Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Letter 02: The Orran urchins

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

This afternoon we visited the ‘Orran’ (the haven) Centre in downtown Yerevan. It is an old building that smells like boiled hamburger fat, where the social ministry or other institutions send street-children. Children are fed and taught there and sent back home (usually single parent families). Orran’s director is Gail Howard, who came to Armenia with the Red Cross and is now managing this centre created by Raffi Hovannissyan’s wife. Gail is a wonderful woman with a huge heart and bosoms to match.

There were some 50 children there when we came, and Sheila pointed-out a young boy who reminded her of Raffi. He turned-out to be one of the smartest ones and was the first to win a candy in the little intellectual/vocabulary games our volunteers had prepared for the children. I don’t know if they had had enough candy that day (I’d be surprised), but several of these children came to me and offered me the candy they had just won, as if I needed any candy at my age. Among all of these children yelling with delight to try and win these small competitions set-up by us volunteer foreigners, one of the boys, Ashot was sitting very quietly and not participating in any of the competitions. When we wanted to have those who had not won any candy try-out on easier questions, he still would not participate; he said he did not know the answers. Yet he was quiet and looked healthy and clean dressed. I pointed him out to Gail during their class break. She said that he might be having a bad day and she quickly went to him and took him under her wings and brought him inside.

In the hallway they had a series of photographs from the life of a 72 year-old lady who is fed at Orran. There was also a summary of her life story that they had compiled for her birthday. Both her parents were orphans that took refuge in Yerevan after the 1915 genocide. She was born in 1930 and had been an important teacher who participated in different communist congresses in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Some of these old people tell the kids their life stories and about the way life was in the old days, the children find their stories very interesting. What is interesting to me is to see from how high these elderly people have fallen: from participating in international conferences abroad in Soviet times, to being clients of Orran now.

Gail asked for some of us to volunteer with her centre for she had no one to look after the elderly. Arina immediately volunteered.