When dreams come true in Armenia’s small rural communities
Thanks to new alternative preschools more children are ready for school in remote rural communities
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“Harthashen's dream of having a preschool in the community is finally a reality!”
“Harthashen's dream of having a preschool in the community is finally a reality!” announced the master of ceremonies on that July morning, inviting the Head of Community and me to cut the ceremonial red ribbon for the official opening of this new service for the little members of the village.
It was a truly inspiring and exciting moment. As UNICEF staff, I know how essential it is for any community and its children to have an early learning center. I also know that many villages across Armenia do not have such services yet, hence children are deprived of early learning and all the opportunities and benefits that come with it. As someone who grew up in a village, I know how it feels when a service is finally coming closer to you. After witnessing the village’s jubilant celebration, I was even more convinced of how important it is for us to continue our work to ensure that every child in Armenia has the opportunity to go to preschool.
This was yest another good opportunity for me to interact with people living in remote rural villages hit by a new reality in the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There, I was able to meet with both caregivers and children. From Hartashen village in Goris community, we were then set to also visit Karashen and Khoznavar villages in Tegh community to support them in launching their own early learning centers. For months, we had worked to renovate the space allocated by each community, equip them with furniture and materials for play and learning, as well as ensure that they have water and sanitation area. In this period, colleagues Maya, Hermine and Alvard have been very much welcomed and become new members of the community.
Now we can enjoy the result, knowing that children living in these communities will finally have the opportunity to reach their full potential and that these institutions will give them a better chance of succeeding in the future.
In Hartashen, I met with Nelly and her three-year-old daughter Ellen and six-year-old son Razmik. She was so excited that Ellen would finally be able to regularly attend preschool. “Razmik went to kindergarten in Goris for only six months. In winter, we were worried about the roads, so we stopped taking him,” explained Nelly.
Ellen and the rest of the children in Hartashen donned their best clothes the day of the opening. It was truly a celebration for the whole village. After enjoying the beautiful dance performances, we entered the center with children and caregivers. We played, had fun together, and then had to set off to Karashen with smiles on our faces.
We arrived to Karashen right in time when mums were walking their children to the new preschool.
Five-year-old Mane was accompanied by her mum Marine. Like other children in the village, Mane never had the opportunity to attend a kindergarten, and although she will now get to attend for a short while only before going to elementary school, I know that she will manage to learn a lot in that short period. I am very happy that from now on no child in this village will miss this important opportunity.
“This has been a dream for all parents in our village,”
“This has been a dream for all parents in our village,” said Christina, a teacher in Karashen. She explained that the need for a preschool has long been a major topic of discussion between parents. Christina also explained that many parents from the village had come in days before the opening to help her and another teacher arrange the furniture, tidy up, arrange the shelves with toys, games and books.
Mane and I played a great game of dominos, and it didn't matter that I only knew a few words of Armenian - she quickly understood how to play the game. Games have a language of their own and children know that language very well – that was our universal channel of communication!
We then set off to Khoznavar village. The road was magnificent and the fields around us were covered in purple and red flowers.
The village, with its long stretches of hard-to-pass roads, was extremely welcoming. As was the case with others, in Khoznavar too, the whole village gathered, and the new preschool students stood on the steps in front of their newly opened center.
Even Mrs Nadezhda, 94, had come to witness this historic moment for her people, many of whom she has helped come to this world.
“It is a celebration in our village, of course, I had to come, participate, and rejoice with others. It’s for our future generation!” she said.
“Today is a historic day in Khoznavar. We've waited too long for this."
In Khoznavar, I spoke with Armine, one of the parents. “Today is a historic day in Khoznavar. We've waited too long for this. We have great expectations; we want our children to go to kindergarten too, to learn something new instead of spending the whole day on the streets. If a village has a good kindergarten, if dreams here can come true, then the village is alive. This is more important for border villages. Our children and families will be less likely to leave the village. Instead, they will stay and rebuild it,” she explained.
On the way back to Yerevan, my colleagues and I recall these two days… three entire villages gathered and everyone, especially the children, dressed in their beautiful clothes reserved for special occasions; the decorations and and the loud festive music playing; children reciting and dancing; the warm welcome in every village with the traditional salt and bread ceremony; and the certificates of gratitude addressed to UNICEF. A truly collective experience that truly matters.
One of the dreams of more than 100 parents in Syunik marz came true over these two days.
All parents have dreams for their children. One of the dreams of more than 100 parents in Syunik marz came true over these two days. It came true thanks to our partners, thanks to funding from the European Union, and of course, thanks to the work of our wonderful team, of which I am proud to be part of.
Armine’s words stuck with me, ‘If there is a celebration in the village, if there is a dream, then that village is alive.’ We will continue our work so that there are many more occasions to celebrate in the small communities across Armenia.