Jiliza-Jizella: when “for every child” is not just a slogan but a reality!
Early childhood education has become a reality for every child in Jiliza.
It was 25 years ago when I was last in Jiliza. With an overjoyed heart, I was looking forward to revisiting the cozy village I loved so much. Since childhood I have been accustomed to hearing people say this village is located "at the end of the world.". On one hand, it is truly a remote village as it shares the border with Georgia; and, on the other hand, the perception of distance is created due to the location of this small village and a seemingly endless road one must travel long to reach it. A road that passes through steep mountains, edges of abysses, and deep sorrow felt while driving through extremely poor villages.A road that at some points could hardly be called a road.
But thoughts of seeing the children enjoying the sunny weather and their new kindergarten, spending some time with them, and combining “the useful with the pleasant” was worth the effort it took to travel there.
The traditional spontaneous "hello" pronounced loudly by six little Jiliza children, namely Khachik, Alvard, Anahit, Narek, Mher and Elina, sounded so inspiring that one could definitely feel they enjoyed the new experience of being a kindergarten student. And, of course, there was comrade Sirarpi who was responsible for the daily care of children in the kindergarten (comrade Anush was ill, but it served us well to meet comrade Sirarpi).
“Mom, give me my tie! I will go to kindergarten looking like the Prime Minister", the four-year-old Narek had ordered his mom the night before.
“We were so excited!” said Narek's 33-year-old mother Christine, who worked as director of the school with only 19 students that operated in the same building. "We could not even imagine that the children of our village would ever have the opportunity to attend a kindergarten".
The colorful center was established and furnished by joint efforts of UNICEF, the community, and the parents; and currently occupies one room of the only administrative building in the village. The center has truly become a source of hope for the young parents of this small village with about a hundred inhabitants.
This is a UNICEF-developed alternative kindergarten model, designed for rural areas with a small population. It builds upon studies on the importance of the frequency of a child attending a center in terms of years, rather than the duration in terms of the number of hours. In addition, this approach is more cost-effective in terms of space, time, human and financial resources; especially in remote and sparsely populated communities. Moreover, these centers are attached to the main kindergartens, resulting in reduction of maintenance and administrative costs.
“Children have changed so much during these two weeks!” the mother of six-year-old Khachik and four-year-old Alvard added. “They have become more disciplined; they sleep on time so that they would not be late for kindergarten the next day”. Khachik said before going to bed: "Mom, we should wake up early and hurry up to the kindergarten so that we arrive earlier than comrade Anush".
Children between the ages of 3-6 already know what they are going to become. They are the future policemen, teachers, and doctors.
Everything inspired hope, spread light and reminded me of a fairy tale. Yes, a fairy tale where there are good and evil forces. Once upon a time, the invisible monster Coronavirus appeared as an evil and disturbed the lives of children in this small village; which you can hardly find on the world map. It obscured the long-awaited joy and deprived the children of preschool education for months. Of course, children’s routine was not so inspiring in these seemingly endless days; as it was mainly spent in front of screens, but the hope did not fade away in their little hearts. They knew that the good always triumphs over evil in fairy tales; and they waited with great patience.
“It was sad that I could not attend the kindergarten. I really missed it. And I missed Emily most of all. Here I find myself very well", Narek speaks about his coronavirus feelings on the other side of the screen.
"But I helped my mother, I cut wood, and played “the shopkeeper” with my sisters. I was the fishmonger…”
During this challenging time, UNICEF has not left Jiliza or other preschool children in the community without support;and has provided the most necessary items, such as disinfectants and hygiene products to fight the coronavirus before reopening. We have also adapted and developed appropriate methodical guidelines for educators; as well as provided didactic materials to teach preschool students about the coronavirus in a playful manner in order to promote safe behaviors amongst them.
The expected day came, and the door of Jiliza preschool opened like the other preschools in the country. The small but bright room hosted its heroes who had come to discover the world. They have already learned the skills of proper hand washing and disinfection. They also know they must sit a little far from each other for some time; which they learned through playing “keeping a distance.” They understand that by their joint efforts they will definitely fight the evil, the threat of coronavirus. The new song they have learned states: “The right and the left joined and fought against the virus, the virus was scared and perished from fear”.
UNICEF will spare no effort to ensure education and development for every child living in Armenia; regardless of their place of residence, both during and after the coronavirus. We have already achieved this in 15 remote settlements, and we also did it in Jiliza; which is considered to be located at the “end of the world.”
There are other new small and big villages with hundreds of children counting on us; who will also soon ask their parents to hurry up, so that they will not be late for kindergarten.