Return to Normalcy. UNICEF’s Targeted Extracurricular Programme Helps Children from Nagorno-Karabakh
UNICEF partners with Full Life NGO to deliver children from Nagorno-Karabakh with sessions on emergency preparedness, physical education, and art therapy
“I will become a fireman and save people!” proudly exclaims six-year-old David. To which he quickly adds: “Or a soldier, to defend people.” We met David and his 30 peers at a fire station in Yerevan where they were attentively listening to Karine, a local firefighter, who educated them about fire hazards and how to extinguish them. The children were so delighted to see the big red fire trucks and excited to have the opportunity to sit inside the vehicles, try on the firefighters’ helmets and the uniforms. At the fire station, surrounded by these massive vehicles, the children were in awe.
David and his peers are temporarily in Yerevan, having fled to Armenia from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in October 2020. UNICEF has teamed up with Full Life non-governmental organization to ensure that in Yerevan, Tashir, and Stepanavan children like David can continue to learn and have access to extra-curricular activities that facilitate their integration while they are in Armenia. Above all, these sessions re-establish a sense of normalcy for children whose lives were disrupted by the conflict and equip them with knowledge and skills to stay resilient.
This is their fifth lesson on safety during emergencies, held at a firestation. Anna, 17, shared that she was pleased to participate: “I have been through a war and I still feel I was not prepared to respond to emergencies.”
"At these lessons, I learned how to behave during various situations, such as air raids or earthquakes. Now I understand how important it is to stay calm and not panic, as well as how to prepare an evacuation bag with a list of necessary items."
Having been forced to leave Nagorno-Karabakh with her family to find refuge in Yerevan, Anna regularly attends these sessions from UNICEF and Full Life where she has also made friends with other teenagers like Marina. Together the girls also enjoy going to the physical education classes where they can play team sports. This is another integral part of the curricula to promote a healthy lifestyle and help decrease their level of stress.
“Physical fitness is crucial for children, as it takes them away from the screens and allows them to be more present in that moment. It increases their level of energy, teaches them teamwork and discipline through consistent and hard work,” explains Roman, physical education moderator at Full Life. “This is already my fifth session with children, and I feel that they are active and adapting well. They have opened up and are more communicative. We try to have fun and this positive energy comes back to them and to myself with added motivation to keep going.”
Vladimir, an aspiring basketball player from Nagorno-Karabakh, echoed Roman’s words, and then he reaffirmed that the gym sessions are his favorite!
“If I don’t do sports, I will not have the energy to participate in my regular classes. I would be unhealthy, and my days would be boring.”
As part of the programme, children also benefit from art therapy, which helps them perfect their motoric skills and develop creative expression. In this class, they attempted at making pomegranates from clay. They have also learned to make candles and soap, created collages and made drawings.
“Every child is a fairytale to me. I am surprised at their limitless imagination, which is why I thoroughly enjoy our sessions together. Working with children helps you look at ordinary things from different perspectives. In the beginning, they were quite shy and would hardly talk to each other. Looking back, my heart warms to see how far they have come,” shared Marina, their art teacher.
In the past month, over 170 children from Nagorno-Karabakh who are temporarily residing in Armenia have benefited from this programme. For three times a week, they get to break from the everyday reality to learn life-saving skills, play and get fit, make friends and create art. Together they bring back a sense of normalcy to their lives and regain confidence to take a chance in the unknown. Since the onset of the conflict in 2020, UNICEF has partnered with over 10 non-governmental organizations in Armenia to support children from Nagorno-Karabakh to continue their education while in Armenia, as well as have access to psychosocial therapy, hygiene and education materials.