Heaps of laundry sway in October breeze in front of a one-story house in Gegharkunik Province in East Armenia. Iskuhi (37) has done multiple loads of laundry for 11 people. She used the rarely uninterrupted water flow to the house to do chores, and is grateful for the small mercies.
A safe haven and a place of refuge
Iskuhi’s aging house is now a residence to two multigenerational families - a newborn baby, four school-age boys, a teenage girl, two sets of parents, and a grandmother. Iskuhi and her husband opened the doors of their house to ethnic Armenians who left Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh as Armenians call it.
The family is just one of many ethnic Armenian families who fled to Armenian border in a mass exodus at the end of September 2023. With two families under one roof, the chores are plentiful. But Iskuhi does it all with a smile. Her mild manners bring calm energy to the table, while the displaced share their story.
After more than nine months of blockade and uncertainty, the Manasyan family exchanged everything they’ve ever known, including their home and all possessions, for a promise of safety. Once the busses started operating through the Lachin Corridor, the only way out of Nagorno-Karabah to Armenia, people left in droves. The Manasyans packed only clean clothes for their newborn baby.
These two families who now live under the one roof are not related and this is the first time they have met. Nevertheless, they now share everything - food, shelter, clothes, and child-care are all communal.
“My husband saw this family holding a newborn and could not leave them to their own devices. He invited them to shelter in our house”, says Iskuhi.
As of 2 October 2023 more than 100,500 displaced people crossed into Armenia in a matter of days. Some are staying with relatives, some are housed in the government housing, and the rest rely on the kindness of complete strangers.
Iskuhi now shares the only bedroom with grandma and five children, the displaced couple sleeps in the living room, and the Iskuhi’s husband sleeps in the summer kitchen. And while Iskuhi's family gives with an open hand, we cannot but notice how little they have themselves. Gegharkunik province where they live has a poverty rate of 48 percent. Iskuhi and her family live of the land. She has persevered everything the rocky and arid soil of Gegharkunik had to give and is saving it for the long winter. Pickled fruit and vegetables usually last them until the spring.
Insight, experience and readiness to support those most vulnerable and in need
Having worked in this area for 20 years, World Vision Armenia knows about the local struggles. They are able to assess the new situation and respond fast. World Vision Emergency Response Team in Armenia delivers batches of groceries, blankets, diapers and hygiene supplies to the displaced and the hosting families.
Along with the packages, Zorik Karapetyan from World Vision and his team stop for a chat with each family. Zorik is concerned about the coming winter.
“It was 1 degree Celsius this morning, the winter is approaching fast.”
Once it sets, Gegharkunik will be covered in snow for six months, and the 11 people in Iskuhi’s house will have even less space and resources. The family uses a single manure powered stove to heat the two most important rooms in the house – living room that will also become a kitchen, and the bedroom.
Couple of houses down the dirt road, lines of washed clothes reveal another hosting family.
A single mother of three boys Elmira (34), took in Marta, a mother of four, with a baby on the way. Marta’s husband has been transferred to the hospital in Yerevan, Armenian capital.
Elmira and her displaced guests also receive World Vision’s support. The family is quiet and the air weighs heavily in the living room they now share. Elvira seems to have a deep, albeit quiet, understanding of her guests’ needs. Seven years ago, she was herself homeless. With World Vision’s help Elvira renovated an abandoned barn – the home she now shares with the displaced.
The displaced mom leans into Elmira asking for comfort and the women share a silent agreement.
“I am staying strong for my children”, Marta says.
Among the displaced, there are 30 000 children who have no-doubt suffered a traumatic experience. Marta's 10-year-old girl does not speak, but her eyes communicate a multitude. Basic groceries, blankets and diapers are what is needed urgently, but the team is concerned about the emotional and psychological toll this is having on the displaced and the hosting families, and their children.
Marta's baby cries and sits up. It is, again, time to check on the laundry drying outside.
World Vision Armenia is on the ground responding to the urgent needs of the displaced and the hosting communities. We are providing food, hygiene supplies, blankets, and first psychological aid. By donating at www.donate.am, you are helping us reach more vulnerable children.