With support from UNHCR and Danish Red Cross, Armenian Red Cross Society is helping children affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to understand and process their experiences and connect.
The Children's Resilience Program, run by Armenian Red Cross Society since 2014 and currently supported in two streams by UNHCR and Danish Red Cross, builds social inclusion and creates a safe space for children who have moved from areas affected by conflict to build friendships and support each other.
Anna Kirakosyan fled the area affected by the conflict on 27 September 2020 with her two small children, Satenik and Garik, who have been attending this program.
“We woke up to a lot of shooting and explosions,” Anna describes of the day they left. “It destroyed a whole bridge, which was only a road away from our home. The children were so scared.”
She says that she has received a lot of support from Red Cross, including food parcels, hygiene parcels, and bedding for the house. And, most importantly for Anna, she’s been able to rest knowing that her children are being supported.
“When the children attend the Children’s Resilience Program, I am not worried that they will be hungry or unsafe. The project also provides them with snacks and refreshments.”
The workshops for children affected by Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have taken place in hotels and collective shelters, moving to schools as children have been able to attend school and others have been able to return to their homes.
Through a series of workshops delivered by committed and trained volunteers, children get to know one another and are led through interactive sessions that allow them to process and communicate their feelings and experiences.
Anna says she has seen the change in her children.
“I can feel the difference with my son and my daughter. My son didn’t want to interact or communicate with people, but now he is more open and is making friends.”
A wide network of volunteers makes this program possible. Many have been volunteering for years, while others began their volunteering after witnessing the conflict escalation and its impact on people. All volunteers go through in-depth training on psychosocial support and Psychological First Aid, along with technical and practical training.
Amalya Saribekyan is a Children’s Resilience Program volunteer. She says that she chose to work with the younger children because of their unique way of thinking. Amalya has also witnessed how the children’s recent experiences of conflict have had a lasting effect.
“When you see the children who went through a lot, even though you see them smile or act happy, you can still see the pain in their eyes. This is so motivating to keep doing something to help,” says Amalya.
By December 2020, more than 2,000 children and young people will have been supported through the program. many participants have developed close friendships, staying in contact even after they have completed the program.
“It is a really good environment where I can make friends. We learn a lot of new things, have good discussions – we exchange our souls,” shares 17-year-old Liana Mkrtchyan, a participant of the program.
Parents of the children also play an important role. Volunteers meet with parents to discuss their needs and the needs of their children and can connect families with Armenian Red Cross Society’s expert psychologists for further support if required.
For the parents and caregivers of participants, the support from Red Cross has provided relief for themselves, not only the children involved.
Originally from the conflict-affected region, Vera Khachatryan and her family have been deeply impacted by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict over the decades. For Vera, it has been invaluable to know that her grandchildren are being supported.
Vera has also noticed the difference this program has made for her grandchildren.
“They just started classes with Red Cross, but I already feel that the children are not concentrating so much on the war and all the bad stuff. Now, they come home and they tell me about what they learned, what the volunteers taught, we discuss together.”
“Red Cross also provided us with food support, with heaters, to help us through this time. The volunteers and workers call us often, to ask how we are, how the children are going. I am so grateful for all the work that Red Cross does.”
More information about this program and other Armenian Red Cross Society with young people: https://www.redcross.am/en/what-we-do/red-cross-youth.html