Invincible courage, insatiable hope and just a little support…

Invincible courage, insatiable hope and just a little support… the essentials one needs to have to overcome life challenges.

Julia Melqonyan possesses and treasures all of them, because she ventured to go to school for the first time in her life at the age of fourteen.Julia was born with a cerebral spastic infantile paralysis that affects her right hand which means Julia has difficulties in using her hand for minor movements.

She was born two months earlier than her due date and weighed only 1500 grams.
“Doctors told me she had little chances to live, but 15 days in the hospital brought her back to life”, recollects Anahit Melqonyan, Julia’s mother, 32.

Julia was kept at home for more than 12 years because of her disability. She was not taken to kindergarten, never went to meet her relatives, had very few friends and when her time came, she wasn’t taken to school either. All because her parents feared that their daughter would be laughed at and discriminated against.

“When it was time for Julia to go to school, I asked her whether she wanted to go or not, and she definitely refused. What could I do?” explains Anahit in a desperate voice.

As the years passed, Julia became her mother’s right hand in running the house- she would clean, wash, prepare food, bring water from the outside whether summer or winter. Julia was happy with what she did; the only thing she really desired was someone to talk to and share her thoughts with.

As the family had (and still has) a very low income; (what they got was poverty allowance and disability allowance for Julia), Julia’s mother used to go to the markets and shops a lot trying to buy things at the lowest possible prices, and Julia’s father was always outdoors in search for job. For years Julia was left at home all alone.

“My only friend was Gampo – the dog who used to come and ask for food”, recollects Julia.
She even prepared small room for Gampo, so that the dog would always be with her.

When Julia’s parents got married, the terrible 1988 earthquake had already happened, but the havoc and devastation those several minutes had brought carried on for a long time affecting thousands, including Julia’s parents. Hovhannes, Julia’s father, and Anahit both were left homeless.

17 years have passed but this family is still without a house. Though the economic situation in the city is changing little by little and Gyumri is being rebuilt, a lot of families still have to remain in shacks, because the country cannot build houses for them yet. Their present ‘house’ is a small shack with plywood walls covered by tarpaulin, and with no communication systems – no water, no gas, no telephone.

Furthermore, as their house is the only shack in the neighborhood, and is unattractive in the overall view of the new district, the municipality is asking them to leave the area and remove somewhere else.

Julia was included in World Vision Armenia Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances (CEDC) programme at the beginning of 2005.

“When I first met Julia, I couldn’t understand, why her parents had feared to take her to school; her disability was unnoticeable, so no one could ever guess she had one”, says Ervandanush Sahakyan, Gyumri ADP social worker.

When Gyumri ADP team first learnt about Julia, their primary concern was to take her to school as soon as possible.

“But how could we? Julia was 12 and in Armenia children go to school at the age of 6. Besides Julia was completely illiterate”, says Gyumri ADP Child Protection Programme coordinator Karine Kurghinyan.

A decision was made to work with Julia teaching her Armenian alphabet and the basics of algebra.

Besides, Gyumri ADP had to train teachers as well, who, though ready to have children with disabilities in the classroom, weren’t much prepared to work with them.

The very first private classes with Julia revealed a number of problems.

“As Julia had had very little communication with others, her articulation wasn’t well-developed. She was afraid of uttering long and complicated words and expressing her thoughts”, says Hasmik Simonyan, Ani community centre speech therapist. Besides Julia’s hand needed professional treatment so that she could use it for writing.

12 years of isolation affected Julia psychologically too. Julia’s main challenge is differentiating emotions and keeping her attention during her classes.

From the March of 2005 Julia started attending World Vision Armenia Gyumri ADP community centre. She was treated by a speech therapist, art therapist and a psychologist; she also became member of a theatrical group and started taking part in performances organised by World Vision Armenia CPP department.

It took Gyumri ADP team almost two years of work not only with Julia, but also with her parents, because they still feared school wasn’t the right place for Julia.

Attending the community centre helped Julia a great deal; she learnt to communicate with other children, discovered a wider world for herself, learned to read and write. But most importantly she wasn’t afraid of school any more.

“Julia became so impatient about her going to school, that we decided not to lose even a day, when all the documents were ready, we took her to school”, remembers Karine Kurghinyan.

14-year-old Julia first time in her life attended school on November 10th, 2006.

School #41 in Gyumri is an inclusive one and teachers here are well-acquainted with the difficulties that arise with disabled children and they are ready to have them in the classroom; Julia is the third disabled child, included in Gyumri ADP’s Child Protecton Programme, who has attended an inclusive school this year. Arthur Galstyan, 15, and Albert Nazaryan, 13, went to school this September as well.

“Of course we understand that Julia’s knowledge wasn’t enough for attending the 7th form which was due her age. Nevertheless we took her to the 5th form, but also we’ll continue private lessons with her, so that she can catch her classmates”, says Ervandanush Sahakyan who is Julia’s special pedagogue.

A two-years-road that Julia took with World Vision has changed her a great deal. When you look at her now, she is so self-confident, communicative, a real chatterbox with a lovely smile on her face.

“It’s so great at school. After the classes the girls would come up and we would decide to go here or there. Or sometimes we would make parties and have fun together”, says Julia.

She already has a lot of friends, who are eager to help her whenever she needs it.
“It’s always so easy with Julia. She is so talkative; we made friends very easily”, says Gohar, one of Julia’s new friends.

At the beginning of November, Julia’s first days at school, her dog Gampo had puppies. Neighbors took the loveliest ones to their homes, but one of them, the weakest puppy was left. Julia liked the puppy so much that she started taking care of it herself.

Kujo, as Julia has named the puppy, is now very healthy and walks after Julia wherever she goes. “I will make a very strong dog out of it; he is my best friend, isn’t he?” says Julia proudly hugging the puppy with both hands.