14/5/2013 - A single parent living in poverty faces a five year struggle to regain of custody her daughter, who she loves dearly. The best interests of the child are paramount for all involved, including social workers at SOS Children’s Villages.
"I tried lying to myself, saying that Ester was better-off in the orphanage. Deep down I didn't believe it. I knew I made a mistake. A mistake my child would pay for.” Ani’s third child was born prematurely at seven months. Doctors informed the divorcee that nutritional supplements and medical supplies were vital for her baby’s survival –such commodities don’t come cheap in Armenia. As it was, Ani was unemployed and struggled to pay her monthly rent of ten Armenian Drams (€25) for a damp windowless unfurnished room she called home..
Waiting for Ester- All children should live where they are loved and protected © k. Ilievska
Could I bring a new-born back here, she asked herself. Her decision was to place the child in the care of the state
The family faced many challenges before Ester was born. "I divorced when my eldest daughter was three and my son, was a year old. My ex-husband continues to be a violent alcoholic. He never once called to talk to his children. I then met someone else. When he found out I was pregnant, he disappeared,” said Ani.
"I had to make a decent home for Ana and Henry. They longed to be united with their little sister and looked forward to meeting her at the orphanage every third month. As the journey was long and the bus fare very expensive, I could only manage to visit Ester once a month. Every visit was heart-breaking. Ester cried and cried. She begged to be let come home. The farewells were the hardest.”
A window of opportunity
Gazing at the wall in the dark room she called home, the only answer for Ani was to take matters into her own hands. She took a hammer and smashed the wall. She knew that her children needed natural light to read and play. She installed the window and brightened up the family home in every way she could. She was determined to bring Ester home. The odds were against her. Years passed and endless bureaucratic procedures tested her willpower.
"The most difficult part was proving that Ester would be better off at home," says Marine, a social worker at the SOS Social Centre in Yerevan, who learned of Ani’s plight. "When it comes to comparing the physical conditions, the cruel reality says that the orphanage is better.” Marine knew that Ani’s situation was a test of SOS Children’s Villages theory; that all children should live in a loving family environment that will support them reach their full potential.
Marine got to work and first ensured the family’s financial burden was reduced. This ensured the basic needs of the two older children were met. She then researched the legalities involved in getting Ester back into the custody of her mother. She filed requests, made calls, knocked on doors and pleaded with various officials on Ani’s behalf. Five years into the process and the tearful mother despaired as each applications failed.
Dealing with trauma
I love my mother, my sister, my brother. Now every day is family day for Ester and Ani @ k Iliveska
The team at the SOS Social Centre grew to admire Ani’s resilience. They knew she was a good mother who unselfishly placed her children first. “I don't have a steady job and the authorities could have rejected my application again if there wasn't for one piece of paper that's worth gold to me. SOS Children's Villages Armenia pledged that they'll continue to help me until I am able to stand on own feet," she said. As a result Ester is now reunited with her loving family.
“Home is the best. I love my home. I don't like that orphanage. I love my mother, my sister, my brother. Home is the most wonderful place," exclaims the eight year old. In spite of the joy the family now shares, they have much in common with the four out of ten Armenian families who live in poverty. The threat of eviction looms and finding work for Ani is challenging. Ester endured trauma while in care. She now meets with a psychologist from SOS Children's Villages twice weekly to overcome the past and adjust to a future with her family.
The family's progress in encouraging.
You are invited
Ani, Marine and thousands who work and attend over 600 SOS Social Centres across the world knows why family matters. To celebrate Ester’s return and to mark the International Day of the Family you are cordially invited to the SOS Children's Villages Virtual Family Picnic on Facebook.