Children learning about the SDGs
By Svend Løbner 26 Sep 2019 |

From disaster relief to children's rights in Armenia

It began with disaster relief to Armenian war victims 27 years ago. Since then, the focus was on all children's right to learning and, most recently, inclusion of children with disabilities in schools. Mission East's office in the country is now being transferred to a local partner in Armenia, through which we continue our work.

It is now 27 years since Kim Hartzner, General Secretary of Mission East landed at Yerevan Airport with the mission of securing the installation of a hospital from Denmark in Armenia - a hospital that helped the sick and wounded from the war against neighboring Azerbaijan.

Since then, health care has been expanded with special help and support for children with disabilities and their families.

For many years Mission East has operated seven health centers in poor rural areas and - not least - has ensured that children with disabilities are included in regular schooling in Armenian schools. Mission East's concept of inclusion is today written into the Armenian School Act.

And so Mission East can look back at 27 years of work in Armenia - from disaster relief, to development to human rights in the legislation.

Over 100,000 have received help

Mission East closes its own office in Armenia and, going forward, will work directly through the organization Bridge of Hope, with whom we have been working since 2002.

“Today, we look back at 27 years during which Mission East has provided humanitarian assistance to more than 100,000 people, secured HIV and AIDS prevention for hundreds of thousands of Armenians, and provided education and medical care to tens of thousands of children with disabilities.

Just last year, in 2018, 52,000 children with disabilities benefited from this help, ”says Mission East General Secretary Kim Hartzner.

Cold War hospitals

When Mission East began relief work in Armenia back in 1992, it was all about about providing food aid to hungry people in the middle of a war. Mission East sent large transport aircrafts with emergency aid and an entire field hospital from Denmark to Armenia. It was the hospital Kim Hartzner installed in southern Armenia 27 years ago.

Mission East had received five of 40 emergency hospitals to be used in the event of nuclear war. But now the Cold War was off. “Emergency hospitals were in large cardboard boxes under hospitals and around schools. There were operating rooms and everything that goes with it, "remembers René Hartzner, who was Secretary General of Mission East at that time.

René Hartzner distributes food


In 1992, Mission East sent its first relief aid to Armenia. René Hartzner, then Secretary General of Mission East, traveled to the city of Kapan in 1994 and provided food packages for those in need.

Inclusion written into Armenian law

Two of the hospitals were placed in prisons in Moscow, one was located in St. Petersburg. Petersburg, and one was sent to Armenia along with medicine and relief to thousands of victims of the war with Azerbaijan.

“When we finished the first food distribution to 34,000 recipients, there were 18 food packages left. We took them to an orphanage outside the capital Yerevan. It became the starting point for our many years of supportive work among children with disabilities and their families, ”Kim Hartzner says.

Auxiliary work, which began as an emergency relief in war, continued with medical care, rehabilitation and education for children with disabilities. Now the work is being handed over to the local organization Bridge of Hope, which is spreading the inclusive concept to all schools in Armenia

Good conditions 

Mission East's last project in the country is to renovate classrooms and make them attractive to all children and inclusive to children with disabilities. At 11 schools in Yerevan and its environs, a total of 1,260 students receive a full year of teaching in an inclusive learning environment.

In the classrooms, students are greeted with a wallpaper filled with cartoon characters who welcome them and encourage them to take care of each other. They settle for the lightweight school furniture that can be adjusted in height, moved around and turned into group work.

And work with "Bokashi Bin", which is a composting system that converts biological waste into fertilizers.

Board Games about the Sustainable Development Goals

At the same time, an interactive board game that promotes five of the UN's sustainable development goals is introduced: gender equality, economic growth, responsible production and consumption, climate action and good health and well-being.

Secretary-General Kim Hartzner has just visited Armenia and seen the newly renovated classrooms and seen the children play the new board game.

“I was absolutely amazed: 30 kids have fun for hours without screens or cell phones! Bridge of Hope will now introduce the same model in all 1,300 schools in the country. "