BY JOSEPH DAGDIGIAN
Bari Mama is an organization which provides support to disabled, underprivileged, and abandoned children and their mothers. The following is an interview by Joseph Dagdigian with Bari Mama Co-Founder and Yerevan resident Marina Adulyan.
Joseph Dagdigian: Please tell us about yourself, how and when you co-founded Bari Mama, and who the other co-founder is. Is Bari Mama an official Armenian NGO?
Marina Adulyan: Bari Mama was launched in 2014, initially as an informal online network of mothers, and established itself as a non-profit in 2015. The organization was founded by Marine Adulyan, a professor of Greek Studies of YSU, and Inessa Muradyan, Governance Programs and Business Development Manager at the British Council. This was triggered by a case of a new-born abandoned by his biological family due to physical disabilities—three missing limbs. Support was immediately provided to the new-born, and work initiated with the family. Similar cases were discovered in due course (1 to 2 cases weekly on average) and the need for a support organization was identified. The first baby, with the missing limbs, was returned to its biological family within a year. Since then, over 100 children have been either reunited with their families or prevented from entry into an institution.
J.D.: Please indicate the programs Bari Mama conducts.
M.A.: Bari Doon (Bari Tnak) started in 2015 as an inclusive children’s day-care facility providing development and entertainment programs both for children with disabilities, and for other children who attended in return for a donation. Various events were organized; crafts were being made, theater performances and competitions held, etc. All the proceeds from the donations went to the NGO’s main mission of providing psychological, medical, and material support to the families of children with disabilities who faced the risk of being abandoned.
Another successful activity of Bari Tnak is Santa House, an annual Christmas project run on Bari Tnak premises, where the theme of the activities is Christmas. It features an elves factory for crafting ornaments and handmade presents, a Santa’s workshop, and more.
During the last three years, Bari Tnak faced a number of challenges which needed to be addressed. Our maintenance and overhead costs were too high, mostly due to rent. Because we were dependent on using the same site as our partners, we had to change locations frequently. We needed more space for therapies and had to rely on our partners for facilities, again.
It became clear that, in many cases, mothers want to keep their children. However, they are pressured by their families (husbands, in-laws, etc), and, due to financial dependency, have no way of staying with their children. Space was not available to cater to the needs of mothers with new-born children, who often need special equipment, furniture, or medical intervention.
Thus, the idea of building our own Bari Tnak multi-functional facility was developed. This is a complex of two buildings, located in the town of Jrvezh. One building is primarily for the mothers of children with disabilities, while the second building is for older children with disabilities who are leaving the orphanages and need a place to live.
Land for the Bari Tnak facility was bought for us by a local Paradiplomacy NGO. The first building was built through a Social Enterprise support project funded by AGBU and the EU. Various private donations, kind contributions from sponsors, donations from construction companies, as well as fundraising campaigns funded the project. Construction of the second building has been started with the funds raised by Serj and Angela Tankians. However, a significant amount is still required to complete the building.
Bari Tnak is a social enterprise, which intends to use several commercial components to support its sustainability as a social initiative. The social components include shelters for mothers who feel pressure, or experience violence, from their families for attempting to hold onto their children who have disabilities. Shelters provide therapy, free rehabilitation services, and psychological support for parents and children. Various social programs for the sustainability of these parents/families includes vocational training and work placement within Bari Tnak or with corporate sponsors.
Shelter for those over 18 years of age who are leaving orphanages and have no place to go is provided, as well. There is a long waiting list for government provided social housing. Orphanage graduates are offered vocational training to enable them to find work and become self-sufficient. A work placement program helps provide work at the Bari Tnak cafe/souvenir shop and provides work referrals to partners and sponsors
Our commercial fund raising components of activities include providing rental facilities for social gatherings and corporate events. The second building, which is currently under construction, will feature a cafe, craft production facilities, and a souvenir gift shop.
Currently, women find out about us through word of mouth or through those doctors and nurses who informally cooperate with us.
At the moment, there are four mothers with children with disabilities—such as down syndrome and cerebral palsy—housed in Bari Tnak. This number will grow once the formal project with the Ministry of Health is launched and information is officially provided to parents and families of children with disabilities.
The government was continually supportive of our activities and efforts, but didn’t provide any other kind of support. Recently, however, we signed an MOU with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social and Labour Issues, as well as with UNICEF, in order to formalize our services and support, as well as to provide training to medical personnel and to introduce a psychological support facility in the postnatal departments.
The staff of Bari Mama serves mostly on a voluntary basis. The only paid staff members are the therapists and project coordinators, hired temporarily through specific partner funded projects.
J.D.: Please tell us about the program that takes children from poor families on vacation to Lake Sevan.
M.A.: Bari Amar Camp (Bari Camp) is another annual project that Bari Mama has been implementing during the last three years. Every summer, we take children with disabilities from the orphanages, as well as other underprivileged children who are beneficiaries of our partner institutions, on an inclusive camping holiday near Lake Sevan, where the locations of our partners were used. Then, the Ministry of Environmental Protection granted us a private shoreline at Lake Sevan where we are currently trying to establish facilities for a convenient, accessible, and secure camping site.
The camp has been a great opportunity to take the children out of their gloomy routine at the orphanage, where, due to mobility restraints, some of them don’t even have a chance to walk outside the building. For some children who have parents but still reside in the orphanage, mostly due to economic issues, it has been a good bonding exercise; in some cases, resulting in the reunification of families with the establishment of support mechanisms.
The children are 7 to 18 years of age. They are usually accompanied by their institutional representatives, or their parents. Our volunteers and therapists also work with the children throughout their stay. Normally, each group visits the camp for 7 to 10 days, and we run 2 or 3 groups every year, depending on the funds raised and the weather conditions.
Currently, we are building a container house, which we raised funds for through a local sponsor—the Chronimet Mining Company. In the meantime, the children are staying in tents and sleeping bags, which is an inconvenient solution for the cold and windy Sevan nights. Ideally, we are looking to build a more comfortable site with fixed housing and basic conveniences. These could also be rented for a fee by tourists when there are no children there. This would serve as an additional source of funding for the NGO and for the camp’s sustainability.
J.D.: What organizations or individuals have supported Bari Mama and Bari Doon either financially or by providing equipment?
M.A.: Bari Mama and Bari Doon have received support from AGBU, Serge and Angela Tankians, and Chronimet foundation.
J.D.: How can Diaspora Armenians help?
J.D.: What personal message would you like to send to the Diaspora?
M.A.: Come and join us. Help us close down all the orphanages. Let’s come together to help children stay with their families.