At 11:41 am on 7 December 1988, a 6.9 earthquake hit the mountainous region of Spitak in the north of Armenia killing more than 25,000 people and leaving over half a million homeless. SOS Children's Villages joined the global relief efforts by establishing the first SOS Children's Village in the country.
20 years later, another SOS Children's Village opened its doors.
Marking the 20th anniversary
The main celebration of the two decade jubilee was held on the grounds of SOS Children's Village Kotayk on 5 July 2010, just one day following the official inauguration of the second Armenian SOS Children's Village in Ijevan in the north of the country.
The event was attended by local dignitaries, representatives of SOS Children's Villages International and many Armenian celebrities. Mr Ashot Kocharyan, the director of SOS Children's Villages Armenia, gave an emotional speech in which he reached back into the past and the first days of the village. Ms Satenik Ghukasyan, one of the first SOS mothers, said that "an SOS mother is a way of life." She thanked all the SOS mothers and co-workers saying "we should all be proud of our children."
Armenia's entry to the Children's Eurovision Song Contest 2008, the band Arevik, and popular Armenian singer and long-time supporter of SOS Children's Villages, Ms Kristine Pepelyan, were among the performers who gave their contribution to making the event unforgettable. To the pleasant surprise of the guests, the catering of the event was family-branded. Each SOS family contributed to the buffet with the meal they're most proud of. The guests found it extremely difficult to decide on the best meal because as every child knows and, in the words of little blue-eyed Hamlet, "my mother cooks the best!" Throughout the day, a retrospective photo exhibition took the guests through the history of SOS Children's Villages Armenia. Happiest among them were the ones who recognized their faces as little children firmly holding the hands of their SOS mothers either absolutely refusing to smile for the photo or grinning directly at the camera.
Generations of children who grew up in the Village came with their spouses and their children sharing memories and words of advices to the new little ones whose smile brighten the village today. Many came from abroad just for this occasion. The day of emotional going back in time ended with happy and loud family dinners that give SOS Children's Villages Armenia a bright future to look forward to.
Through the work of two SOS Children's Villages, one SOS Nursery, one SOS Youth Home, three Family Strengthening Programmes and four school quality development programmes, SOS Children's Villages Armenia reaches over 750 children to date. The efforts continue with ambitious plans of increasing the number to 3,900 by 2016 and positioning SOS Children's Villages as leader in the field of child protection in Armenia.
It was impossible to have a chat with Anahit that day. Every five minutes, the door would open and another person walks in, first hugging and kissing her, then asking her if she wants coffee and finally raiding the kitchen for sweets. That day, the door swung open 27 times. SOS mother Anahit is a first-generation Armenian SOS mother. A versatile, active woman in her early sixties, she remembers the first days: "I got my first children after two weeks of moving in. Not being a mother before, I was scared, uncertain, often doubting my actions. I asked a lot and got a lot of help. From the co-workers, from my family, from friends. All of us SOS mothers stuck together sharing our own fears, experiences and accomplishments. We learned from the children too. Children can teach you a lot. They are pure, innocent souls who see behind false pretences and masks and recognise genuine affection."
"I have all together 27 children now. I am a grandmother to six and the seventh is on the way. But, with every day I am still learning and will continue to learn. I share my experiences with the new and younger SOS mothers. I continue to take from their experiences. I am proud to see the organisation develops further in Armenia and I vow to be an SOS mother for as long as my health serves me."