One year ago, Hamlet arrived at the Gyumri Children's Home in Armenia, just four days before his second birthday. Overwhelmed by the challenge of dealing with his mental and physical disabilities, Hamlet's mother and father left him at the residential home. Like many parents in Armenia, they believed this was the best option for Hamlet who was unable to walk, stand or speak.
The staff at Gyumri Children's Home embraced Hamlet whose disabilities resulted from congenital damage to his central nervous system. In addition to caring for his basic needs, Hamlet was given psycho-educational, rehabilitation and speech therapy trainings.
"During these hard but progressive years we had great results," said Hasmik Dzvakeryan, a special education teacher. "Hamlet began to eat by himself, stand, play, walk with a support and he developed self-care skills. He even began to communicate with his friends and staff members by pointing and using vocalizations. Hamlet was finally embracing the world surrounding him."
In recent months, Perkins International worked with the Home to organize its first Parent Day. The primary goals were to re-introduce families to their children and to give the children a connection to the community. For Hamlet, the day far surpassed these goals.
Hamlet's parents accepted the invitation and arrived with great anticipation to see their son. They were overjoyed by the progress of their child. After spending the day with their son, and learning from the staff, Hamlet's mother and father were confident they could now meet his needs and decided to take Hamlet home. They had arrived that day looking forward to a nice visit, but they left with pride in their child, an abundance of gratitude to the staff and, most importantly, a unified family.
The Gyumri Children's Home's partnership with Perkins International started in 2006. Dzvakeryan is one of three Educational Leadership Program alumni that have worked at the Home which cares for approximately 120 children from birth to 6 years old. Currently, Perkins International is supporting educational programming within two of the major homes in addition to the development of the Parent Days.
"Parent Days were developed with our encouragement and their creativity," said Dennis Lolli, Perkins International's regional coordinator for Europe and Eurasia. "Three years ago we sponsored two staff members to participate in a Family week in the Czech Republic. This somewhat served as a model for Parent Days which continues to evolve."
The Gyumri Children's Home aims to hold four Parent Days this year and Perkins International will be assisting with a review of the project this spring. The organizations are also working to establish a pre-school/kindergarten program. The hope is to make others understand that abandoning children with disabilities at Social Homes is not an acceptable solution.