Pavlik Martirosyan, 13, and his sister Marieta, 10, used to have a normal, care-free childhood. They spent their free time playing ball outside with their equally peers. However, after their mother, who has cerebral palsy, had a heart attack, they became determined to care for their mother instead of playing games outside.

Pavlik and Marieta get their resilience from their mother, Haykanush, 37. Despite having cerebral palsy and now vision problems as a result of her heart attack, she makes a living for Pavlik, Marieta, and their elder brother Samvel, 19 by cleaning the streets. At one point, she was working nights, and Pavlik and Marieta insisted on accompanying her despite her appeals to stay at home. They often returned home close to sunrise, have an hour of rest, and head to school.

As of October 2016, Pavlik and Marieta’s childhood turned to a new chapter. They became beneficiaries of FAR’s Children of Armenia Sponsorship Program (CASP)*. The program is designed to bring some relief through supplementary income to the families of orphans or children being raised by single mothers in low-income and undeserved households. These children annually receive financial support through their American sponsors until they turn 18. The CASP support has allowed the Martirosyans to pay off their debts and spend the rest on food essentials. Most importantly, her children can rest assured knowing that mom no longer has to work nights.

One of the components of CASP’s mission is to create connections between beneficiaries and local clergy. As such, Fr. Tatev Marukyan – the priest of Akhalkalak and nearby communities – joined us during our visit to the Martirosyan’s home. Fr. Marukyan discovered just how determined Pavlik is to care for his family: with his mom’s and older brother’s help, he had participated in the harvest and earned enough money to buy two new windows for the family home.

With their big and hopeful eyes, the children were captivated by Fr. Tatev when he assembled them to recite The Lord’s Prayer. Pavlik excitedly showed his first wooden cross that he had carved on his own. “He likes to create wooden things whenever he has the materials,” shares Haykanush. “He can even create miracles,” she adds proudly, referring to the time Pavlik modified a simple toy car into a remote-controlled car. “He considers himself to be the man of the house and never misses the chance to learn something new and creative,” she said.

Haykanush confides that after her husband’s death in 2007, it was difficult not to be overwhelmed with sorrow and anxiety. She could hardly keep her frequent depression at bay. Caring for her children was the only thing that got her through her psychological trauma. They, in turn, have grown up with the notion that they must realize their full potential to be able to support themselves and their mom in the future.

Marieta and Pavlik help Haykanush at home. “Marieta is doing a great job for her age,” says Haykanush of her daughter’s cooking.” She uses easy recipes to cook dishes. Pavlik accompanies her in the kitchen. He is the chief cook and often makes the dinner. Pavlik also gathers wood for a fire in winter.”

Although the family has faced obstacles and severe shortages, they are always ready to extend a hand of support to the other vulnerable. Marieta is an animal lover and keeps a cat. “She could stay hungry, but feed the cat,” says Haykanush. And once, when the neighbors’ children were cold in the winter, Pavlik collected wood, chopped it into small pieces, and took it for them to use as firewood. In their young lives, these siblings have already carried burdens that would have staggered many adults, but it continues to make them stronger and more generous. We hope that the CASP stipend will help them enjoy a more carefree childhood.

The Children of Armenia Sponsorship Program (CASP) is a FAR project sponsored by the Women’s Guild Central Council of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).