– November 13 2020
I am my sister's keeper
Sisters Rita* and Jenny* are too young to understand what war is, but old enough to stick together and protect each other. Rita is four, and Jenny is three years old. They are from Nagorno-Karabakh.
"Now we will make a tasty dish for father," Rita says to Jenny as they play in the yard of SOS Children's Village Kotayk in Armenia that has been their home for over a month. "He will eat it when he comes from work."
The little girls have never met their father. They've seen their imprisoned mother only once. Since their earliest childhood, Rita and Jenny's home was a boarding school in Stepanakert, the largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh, which they had to leave when the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan started in September.
The sisters were among the 35 children brought to the SOS Children’s Village in Kotayk after their boarding school came under the threat of attack and was evacuated. They and the other children will be cared for here as long as necessary.
"Rita and Jenny have no emotional connection to their mother, but are very attached to each other," says Karina, the psychologist at the SOS Children’s Village who has worked with the girls since they arrived. "They don't clearly understand what has happened and why they were taken out from Nagorno-Karabakh, but get scared of loud noises. Also, Rita is very protective of Jenny and is always by her side."
By her sister's side
When the air-raid sirens went off on 27 September, Rita's first concern was her sister.
"We never thought that a boarding school would be shelled," says the boarding school director. "We started to evacuate the children who were in panic. Then I saw Rita sitting on the ground holding her favorite doll in one hand and squeezing Jenny’s hand with the other.
"As we drove, we feared the bus might be targeted. We whispered our concerns so the children wouldn't hear," he continues. "Jenny slept all the way. Rita never closed her eyes. Jenny woke up just before we arrived and began to cry. Rita immediately took out a cookie from her pocket and gave it to her sister. We were stunned! Little Rita didn't sleep because she watched over her sister."
A peace deal has ended the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but there is still a humanitarian crisis. Around 100,000 people, mainly women and children, were displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Many of them whose homes were destroyed have nothing to return to.
SOS Children's Villages Armenia currently shelters 35 children without parental care and 22 children with their mothers, all of whom were evacuated from Nagorno-Karabakh in early October and now live in SOS Children's Village Kotayk. In addition, 200 displaced families receive support through the family strengthening programme in Yerevan.
*For privacy reasons, all names are changed.
Support SOS Children's Villages in Armenia as it responds to this crisis