As soon as I walked through the door, little Ashot ran up and hugged me. He wouldn't let go.
I visited other rooms full of kids with various disabilities. Some were blind, others suffered from Down syndrome. Was Ashot also blind, I thought to myself?
One of the nurses told me that Ashot could in fact see and that he always wrapped his arms around visitors, especially women. The kids were just in need of personal contact and affection.
The Children's House in Gyumri had been set up to care for children up to the age of six. Most suffer from disorders to the central nervous system. 80% have been diagnosed as untreatable.
"These children wouldn't live if we didn't care for them. Each feeding takes up to thirty minutes. They only understand love and kind words. But they cannot engage in mental contact with anyone," said Doctor Donara Hakobyan.
Most of the children come from two parent families. It not that the families are financially in need, but rather that the children need special care that has led them to the center.
"Nothing can be done for them mentally, neither in Yerevan or Moscow," said Dr. Donara.
She says that only 5% of the parents visit their kids with any frequency and that just a few more telephone to ask how the kids are doing.
Most of the parents have literally "washed their hands" of the children and it is now up to the center, with government financing, to care for them as best as they can.
Edward Alagyozyan, a physical therapist at the Children's Home says that the conditions are pretty good.
"Children in Armenia can only dream of the conveniences here. There are four meals a day – meat and juices. Toys are in abundance. Specialists work with the children 3-4 daily. But what they miss, and which we can't replace, is the longing for a normal family life at home," Alagyozyan tell me. The children call him "papa".
The therapist says that when the kids first arrive, parents visit once a week, then once a month, and finally barely once a year or so. Many stop visiting all together.
He says that parents are put-off by the child's disorder and don't want to care for them at home.
"It would be preferable for the families to keep the child at home, in a family setting, and take them for special care sessions at the center," Alagyozyan said.
Little Karineh, sitting in a wheelchair, behaves normally and can converse with others. The problem she has is her feet.
She was intrigued with my notebook and started to draw on the pages. She wouldn't give it back and started to cry as I left the room.
Not all the kids at the center have mental disorders. Some are blind, deaf or suffer from other physical ailments.
A group of these children, considered relatively mentally adept, were preparing for a festival celebrating International Children's Day on June 1.
Lilit, with a broad smile on her face, sang the loudest in the bunch. She seemed quite precocious despite her spinal affliction. The nurses told me Lilit gets around well enough by herself but that her parents refuse to care for her at home.
Also in the singing group her seven year-old Samvel and Aveta. Both are blind. Usually when the children reach six years-old they are transferred to the Kharberd center for special needs children. The instructors, however, believe that the two can attend a school for the blind.
The Children's Center also has a unit for kids with various facial and other physical disfigurements.
Eleni just had a chin operation and was tugging hard at the nurse's dress. It was still painful.
Eight year-old Silva has a cleft lip and is still waiting for her operation. Otherwise she is fine both mentally and physically. With some assistance Silva can lead a normal life after the operation. Nevertheless, her parents have given her over to state care.
The center has a new annex. Deputy Director Artur Movsisyan assured me that all their needs are being fulfilled.
The nurses confided that they had no diapers for the kids. Movsisyan later told me that the center sometimes runs out of pampers. These items are usually purchased with donations made by benefactors.
The government allocates 2.7 million AMD annually for the care of each child at the Gyumri Center. In this sense, it's one of the most highly subsidized care facilities in Armenia.
It also receives financial assistance from individual donors and international organizations.
There are 128 children at the center. They need all the love and attention they can get.