Milton Keynes woman’s sponsorship of Armenian girl has transformed her family’s life

Suzanne Smith with Nora and her mother Naira
Suzanne Smith with Nora and her mother Naira

A Milton Keynes woman who has sponsored a wheelchair-bound Armenian girl for the last eight years has written a blog about her experience, as the UK has held its first Global Disability Summit.

Suzanne Smith helped change the life of Nora, who lives in a mountainous region of Armenia, where UNICEF says more than half of all children with disabilities and their siblings live in poverty and face social exclusion.

Suzanne, who has also fundraised to help the 16-year-old and her family, sponsored her through World Vision. Here you can read Suzanne’ blog.

Before travelling to Armenia last autumn, little did I know that a cow and a wheelchair could make a difference to an entire family. But then I met Nora, and my perception forever changed.

My first impressions on meeting Nora were that life had been neither fair nor kind. At the age of 16, she should have been a thriving girl eager to explore the world. Instead, that inquisitiveness typical of teenagers had been suppressed by the isolated life Nora led owing to physical disability. She was completely dependent on others and rarely left her house in the mountainous town of Alaverdi.

Living with disabilities can be challenging in Armenia, where many disabled children are hidden in their homes and face social exclusion. According to UNICEF, more than half of all children with disabilities and their siblings here, live in poverty.

In Nora’s case, social exclusion, coupled with her family’s poor financial circumstances, meant that as the eldest of four children she lacked adequate care and was not able to live a fulfilled life.

This is why children’s charity World Vision ear-marked her for support under its “child sponsorship initiative.” This sponsorship model is unique and revolutionary in the charity sector, as it couples children in need with donors abroad, allowing them to form relationships virtually; and meet when possible.

World Vision’s “child sponsorship” model goes beyond supporting one child, as it also funds projects that provide children and their communities with life-saving food and medicines, as well as access to healthcare and education.

This is why eight years ago, I became Nora’s sponsor.

H

ow sponsorship can change lives

When I visited Nora, I could see her family struggled financially. Her mother, Naira, was struggling to find employment in the old mining town of Alaverdi. Instead, she was mooting an idea of investing in a dairy cow so that she could generate some income by selling milk and cheese.

If this could be described as a pipe dream, then think of the other big distraction that occupies every Armenian’s mind: the simmering tensions between the country and its neighbour to the East, Azerbaijan.

A 30-year-old conflict over territories contested by both Armenia and Azerbaijan has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than one million people. Although a truce was signed in 1994, fighting has continued.

For Nora, these political tensions have already robbed her of her father - a soldier deployed near the border with Azerbaijan for most of the year.

Making a difference

Upon my return back to the UK, I resolved to do more to help Nora. With the support of friends and family I began to fundraise for a much-needed replacement wheelchair for her.

Poorly-maintained roads and lack of ramps in Alaverdi mean it’s quite difficult for disabled people to move from rural areas to the nearest cities.

Together with the World Vision Alaverdi Programme Office, and the local authority, we secured Nora a new wheelchair.

Naturally, this has helped Nora travel more freely. She now attends school and various youth clubs in the area.

I am also told that she is steadfastly overcoming her fears and realising that she can make all her dreams come true. Having found renewed hope and strength, Nora is now working hard to become an IT programmer.

Receiving help from the local authority enabled me to use the funds I raised to buy a cow for Nora’s family. Naira is now able to make cheese and butter, which the family eat and sell. The money that they earn from the sales has helped ease their burden.

Not alone

Sponsoring a child has been a blessing and a life-changing experience for me. It not only enabled me to make a difference to the family of a vulnerable girl in Armenia, but it also created a unique bond with an extraordinary child who is facing tremendous challenges.

Meeting Nora and seeing the reality of her life was very emotional, but also eye-opening – I cannot even begin to think how different her life would be, if she wasn’t registered as a sponsored child.

After my experience, I can confidently say that sponsorship really works. Even if we think we cannot make a difference with just a few pounds per month, we help bring about true and long-lasting changes in many people’s lives.

Sponsorship is a meaningful tool to help children overcome challenges and reach their full potential, and I wish more fortunate people would do more to help transform young people’s lives.

If you want to know more about World Vision sponsorship, https://www.worldvision.org.uk/child-sponsorship/