When 19 members of St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, MN, took a journey to their ancestral homeland last month they included a stop at the FAR Children’s Center on their itinerary.

Many of St. Sahag’s “pilgrims” who work with children in the U.S. wanted very much to see some of the Center’s children, to understand their situations, and see firsthand the impact the Center has had on them. The group also generously made a donation to support the project. During the visit, they toured the premises and all the spaces that contribute to the children’s growth and behavioral progress—the art and music therapy spaces, the craft workshop, the canteen, and the big garden with its open-air playground and apricot trees.

After their noon nap the littlest beneficiaries, ages three to seven, were playing when the pilgrims entered the room and distributed packages of sweets and toys. While some of the ladies played with the kids—coloring, painting, making puzzles, building houses with legos—one of the visitors, Christopher Kachian, a talented musician took out his harmonica and treated the children to a song. Everyone looked at him with joyful eyes and beaming smiles, gradually inching closer to him with curiosity as he played over and over again for about 20 minutes.

“They are so cute,” said Annie Bulbulian, a social worker in St. Paul. “I taught them how to make [paper] butterflies.”

FAR Deputy Country Director Margarit Piliposyan took the lead in introducing the group to the Center’s mission and its long-term and ongoing projects, as well as the staff who have been passionately advocating for changes in children’s rights and protection for more than 10 years. “This is a temporary shelter that hosts children who have experienced difficult situations, or who are victims of child abuse. It provides children with a range of services, including social, physiological, and legal assistance—any type of assistance the child needs to be protected in Armenia.”

While talking about the country’s child protection policy, Piliposyan stressed the importance of Armenia’s foster care family model. Visitor Michele Byfield Angell’s question came as no surprise. “Are there families that want to be foster parents?”

“Yes, there are. We have been piloting this model for about 10 years and it’s been very successful. Our early placements of 25 families were 100% successful,” Piliposyan responded.

The Center has conducted trainings for people who want to become foster parents. Last year alone saw 73 parents trained. Trainings focused on topics like children’s behavior during critical situations, how to be a proper caregiver, tips on child rearing, etc. Now, many of these foster parents have children in their families. The Center also holds trainings for social workers in case management, those who work with foster families in both Yerevan and in other regions. At the end, visitors watched a documentary about beneficiaries who have been positively affected by the Center.

The FAR Children’s Center is sponsored by the Edward and Helen Mardigian Foundation, the Friends of the FAR Children’s Center (U.S.), and the Children’s Center Circle of Friends (Armenia).