Armenian Reporter Covers Zangakatun


At the Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor, all children are loved equally

The Tufenkian Foundation gives hundreds their childhood back
(By Tatul Hakobyan; originally published in The Armenian Reporter)

Maria, 10, paints pottery at the Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor (Tatul Hakobyan / Armenian Reporter)VANADZOR, LORI PROVINCE, ARMENIA – Ten-year-old Maria is an only child. She has been visiting the Zangakatun Center for a year now. There she receives a hot meal every day, plays with boys and girls her age, and draws. “But most of all I love working with clay,” she said. “I love it here. My mom doesn’t have a job. My dad is in Russia,” the girl added, as she painted a piece of pottery.

At the Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor, Maria and five dozen other schoolchildren are not only fed properly, but also receive the educational, spiritual, emotional, and other kinds of support all the children in the world need – thanks to the Tufenkian Foundation’s “Our Duty to Live” project.

Armenuhi Kirkitian, a mother of three, is very pleased. Were it not for the familial warmth of Zangakatun, life would be a lot tougher for the young woman. “My husband is in prison in Russia. Since last August my three children, ages 12, 11, and 10, have attended this center. Social workers came to our home and became familiar with our circumstances. I am very grateful. My children do not go hungry,” she said.

The director of Zangakatun NGO, Karine Grigorian, said one of the most important kinds of assistance the center provides is hot food.

The children smile
“But the most important outcome of our center is the children’s smile. It is their restored childhood. Children who wouldn’t speak on their first day at the center greet guests today. Children who drew with a black pencil on the first day smile and laugh today. Many who did not go to school have gone back to being students,” Mrs. Grigorian said.
The Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor (Armenian Reporter)
With children’s singing and performances on stage, the Zangakatun Center celebrated its fifth anniversary on June 5. Everyone – the center’s teachers and social workers, the parents, and guests from Yerevan and the Tufenkian Foundation – was happy and touched. Dozens of children had been given back their childhood.

Mrs. Grigorian cited an Armenian spiritual leader who had said, “Wretched is the child who is not loved and the adult for whom no one prays.” “In our center, all the children are loved,” she said.

During the presentation, a short but moving film about underprivileged children was shown. Mrs. Grigrian and Margaret Hovhannisyan, the director of the Tufenkian Charitable Foundation in Armenia, spoke about the “Our Duty to Live” project and the success of the Vanadzor center. In the end, the children presented a comedy to their parents and the guests.

Families that owe money for bread
“The foundation of the state is the family and if you want to strengthen the nation, you must look after the children. There are no worthless children; there are children who are abandoned, ignored, left out of society, who need care,” Mrs. Grigorian said.
She showed slides of two of the scores of drawings done by children in the center. One was a picture of the sea; the other portrayed Mount Ararat. “It is not surprising that a child living in Armenia would want to see the sea, but it is surprising that a child living in Armenia would want to see Ararat. Many children in Vanadzor dreamed of seeing Ararat and thanks to our center they had the opportunity to travel to Ashtarak and see Ararat. In their compositions afterward, they wrote that a dream had come true,” she said.

John Antranig Kasbarian, director of the Tufenkian Foundation, center, with Stepan Bedrosian, Armenia's deputy minister of the Diaspora, left, at the Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor (Armenian Reporter)Children come to Zangakatun after school. The children are selected in cooperation with the local authorities in Vanadzor and with the help of nongovernmental organizations. Only families with school-aged children can enroll, since Zangakatun is an educational center. “There have been cases when our workers have visited stores, collected the names of families that owe money for bread, and selected children in this way,” Mrs. Grigorian says.

There are also criteria for being taken out of the program. The first is an improvement in the family’s situation. There are families that have been in the program for three years but the administration of the center is not rushing to remove them because the families are not yet on solid footing.

“We have each family’s history, and twice a year we review and reevaluate those histories,” she says.

One of three centers
The center employs experienced teachers, psychologists, and a representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Various groups have been formed with a focus on theater, puppets, pottery, drawing, and computers. Spiritual and psychological discussions are held not only with the children but also with their children.
Children perform a comedy at the Zangakatun Center in Vanadzor, June 5, 2009 (Armenian Reporter)
Ms. Hovhannisyan of the Tufenkian Charitable Foundation said that the “Our Duty to Live” project was started and became part of the Tufenkian Foundation in 2001. The project has three centers: one in Yerevan since 2001, one in the city of Metsamor in Armavir province since 2002, and the one in Vanadzor since 2004. Until 2007 Zangakatun operated out of one of the Vanadzor schools – until James Tufenkian in 2007 donated a sunny two-story building.

“Over the past eight years, these three educational centers in Yerevan, Metsamor, and Vanadzor have served about 900 families or 1,850 poor, orphaned, and otherwise vulnerable children,” Ms. Hovhannisian said.

In three small hearths full of family warmth and mutual love, one of which is Zangakatun, through the benevolence of the Tufenkian Foundation and the caring of the educators, everything possible is done to bring back the smile of childhood, and harmony to their families.

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