Tuesday, 20 August

Living with Down Syndrome in Yerevan Dormitory: Mother Refused to Put Arman Up for Adoption

Children born with Down syndrome in Armenia often end up being cared for in state-run institutions.  

11-year-old Arman, however, lives in the dormitory of the Mars Electronics Factory in the Malatia-Sebastia district of Yerevan together with his mother, 46-year-old Naira Petrosyan.

Their room is on the last floor of the run-down four-story building. Exposed wires can be seen hanging in the stairwells.

Naira has lived here for 17 years. The room is quite neat and small. We sit next to Arman's colorful toys. Arman closely follows every movement of his mother and when Naira gets emotional, her son gets angry with her, asking her not to cry.

Naira says she prefers to cry secretly. Her voice trembles again when she talks about not having enough food every now and then.

In 2001, Naira's mother sold her apartment for $ 2,800 to close their debts and buy a small iron hut. However, her mother was already ill, having a brain tumor, so some part of the money was spent for the treatment. They moved to the Mars dormitory, where they didn’t have electricity, doors or windows in the room at first. Years later, her mother died.

Naira met her husband in this dorm, while both of them were sweeping the street. Arman was born in 2007. 

"I had no issues during my pregnancy: the baby was normal. After he was born, I was told that the child has problems. They took him to a polyclinic and said that he had  Down Syndrome. I did not know what that was. I asked the doctor and he said it was a mental issue. We were taken to the hospital, where they suggested that I give up my child. I refused. I hugged my child and came home, saying that I would not leave my child anywhere. He will be 11 years old in a couple of months. He did not walk until he was seven. Now he walks and talks,” says Naira.

Naira got divorced in 2015, because of another woman. That’s all she mentions about the topic.

Arman is in the 5th grade. He used to attend a special school, which closed this year, in the Zvartnots district of Etchmiadzin. Now he attends a new special school in Yerevan and the Center for Global Development. "This center helps Arman a lot. He started speaking, even citing poems, singing songs," notes Naira.

When Arman studied at the Zvartnots School, Naira worked as a store cleaner, taking the child to and back from school in the morning and evening.

During the summer holidays, Naira swept a village market for 6,000 drams a day. She used to take her son with her, but he wasn’t calm there.  

Neither can she leave him inside the dorm. Naira says that one day the boy opened the window and climbed outside. She’s since nailed the windows shut.

Naira says she’s willing to do any kind of work - washing windows, cleaning garbage – to have money to take care of Arman. Their monthly poverty benefit and Arman's pension from the government amount to AMD 45,000.

"He is a very good boy. When he offers his food to me, saying that he’s not hungry, I want to give my life for him,” says Naira and hugs Arman.

Arman mostly stays home, since Naira is afraid of potential conflicts with other children.

The Center for Global Development donated washing and sewing machines to their family. Once Arman gets adapted to the new school, Naira wants to learn sewing to have customers.

Arman is the cornerstone of Naira's life. All her dreams are about her son. "I want to have a house and a job to take care of my son, so that people do not pity me," says Naira.

Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan

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