Victoria Armine Babikian is an occupational therapist who came to Armenia as a birthright volunteer in early January. The New York native knew from the beginning that she was passionate about working with children.
“Birthright Armenia suggested COAF as an internship organization for me,” Victoria said. “It was perfect for me, totally matching my interests and skills.” Her original schedule had her working in the villages two days a week, but she yearned for more involvement. “As time passed, I ended up spending 4 days a week with COAF, and I wanted more!”
Victoria explained that the goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. “It’s very individualized, and it depends on who you’re working with, the job, age and physical condition of a person, the environment.” Victoria discovered what portion of occupational therapy she was specifically passionate about during her internship. “I chose to focus on children with disabilities,” she says.
For eight months, Victoria worked in 6 COAF-supported communities in Armavir and Aragatsotn regions. “I either provided individual therapy to children or shared my skills with local specialists that already worked with them.”
Victoria recalled her most successful case as an occupational therapist. “There was a 9-year-old boy with Down syndrome in a rural community, and his parents had a lot of difficulties accepting his diagnosis.” Like many therapists who are bringing the first wave of theraputic care to these villages, many parents were resistant to her efforts. “When I started working with the boy, the parents were not very supportive, and there was a lot to be addressed. The boy could not count and didn’t even know how to write his name.” Victoria became passionate about improving his quality of life. “He could not go to the bathroom by himself. My goal was to make him as independent as possible.”
Her hard work with the boy payed off. “Things improved a lot. Now he writes all the numbers till ten and he uses the bathroom. Soon he will be involved in an after-school program.” Victoria is glad her work with him was able to lead him to more opportunities. She believes that no child who needs this sort of help should be ignored. “You know, he went from an ignored child to a succeeding one that gets the help he needs.”
Much of Victoria’s experience involved educating people about the role and importace of occupational therapy. In Armenia, it is not a well known field. “I conducted seminars on occupational therapy. It was cool to spread awareness about my field and advocate for my profession.”
Victoria traveled to different villages and worked with families that had no access to or knowledge about occupational therapy. “I learned a lot from their culture, and they learned from me. It was a hands-on, unique experience.” She had such a rewarding experience that she elected to extend her internship by three months. “I liked it so much that I extended my internship till late August although I was supposed to leave in May.”
People living in COAF-supported communities really impressed Victoria. “I was touched to see how welcoming they were to a complete stranger that came from another country to work with their children. They made me feel very comfortable from the beginning.”
Before Victoria’s trip to Armenia, her parents had different expectations. “They thought it would be a lot more challenging for me, and I would have a hard time adjusting because of culture differences, but it was much easier than expected. People in Armenia made me feel I was one of them rather than an outsider.”
Victoria thinks that COAF is doing a great job by giving a voice to people living in rural areas. “COAF gives resources to people. It is a community-driven organization. They are making an impact that will last – it’s not that they come, do something and then leave. My COAF experience helped me understand that I wanted to stick to working with children in schools. It helped me choose what I wanted to do in life. I will be getting a job in that field when I get back to New York. ”
COAF is very proud of her work with our children, and the improvements she made for the quality of life of many children during her internship. Victoria has plans to return to Armenia some day. “I will come back to visit the COAF villages, and I will provide consultations and help to those who need it.”
We hope to see her back in our villages soon!