Armenia Red Cross volunteers are family for refugees

Published: 19 July 2002 0:00 CET

Anna Haroutunian, in Yerevan

Fleeing from Azerbaijan to Armenia after the 1989 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the refugees never imagined what future lay in store for them. At the refugee hostels where some 330 of them live today, the only friends and relatives they have are the Youth Red Cross volunteers.

The bonds are very strong for a relationship of only four years. It started in 1999 when the Psycho-Social Services for elderly refugees programme began in Armenia.
Funded by the US Government, the programme's bedrock is the very special relationship between the lonely refugees and the young volunteers. With time, the relationship between the refugees and volunteers has grown into a strong, affectionate bond where they long for each other, and where refugees become grandparents to many a volunteer child.

Youth Red Cross volunteers visit the refugees twice a week and carry out basic home care, read the newspapers out loud to them, talk about issues of common concern and try to alleviate their daily hardships. "They have become a part of life at the refugee hostels, bringing light into darkness," says Dr Gurgen Boshyan, secretary general of the Armenian Red Cross society.

The programme has been implemented in three refugee hostels. One of them is in the capital, Yerevan, where 60 youth volunteers are involved in the programme. The activities include the celebration of all the elderly refugees' birthdays, including birthday gifts, as well as various cultural and social evenings, which bring the refugees together and break the isolation and monotony in their life.

The success of the programme and the special role of the volunteers was evident during the Refugee Day celebrations last June 20, which involved all residents of the hostels accompanied by 60 youth volunteers. A cultural event was organized by the Armenian Red Cross Society, including various games and entertainment.

Youth Red Cross volunteer Emma is the beneficiaries' favourite. She has been involved in the programme implementation from the beginning. "I am really happy and proud for all the youth volunteers present here today. We have managed to do the minimum, which is to make these lonely people feel happy and smile, forget their daily hardships for a while. This is a big achievement", she says.

The June event was also meant to attract new volunteers and convey messages concerning refugee-related issues to the general public. Its success proved once again how easy it is to feel loved and important. All it takes is a knock on the doors of the refugee hostels.

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