10 January 2011

An orphanage in Yerevan

As has become our family tradition, we toured a local orphanage on the morning of Christmas day (January 6) to pass out a few toys, clothes, and homemade cookies, and spend some time with the children. This year we went to Hadug Tibi Orphanage (actually, this is its former name; I can't remember the new name), which houses nearly 100 children ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, most with Down's Syndrome and other special needs.

Despite their mental, physical, and social disabilities, the children seemed happy to receive visitors. They smiled broadly, munching cookies while excitedly showing us their Christmas decorations and framed photographs of friends who had "gone home." Several of them proudly performed songs and chants from memory for our entertainment. One 5 year-old boy, amused by the silver dragees adorning his cookie, explained between giggles that the teachers are always telling them not to put small balls and toys in their mouths, but that these tiny balls were good to eat! Meanwhile, a little girl who seemed unable to speak communicated her emotions to us by opening her arms for a long, deep embrace.

Nathan was an angel the whole time, cheerfully passing out toys and playing independently when he saw we were busy talking with the director or greeting the children. He was amazed to see the bedrooms: dozens of bunk beds in straight rows, all neatly made, without a single thing out of place. I asked him why he couldn't keep his room so tidy...

Yet of all the heart-felt -- and sometimes heart-wrenching -- moments we experienced that day, I found one rather symbolic image especially touching, and had to snap a picture:

That's right, I managed to keep it together in front of the kids, but it was the sight of their sweet little toothbrushes that brought me to tears. There they were, all lined up on the bathroom wall -- like the orphans themselves, they looked at first glance like a fun, colorful bunch; yet in reality, each was alone, separated from the others, numbered and waiting helplessly, but hopefully, for someone to claim him.

Finally, the teachers called the children to the canteen for lunch, so we said goodbye and wished everyone a merry Christmas one last time before trudging across the snow-covered yard to our waiting taxi.

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