Supporting families affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Social workers’ perspective
UNICEF and partners provide social and psychological assistance to families and children displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
“All our belongings were left in our hometown. We did not take warm clothes with us, and now we need warm clothing, and are looking for someone who can bring some of our belongings while we are here and before we return,” says Mrs Mara Voskanyan, Valera’s mum. “In fact, I am worried about our children. They play, they eat, but since the conflict, any noise makes them nervous, and they get tense and run to us. There are children who have not uttered a word since the hostilities began. There are children who should have started speaking a long time ago, but they still have delayed speech problems. The children have become more aggressive. Today our bigger group is going to meet with social workers for the first time, and I see a great need for that.”
Together with her son and parents, Mrs. Mara has been temporarily staying at a shelter hotel in Sisian. A group of mothers from Nagorno-Karabakh, also staying at the hotel, have gathered in the lobby to discuss the challenges they are facing as a result of the conflict and their plans to go back home. UNICEF and the Armenian Association of Social Workers have ensured that they get support from qualified social workers who can provide psychosocial services in the area. As the mothers speak with the social workers and UNICEF team, led by Representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh, children are engaged in a drawing activity in a nearby room, picturing the house of their dreams.
“I miss my home, my school, and my hometown. I want to go back to my school. I like all the classes, but my favorite are Armenian, Russian and chess. I want to become a president, but for that I have to study well and a lot. And I have succeeded, I am a student with excellence, but I have not been going to school for the past two months already.”
“The trauma of displacement is very deep. If these families and children do not get professional assistance, they are at risk of not being able to overcome the psychological trauma of the conflict and ensuing displacement and will struggle to rebuild their lives and recover,” shares Mrs Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF Representative in Armenia. “In the past months, UNICEF has reached over 25,000 children and caregivers from Nagorno-Karabakh to provide psychosocial support through individual and group sessions in target communities throughout Armenia together with partner organizations.”
After the first meeting and a needs assessment in this shelter in Sisian, the social worker worked with each mother to develop individualized plans. The plans aim to help them with temporary integration issues. “In the scope of these plans we provide counseling for positive parenting, support with temporary occupation or employment and other resources, as well as sessions with psychologists who can help them dispel anxiety and uncertainty, process the existing issues and figure out what they want to do in the future,” explains Mariam, social worker from the Armenian Association of Social Workers.
Karo Gorgyan, another social worker with the Association, works with children and young people. At the session, Karo discussed various concepts with children, aiming to build their knowledge about what are emergencies and how to overcome some of the challenges posed by these emergencies. During group activities the children discussed some of the problems they face, how to navigate these issues, be resourceful and find solutions.
“We expect that after these sessions and devising their own plan, children will feel more in control of their lives and focus on recovery. Our goal is for the children to be active, think about problem solving and make their voices heard.”
Karo had also organized an online discussion between children from Nagorno-Karabakh with other children in Armenia who have been previously displaced or affected by the war in Syria. On the other side of the screen, children presented their story of displacement, starting a new life and their belief in children’s rights and community activism. “I believe that at times, child to child communication is a quite effective tool whereby they can share their experiences and inspire each other to keep going on. Regardless of where children come from or where they live, they carry their rights in an invisible bag with them. They should be aware of their rights and demand that they are duly ensured.”
Rebecca, 17, who is staying in Sisian with her mum, sisters and brothers shared with us her feelings.
"I have been in this shelter for over two months now. This workshop was quite useful, and I look forward to future ones. I learned to focus not so much on the problems but on finding ways to solve them. Our group thought about possible solutions to eliminate the effects of the war on our community back home, and we suggested planting trees to revitalize the damaged nature, as well as renovating the schools in order to continue our education.”
“Today I am kind of less stressed because I have started thinking about my future, and it seems like it is not completely lost. I will return. I will continue my education and will become a surgeon, as I have always dreamed. I am also ready to personally contribute to the reconstruction of my village. If necessary, I will learn to lay bricks and paint the walls!”