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Marine Martirosyan

Gyumri Family of Eight: Children Dream of Simple Things and Equality

Six children live with their parents in a small apartment in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city.

Gyulnara is twelve, Hasmik is ten, Vardushik is eight, Hamlet is six, Spartak is three and Ani is two.

"We are poor but can understand everyone. But the rich do not understand us," says Hasmik, and looks away.

Her younger sister Ani, aged two, sits on a bunch of cardboard the kids have collected to be burned instead of fire wood. 

Ani

Hasmik is in the 5th grade. She knows how difficult it was for her parents to come up with the 1,070 drams ($2.2) needed to enter the Mathematical Kangaroo school competition. The girl says that they managed to collect the 1,000 drams, leaving them 70 drams short. But they paid the entry fee. Her mother, Jemma Tovmasyan, notes that Hasmik is quite good at mathematics.

Jemma, 31, says she had a lot of difficulties in her parents’ house, too. They were five children, and her mother worked in the fields.

Their two-room apartment, which lacks a kitchen, is full of smoke, since the stove’s exhaust pipe is damaged. There are very few items of furniture inside. The piano is for Gyulnara. She attends a music school. Jemma says she studies well. Overall, her three daughters study well at school. They only have trouble learning foreign languages.

Jemma, Gyulnara and Hasmik

Jemma's husband comes in. He can hardly stand. He’s an alcoholic. Jemma says her mother-in-law, who used to live with them, suddenly died in January. That’s when the man turned to drink. Once, he had to be rushed to intensive care. The doctors told him to stay away from the bottle.

A sewing machine sits near the window. In the evenings, Jemma and her husband sew gloves. They sew 100 pairs а month, selling most of them to the bakeries for 100 drams a pair, earning 10,000 drams per month.

The family’s state allowance is 62,000 drams ($129).

10-year-old Hasmik says she dreams of having a desk. It is difficult to write on a small table in the living room, and the noise of the little ones is quite disturbing. She dreams of having a house and her own room, in order to write and read quietly. "We all sleep next to each other, which is not convenient at all," she says.

Jemma says we can never really understand their situation: one needs to live in the same conditions to be able to understand.

Hasmik

Hasmik adds, "Sometimes we wear clothes found next to the garbage bins. If they are not good enough, we burn them."  The stove is fired up all year long with whatever is available. It’s to heat the apartment and to cook. It’s damp in the apartment, and the clothes and the bed get wet.

Hamlet, Spartak and Vardushik

"The children in our previous class were very rich. There was a girl, Milena, whose family had a big store. She wanted to make my classmates not play with me. When she moved, everything became better," says Hasmik.

Gyulnara adds that in her previous school the rich children in the class did not want to play with the poor. It was difficult for her, but then she changed the school and now her classmates do play with her.

Hasmik says the teacher treats the poor and rich children differently; shouting at the poor, while making jokes with the better-off children.

Jemma says that they don’t have much money, but when they see beggars, they give coins.

Gyulnara asks Hasmik to tell the story about an old man. Hasmik says one day they went to the store to buy some bread, and saw an old man digging in the garbage bin in the street. They thought he was looking for food. After buying the bread for themselves, they still had 50 drams left, so they bought a bun for the old man. But when they exited the store, he was gone.

Gyulnara, Hasmik and Vardushik have many dreams. They want to attend gymnastics classesbut cannot afford the monthly 5,000 drams fee.

The children accompany us to the nearest bus stop. We speak about goals and dreams again.

I tell Hasmik that I’m looking forward to her victory in the Kangaroo contest. She’s a bit uncertain about winning.

Hasmik doesn’t know what profession she will choose when she grows up, but one thing is certain -  she won’t discriminate between rich and poor; she’ll help everyone.

Photos by Narek Aleksanyan