Like many communities in Armenia, Darbnik village in Ararat province hosting refugee and displaced families from Iraq, Syria and Azerbaijan was caught up in the COVID-19 emergency in an unprecedented and unusual way. The growing feeling of loneliness and depression reduced the people’s quality of life and confidence in a better future for themselves and their children.
The refugee families were feeling isolated and cut off from social networks and support, but it was not long before UNHCR and Mission Armenia reached out to them with financial and humanitarian assistance, and moral support.
Due to the strong community bonds and coping skills, the refugee and local families got together in solidarity for care, moral support and encouragement. The neighbours were helping each other, looking after the elderly and children, sharing their meals and ensuring peer support. Those who knew a thing or two about technologies were helping the schoolchildren connect to internet and use Zoom for online classes, while the parents were assisting with homework. In addition, the village school administration lent computers and smartphones, educational materials and books to the vulnerable families.
There are around 300 children living in Darbnik village the majority of whom are from refugee and displaced families. With a limited access to after-school activities, lack of culture clubs and sports activities, the school and kindergarten remain the children’s second home. To help them maintain mental well-being and keep up with their education and hobbies, UNHCR and its partners, Mission Armenia NGO and KASA Foundation, initiated an interesting activity for children and their parents and grandparents: art therapy through a drawing contest titled “My wonderful life before, during and after coronavirus.” The project lasted one month and went in line with World Refugee Day commemoration under the motto “Every dream counts.” It enrolled some 60 children aged between 4 and 18, mainly residing in Darbnik village, but also some refugee and asylum-seeking children residing in the Reception Centre and Integration House in Yerevan and other places.
The children created beautiful pictures in the form of cartoons and sketches with captions and their quotes. The drawings vividly showed the reality of the COVID-19 emergency and its consequences affecting the children’s and their parents’ every-day life, as well as the lessons learnt and ways out, and the dreams they cherished. Through their drawings, the children also expressed the importance of applying hygiene norms and physical distancing, reflected on the constraints and successes of the online education, peculiarities of lockdown, changes in the mentality and behaviours of people, and the value of real friendship.
“I realised how challenging life can be. It was not easy for my parents to make ends meet before, let alone during the pandemic. They are worried about our health and wellbeing every single day,” said one of the teenagers and hugged her mother.
It was difficult to identify winners among the participants, since every single drawing was a small piece of art. The awards were thereby granted by nominations, e.g. “The most creative picture,” “The sharpest mind,” “The most sincere drawing,” etc.
On 27 June, UNHCR and Mission Armenia, joined by a team representing UNHCR’s operational partner – the Armenian Progressive Youth (APY) NGO – visited Darbnik for a small World Refugee Day event and award handing ceremony. The event went parallel to visits to some families with children, dialogue with the children and their parents on how they could best cope with the emergency and lockdown, their current livelihood needs, and educational and development demands.
As one of the Iraqi beneficiaries expressed: “We had to rely on our mom’s smartphone which did not function very well. We are thankful to our local friends in the village who lent us their extra phone and helped us to connect to Zoom.”
“It was difficult at first, but thanks to your helping hand and genuine attention to Darbnik community, we have regained optimism and hope for a better future,” noted one of the parents, and her neighbour added with a smile – “We are facing lockdown but we do not feel abandoned.”
At the end of the event, the children gathered in the yard to receive their certificates of appreciation and gifts from Mission Armenia and APY, wearing UNHCR-produced Albert Einstein T-shirts.
The children's masterpieces reflecting their life before, during and after coronavirus.
The drawing project in progress
A genuine dialogue and hand-over of gifts during the visit to one of the displaced Syrian families.
Iraqi family with five children fights COVID-19 emergency while creating their future in Armenia.
During the certificates handing ceremony in the Social House yard.
The children showing the symbol of home and UNHCR.
A group of young bikers gathered for an important discourse in their Albert Einstein T-shirts.
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