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Desperate people burned toxic quake debris and trash to cook and keep warm. For all its faults, the Soviet Union did provide housing for many.But soon the USSR went the way of so many of its crumbled Armenian buildings.That's common for many in Armenia, where 30 percent of the population is poor.Domik resident Melina grew up in and out of orphanages.But even as Abajian hustles to raise funds from the Armenian diaspora, the numbers are daunting: It costs roughly ,000 to move a family from a domik to an apartment.Do the math, and that’s a million problem in Gyumri alone, far more than the nonprofits take in.“The promise is it will get you to a level where you’ll take care of your family, you’ll be able to rent a home and live a normal life here in Gyumri,” Abajian says.Ashot, 7, passes time in the domik where he lives with his mother and two sisters.
One reason is that I’m traveling with Vahan Tumasyan.
So the Paros Foundation is trying something else, too, with an eye toward the long term.“The domik kids don’t need arts and crafts,” Abajian says.
“They need a meal so they can think, so they’re not starving, so they can do some homework.”They need other things too, which is why the Paros Foundation created — “moving forward” in Armenian, a year-old youth center in Gyumri meant to improve domik kids’ prospects through a holistic approach.
In addition to its eight teachers, the center has a nurse, a psychologist, and maybe most importantly, places where kids can safely bathe and eat healthy food. They also didn’t know how to sit at a table and eat together, so the teachers sat with them and created this family atmosphere they don’t have in the domiks.
When the center started serving meals last year, Abajian says, students didn’t touch the salad. And most of them didn’t know how to use the bathrooms because a lot of their schools don’t have bathrooms either.”Another thing domik kids lack is private space.“So we’ve made sure that each kid has a locker here,” Abajian says.
So, picture desperate families, a harsh Armenian winter, and shipping containers everywhere.