with rigid and inaccurate conceptions formed over the years.

“First and foremost, it is important that parents are aware of and accept their child's health issues. If they do, further work becomes easier. We keep in touch with the children, and they acknowledge that there is a positive progress in their relationship with their parents. This is the best reward for the work we do,” elaborates Nina Petrosyan.

Emphasizing strengths

According to the psychologist, the most challenging task in working with children with disabilities is overcoming insecurities. These insecurities come from the awareness of their problem and lack of love and attention.

“The difficulties start at the very moment the parents leave their children in the orphanage. Even if they keep in touch with the child, it is not the same interaction the child would get in a family setting.  This lack of family warmth and care is what causes their insecurities.

In order to overcome these insecurities, we discovered their strengths to showcase that even though they are different, they can be useful first to themselves and then to others. This helped them gain the confidence to self-express in social settings,” adds Nina Petrosyan.

New skills and professional orientation

At the start of the project, a needs assessment was carried out to identify the needs of each child.

“In terms of knowledge and skills, the children's levels were vastly different. There were those who were not literate, we had to start from scratch with them, while those who already knew how to read and write started learning more complicated subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Geography, etc. We also tried to help the children with professional orientation. To do this, they learned various vocational skills in a period of two months, such as cooking, carpet weaving and rug making, crocheting, pattern cutting and sewing – to help them gain the necessary skills for an occupation close to their heart. In addition, they were taught such basic and essential life skills as calling a taxi, shopping in a store, etc.,” explains Lilit Shirinyan, special educator and social worker at Bari Mama NGO.

Lilit adds that the beneficiaries also received psychological support and social assistance, worked with a speech therapist and a physiotherapist, and were provided with essential household items.

One of the project beneficiaries, Satenik, who has cerebral palsy, excitedly shares about the new skills she has acquired.

“While living in Bari Tnak, in a kind and caring environment, I have learned sewing, crocheting, carpet weaving, and cooking. Due to the acquired skills, I can earn my living now. I also learned how to be self-sufficient and independent. These are skills that I currently apply in everyday life. I would like to thank Bari Tnak for the effective project.”

Love gives strength

“The interactions with the beneficiaries revealed that before the project, they felt they were unwanted at home. It was clear that the children lacked attention. During group activities, they were jealous of each other. When you would work with one of the children a little longer, the others would start asking questions to get your attention too.  Lack of love and affection was obvious with each of them. Nevertheless, they were very excited with every achievement on the way, which along with their warm attitude gave us the strength to persevere with our efforts,” says Lilit Shirinyan.

Regrettably, some of the children that could not return home due to various reasons ended up back in the orphanage. Their housing issue to be resolved by the government is still underway. Those who returned home to their families have already started working.

“We facilitated their job placement in the communities they live. One of the boys works in construction, one of the girls makes souvenirs, another one makes accessories at home and sells online. We also help them with the sales, through our own communication channels” says Marina Adulyan.

According to Marina Adulyan, this pilot project was a tremendous experience for Bari Mama as well. She is hopeful that it will be an ongoing project.

“The Izmirlian Foundation not only supported the project financially, but was by our side at all stages. We had day to day communication and coordination of activities, and any problem was solved with joint efforts. Over the course of the project, we ourselves were sometimes amazed at how mature these children were, with their own way of thinking and their potential. We learned a lot from them too. I am certain that the experience we have gained will guide us in the future in changing the lives of other children as well,” concluded Bari Mama's founder.