By Siranouish Gevorgyan
Little Samvel, 10, covers his face with a soft toy out of shame and huddles himself up on the bed when his mother, Margarita Muradyan, upbraids him for paying little attention to his homework, despite the fact that he studies well at school. Samvel’s elder brother, Manvel, and sister, Tamara, play outside with their playmates in the meandering, rundown and narrow streets of Kond.
Kond is one of the oldest and most neglected districts of Yerevan. The Muradyan home is reached over a steep ascent, then by passing through winding streets and narrow passages. And the house is only a small room, which serves for the family of five, as a bedroom, a sitting-room and a kitchen. Three children and their mother sleep on two beds put side by side, and Grandma Ovsanna sleeps on the sofa. The room is damp and gray, like 37-year-old mother-of-three Margarita’s life.
The care for her three children and her mother-in-law is a heavy burden on her slim shoulders. Their life has become even more difficult in the last three months, as Margarita lost her job. In the past she worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant, making about $2.70 a day.
“I am tired of borrowing money to maintain our living, waiting for the pension and social benefit to repay the accumulated debts at the end of the month,” she says.
Trained as a medical nurse, Margarita says that now it is difficult for her to get a nurse’s job, as she forgotten many things. Besides, she has no license to work according to her professional training.
Margarita’s husband, Vrezh, died in 2001. Family life for the Muradyans was difficult even when Vrezh was alive, as he used to drink heavily. It was in a drunken state that he died from suffocation. Before he started to abuse drink, he had a job at an institute as a laborer.
“He was good at anything, he was a good workman, I wish he hadn’t drank,” Margarita grumbles.
She says that after her husband lost his job, he took up odd jobs for neighbors or acquaintances, who avoided paying him with money, as he was sure to spend the money on buying liquor. “People thought that it was better to buy some presents for the children or not to pay in cash, as they knew that he would get drunk with that money,” Margarita says.
Her mother-in-law, 59-year-old Ovsanna, says that her son used to sell their household items to get drinking money. Once he sold the tin from their roof.
“For us it was like living in the open air. When it rained we asked our neighbors to allow the kids to sleep at their houses,” Margarita says.
Fortunately, the roof problem was solved with the help of the local authorities, who allocated about $120 to the Muradyans.
“I rang up the headmaster of my Manvel’s school. I said – come and see in which conditions your pupil is doing his homework. He came to our house with an umbrella and saw… he called so many times to different people that at the end they allocated money,” Ovsanna says.
Grandma Ovsanna used to work as a tram driver, but now: “I have no health,” she says.
Children are the bright light in these gray lives.
Manvel is 13, Tamara is 11, and Samvel is 10. They differ one from another, but the three have the same bright eyes. All have attended the day center for children at the Orran benevolent organization since 2000.
Orran director Heriknaz Harutyunyan says that the Muradyans were among the first charges of the organization. Many of those children who began to attend together with them do not come to Orran anymore, because the social conditions of their families improved.
“During these five years no social progress has been observed in the Muradyan family. I even think that it goes from bad to worse, because the children grow up, and keeping them becomes more difficult,” Harutyunyan says.
Manvel, who already behaves like a grown up, witnessed his father dying.
“He felt on his skin the heavy atmosphere of the house – and beatings, and those difficult relationships. He was very withdrawn into himself, did not talk to anyone. Now he has grown up, gained self-assuredness,” psychologist Narine Avagyan says.
The psychologist says that now it is also a very difficult period for Manvel.
“Unfortunately, crimes are many in Kond, they are children of the risk group. Narrow streets, narrow passages contribute to this situation. Manvel communicates with neighborhood boys and with ‘Orran’ boys, and he himself does not realize yet which is correct. And very often he does not express what he thinks, because he is not sure that he will be understood correctly in both environments,” the psychologist says.
Tamara (whom everyone calls Tamushik) likes singing and dancing. “If my grandchild was fastened with a nut and bolt she would get rid of it to the degree that she breaks herself???,” grandma Ovsanna says smiling.
Samvel likes drawing and watching cartoons.
“But I don’t even understand why I like watching cartoons,” Samvel says in a grownup’s manner and concludes: “Perhaps for their colors, I am interested in colors.”
Narine Avagyan says that when she gives an assignment to the children to draw at home, the three of them draw very beautiful and big houses.
“And at those houses everyone takes a separate floor, because they indeed need that.”
The children’s mother also dreams of adding another room to the house.
“This house is too small for us. My children grow up and begin to feel embarrassed, especially when their classmates come to visit them. I want to build at least one more room, but I don’t know how,” she says.
But for now, the family perhaps needs a job most of all. Margarita prefers having a job for which she would be paid on a daily basis.
“This way I will be able to solve the problem of daily bread and simultaneously will take care of some other things.”
The constantly heavy social situation has driven her into despair. “I have lost my optimism,” she says. “I used to be very optimistic before, now I see only bad things. I used to dream before to do this or that, it would be like this… Now I simply need to survive and I don’t know what I shall do. But I’ll have to raise them for now…”