The hope in the eyes of children gives us the strength to do more

Two new alternative preschools open their doors for the little residents of remote corners of Lori

Christine Weigand
Children in a kindergarten posing for camera
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
21 July 2022

It was my second time in Lori region, and considering the sunny summer weather, the abundance of greenery in the valleys, and the anticipation of children's smiles, I knew it wasn’t going to be just an ordinary day.

I knew well that we were doing something important and extraordinary for children and, as a member of UNICEF family, I was proud of it…

Antaramut village. Drone photo.
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Hieroglyph Studio

UNICEF, with the support of the European Union, established two new preschools in Antaramut and Geghasar, and we were on the road to launch them.

Separated by almost 60 kilometers, the two villages are not only united by the unworldly beauty of Lori’s nature, but also by the fact that there were no kindergartens there, even during the years of the Soviet Union.  The population in these two villages has never been particularly large, and resources are scarce too. It was simply never feasible to establish a traditional kind of a kindergarten here.

The road led my colleagues and me to Antaramut, a village rooted on the mountainside. Here there are only eight families with children of preschool age. However, the village is also home to a number of young families who are expecting their first child.

This preschool is based on UNICEF’s alternative model - tried and tested to provide necessary early childhood education to children across small communities and eventually adopted by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports and reflected in the 2021 Law on Preschool Education, for what we could not be more happy and proud of!

It's no secret that during the first years of life, a child's brain is twice as active as an adult's, forming more than a million new connections between nerve cells every second. At UNICEF, we believe this is a “unique window of opportunity” to shape the structure of the brain. That is the reason why we do not spare an effort to ensure the best for children in the early years of their life.

The opening of the preschool was a celebration for the young and the old of Antaramut. For the first time, the youngest residents of the village had the opportunity to get preschool education in a bright and colorful environment, which will surely contribute to their academic progress and enable them to have more opportunities later in their life.

Children posing for the camera at the opening of alternative kindergarten
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
Children of Antaramut settlement of Lori marz at the opening of alternative preschool.

It had only been a few days since Monte, Arpi, Ani, Misha, Arayik, Davit, Menoua, and Artak were attending their new preschool, and they had already learned short poems that they proudly recited for us at the opening ceremony. And while they stood in a row, both shy and excited, they too seemed to understand the importance of the day.

Mother holding her 3-year old on the way to preschool
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
UNICEF Representative handshaking with parent
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan

In Antaramut I met with Sona, a mother of three. Her eldest son, Narek, was already seven and will soon start second grade at school. Unfortunately, he did not have the opportunity to attend kindergarten when their family moved to Antaramut from the neighboring village of Vahagni. Today, the same cannot be said about his sister Arpi, 5, who captured our hearts. She was sporting a new haircut for the occasion and was running around in excitement.

“I'm so happy that Arpi will learn interesting things every day that will help her not feel disoriented when she starts first grade,” told me Sona. She explained that her daughter wouldn’t leave her side until very recently. “I couldn't even dream about something for her age to do in the village. As other parents, I can now be confident that our children are in safe hands and have something productive to do. We appreciate the support. It also gives me confidence knowing that my Suren, who will soon be one, will also get to benefit from early learning and have a nice place to play with other children.”

Children playing on the climbing wall in an open playground
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
Arpi 5 and her brother Narek, 7 joyfully playing at the newly established playground in Antaramut settlement of Lori marz.

In Antaramut, we were also able to establish a playground right next to the preschool. The screams of joy could be heard from every corner outside, from the brand-new slides to the swings. I watched how excited Arpi was, reaching out to help his brother Narek on the climbing wall. Though children's enthusiasm filled my heart with delight, it was difficult for me to learn that for many of them, this was the first time they had been on a slide or played on a climbing wall.

Adults engaging with children in the playground of Antaramut settlement of Lori marz
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
UNICEF Representative Christine Weigand and EU Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin engaging joyfully with children and parents in the playground established by UNICEF with the financial support of the European Union.
A woman playing with a 3-year old boy in the preschool
UNICEF Armenia/2022/Margaryan
Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports Zhanna Andreasyan playing with a boy during the opening of preschool.

Without doubt this is the result of a joint effort. UNICEF was able to do this thanks to commitment and cooperation from the European Union, the RA Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure, and a number of regional authorities and local NGOs. By the end of the year, we will reach children in 25 other small communities, also with the support of the Argentine-Armenian community.

We left Antaramut with our hearts full. The bumpy road that had seemed so long and difficult on the way to the village, no longer seemed so rough. The start of something new can be full of many hurdles, but when the difficulties are overcome and the result is so positive, the desire to do more multiplies, and the resources to do so are found.

And the children of Geghasar were waiting for us…but that’s another story!