By Zhanna Alexanyan
The room in the half-ruined dormitory, where Vagho, 16, has found asylum, has no electricity. The window has no panes. Vagho has instead put old clothes where glass should be. It is terribly cold in the room, although Vagho, who wears a thin sports suit and torn shoes, says he is not cold.
This is how he meets winter.
“I am used to the cold. I have not had shoes since childhood. I have even been barefooted on the snow. Although I got ill after that, I recovered soon,” he says trying to inspire hope.
Mother and son – Anna and Vagho – were “business partners” once. Both were beggars. They used to beg money nearby the Plplan (Shining) Church in Gyumri. Eight years ago they were separated. Vagho, then eight years old, was brought from the front of the Church to the Nubarashen School for children with special needs No.18 in Yerevan by police officers without telling the mother.
“When the police officers took away my son I lost my teeth at once,” tells Anna who lives in the same dormitory in her friend’s room. “They wouldn’t tell his place. I lived with a bottle of vodka I kept with me. I would drink and cry. I found out where he was two months later, from asking people.”
During the eight years mother and son met several times. During the first visit Vagho cried asking the mother to take him away with her. Later he ran away to Gyumri alone. He had missed his mother. Staying with her for several days he told the mother to take him back to school.
“I couldn’t go and see him, I had no money. He was mature enough to run away twice to come and find me,” tells the mother.
Vagho had not escaped the school during the last four years. He was a grown up already and could overcome the longing for his mother.
“I recalled the conditions my mother lives in. I knew she could not come and see me. I got used to it,” he explains.
Vagho was born in the most difficult days for Gyumri – four months after the earthquake – on April 14, 1989. He had no home to grow up in. Instead, he shared his mother’s vagrant life in the streets and train stations.
“When the child was born they gave us a house made of clay. But it was a hollow place that filled with water and the house collapsed. My husband left me to be a vagabond and went away. He was a thug who had alcohol addiction,” tells Anna.
School became Vagho’s home. “The school was fine,” he says with admiration. Even the hard slap in the face he got from the principal did not offend him. He appreciates strictness and discipline.
He learned to read and to write at school. He finished the eight-year school with high grades. He has received numerous appreciation and honor certificates “for high progress and model behavior.” They also had spiritual courses. He knows the Lord’s Prayer by heart.
“I pray every night for God to grant us bread,” Vagho explains the prayer in his way.
The recommendations given by the school characterize Vaghinak Atoyan’s good and bad sides: he is physically well shaped and healthy, he cares for his hygiene, and he likes neatness. He is industrious and does the assignments with pleasure. He obeys the rules of the school. He does not smoke, does not fight, he sings, dances and recites.
His stubbornness and obstinacy are his negative sides, although “he tries to improve and accepts scolding.”
However, Vagho manifests stubbornness in studying. After finishing the school, he returned to Gyumri this summer, where his mother is. He has worked for two months at a bottle warehouse, and entered the Computers Department at the local College No.1 in September, where he will study for three years.
Vagho’s documents were submitted to the college by the Gyumri department of World Vision international organization. The organization has launched a program of child protection in Nubarashen School for children with special needs No.18 since 2004.
Program coordinator in Gyumri Karine Kurghinyan says Vagho “has a great potential of studying and we want him to get an education.”
World Vision has an agreement with the Gyumri Municipality (an oral arrangementat present) for allocating them a temporary accommodation (they live in the dormitory illegally) in any abandoned apartment, but this winter Vagho and his mother will pass in the hostel unless the problem is solved.
Vagho enjoys studying at the college. He does his homework in a dark and cold room. Principal of the college Grigor Mkrtchyan and class teacher Laura Manukyan speak about Vagho with appraisal. He studies well, he is disciplined, and he does not miss lessons and is a uniquely warm person.
Anna, Vagho’s mother, is proud of her son’s aptitudes, but would prefer that Vagho work.
“I want him to work to provide our living. I am tired of this wandering life. I can’t anymore; I don’t want to go outdoors (to beg). I think: ‘Why did I give life to this child? If I were alone, I would provide my living.’ My heart aches when I see my child hungry and thirsty…he is barefooted in the middle of the winter,” says Anna, 45, who has health problems.
Their only income is the scholarship at the college that makes 4,500 drams (about $10). Vagho does not want to give up studying. He thinks of finding a job and combining it with the college.
“If I begin working we will save money, fuel, we will buy clothes for my mother, and she will not go outdoors (to beg). She will quit. Now as we do not have money she is forced to go,” says Vagho.
He recalls childhood with regret. He does not like talking about it, and is happy it is already behind.
“When I go to the church I see my friends I have once been begging money with. They are amazed to see me having changed this way,” Vagho says. “They are still begging . . .”.
Anna has regrets about her past and says her only concern is Vagho.
“I have made many mistakes… I now ask God for a roof above my head to have a home for my Vagho and then die,” says Anna.
Vagho is well-liked in the dormitory and is known for helping others. His neighbor, Shoghik, says “I save a portion for my Vagho” of the daily meal.
“I will also help them if I achieve success,” promises Vagho