UNICEF Ensures Support Services for Children with Disabilities from Nagorno-Karabakh

UNICEF and Source Foundation deliver rehabilitation services for children with disabilities from Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia

Gor Petrosyan
Bagrat is in the Source Center.
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Grigoryan
20 January 2021

For parents of children with disabilities, accessing support services is crucial. But in times of unrest, such services can be disrupted. In Armenia, Source Foundation, with UNICEF support, is offering the chance for children with disabilities from Nagorno-Karabakh to access vital rehabilitation and care services, as well as offering their carers psychosocial support and learning opportunities.

Narine Baghramyan, mother to 1-year-old Bagrat, explains the importance of the services for her child.

“Bagrat used to receive professional services in our hometown. After the conflict escalated at the end of September, he was not able to get any therapy for over a month and a half. I felt the setback in his development immediately.”

Luckily, Source Foundation contacted her to offer support services for Bagrat in Armenia. “I was very concerned about him when Source Foundation called me. I was happy to learn about the joint initiative with UNICEF.”

With UNICEF’s support, children with disabilities who fled the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh with their mothers now receive much needed rehabilitation and care services five days a week, from 10.00 am to 5:00 pm. Transportation services are provided so that children can attend individual and group programmes, and each child also receives a nutritious meal.

Within a week of attending the centre, Bagrat has already managed to make a progress – he can now focus his gaze and is able to sleep without clenching his fists. Despite this, Narine is well aware that there are three long and hard months of persistent and consistent work ahead of them. She adds, “One thing I know for sure, there is no hope that it will be possible to continue my son's therapy in our hometown if we go back, which is why we decided to stay, for Bagrat’s sake.”

There are currently no other programmes across Armenia for children with disabilities from Nagorno-Karabakh where both children and their mothers can take full advantage of a range of professional and supportive services.

Maya Simonyan is sitting at her des at UNICEF Armenia's office.
UNICEF Armenia/2020/BiaynaMahari

“There is a need to scale this up – every community across the country should have similar services in place for children with disabilities․”

UNICEF Education Officer Maya Simonyan

“Together with Source Foundation, we decided that the children from Nagorno-Karabakh should benefit from the services among the existing groups of children that already attend the centre.” Ms Simonyan notes the positive impact of the services on the well-being of the children attending the centre. “Children have their own unique ways of communicating, and, although some children may have a hard time communicating verbally, we can see from their reactions that they are happy in this new environment and are starting to make friends.”

Ani is finalizing children's schedules for rehabilitation services.
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Grigoryan

Until recently, Ani Tarakhchyan’s full time role was as a speech therapyst, but with the sharp increase in the number of new beneficiaries, she volunteered to also become project coordinator at the centre. She now maintains the case filing for all children from Nagorno-Karabakh and prides herself in knowing by heart not only the entire attendance schedule for 25 children, but also sequence of services to be used by each child, and each child’s individual needs, including their nutritional or other preferences.

“The majority of children from Nagorno-Karabakh that come to our centre in Yerevan are either with their mother or grandmother. Many mothers cannot accompany them to the centre as they have other children to look after. In these cases, we have tutors who accompany children from their temporary home to the centre and back,” states Ms Tarakhchyan. “We can see that many mothers need support themselves, as they are very concerned about the future of their family. Hence we also offer psychosocial support at the centre twice a week.”

Besides psychosocial support, women from Nagorno-Karabakh can also benefit from various forms of learning at the centre, with UNICEF support. Some mothers are able to learn more about positive parenting approaches for children with disabilities, as well as various forms of therapy which can then be continued at home.

Robert and his mother are sitting on the floor of the Source Centre.
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Grigoryan

Like Bagrat, five-year-old Robert is also new to the centre, having gone through so many trials himself. “He first started to receive rehabilitation services at one month of age in our hometown in Nagorno-Karabakh,” said his mother, Shushanik Lalayan.

“When I got a call from the centre here, I was very happy, because I know how every break in these services can almost nullify what we have already accomplished in the preceding months. Robert gave me the biggest gift recently, he said ‘mama’ for the first time!”