By Hambardzum Simonyan

Incredible journey. Incredible children. Incredible partnership. That’s how we felt about our recent day-long visit to Aparan Summer Health Camp for Children in northwestern Armenia. Each summer, about one hundred children between the ages of eight and 14 who have speech and language difficulties, hearing problems, autism, or disorders like Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), etc., spend an incredible two-weeks at Aparan where they enjoy outdoor activities, mix and mingle with other campers, and have the chance to just relish in childhood joys There they are cared for by an excellent staff of teachers and healthcare specialists. Children who attend the camp are normally undergoing treatment at the Arbes Center, which is run by Arabkir Medical Center. A rotating group of 30 kids come to the camp every 20 days.

FAR has supported many of the kids diagnosed with FMF—a disease that can lead to kidney failure and damage to the lungs, joints and intestines—through donations of a medicine called Colchicine. Earlier this year the Ministry of Health decided to cover expenses for Colchicine through its state budget, however the funding wasn’t there at the start of the year. Arabkir Medical Center, FAR’s long-term partner and sponsor of Aparan Summer Health Camp, had previously grappled with financial difficulties and technical complications before this change and was unable to afford the medication during this period. During the three-month gap in funding, FAR, through support from the Arpine and Arda Hovnanian Fund, helped the Center to cover the expenses by ensuring the children received the medication.

Upon our arrival to the camp, we could smell the firs, the birds chirping in the fresh, cool air, and we saw the kids assembled around the trees chitchatting, playing, performing and reciting poems. The camp’s Director Armine Poghosyan has been there for 10 years now. She organized the group tour of the children’s rooms, therapy and art rooms, showed us the outdoor dancing platform where the children used to have discotheque parties around the bonfire, and vigorously talked about the daily activities they organized for the kids. ”We have about three shifts during the summertime. The children are our patients. We have kids who have been here three times, however we do our best to keep the balance of hosting our new participants who can also take advantage of the daily activities and therapies organized at the camp,” she remarked recalling one of the campers named Armen* who was very isolated when he first came to the camp. “Children with autism like Armen face a number of challenges. He came with his grandma, Mrs. Marieta, a lovely woman, and he often excluded himself from outdoor activities and eating. Soon after Armen’s arrival we had a new host, a beautiful girl, and we started to notice some changes in Armen’s behavior. He started to eat, recite poems, and he talked endlessly to the girl. It was amazing,” remarked the director.

“Armen could not speak until the age of five. It’s the third time I’ve brought him to the camp and I must say that something has changed in him. The quiet little boy who had arrived on the first day at the camp has become chatty. He realized that he was not the only one going through speech problems,” said Marieta with a laugh.

It’s important to have a camp staffed with proficient healthcare providers. Camps like this play a significant role in the process of rehabilitation and recovery of children with a variety of health problems. However, there are two important things I’d like to point out: the camp becomes a tool for open and carefree communication between professionals and children even outside the camp or healthcare institution walls, thus providing us with an opportunity to reveal phenomena that have escaped our notice for ages. Second, the camp helps children overcome the ‘sick child’ complex and allows them to fully enjoy all the pleasures that would have been unavailable before.

We were about to leave from our visit when the kids marched to the kitchen to have lunch. Before the start of the meal, they recited a piece by the Armenian writer Hovhannes Toumanian called Sutasan Tagavore (The King Liar) in the yard. Each of them had a small piece, which they performed very well. According to some of their parents, several of the children wouldn’t every do such an activity at home. It was so nice to see them interacting with each other.

Aparan Summer Health Camp for Children is sponsored by Arabkir Medical Center. Hambartzum Simonyan is the Director of FAR’s Health Program.

*Armen’s real name has been changed to protect his identity.