In the culinary classroom at the Parakar School, 16-year-old Vagharsahk Harutyunyan puts on his beloved blue-and-yellow-flowered apron and blue hair net and starts to dice cabbage. Next will be carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions.
“This is my favorite vegetable salad,” said Vagharsahk. “But there are plenty of others we make here with meat, fruits—many other things.”
The Parakar School for Children and Youth with Special Needs, which was renovated and refurbished thanks to FAR’s incredible donors Marta and James Batmasian, the Mirak-Weissbach Foundation, and the New York Friends of Gavar Special School, is a leading facility in vocational education training for Armenia’s youth, including those with disabilities. Since the completion of our five-year project, which completely reshaped the culture of educating children with disabilities in the school, the number of students enrolled in the culinary arts program as well as many other skills training programs at Parakar's new James and Marta Batmasian Vocational Training Center has increased immensely.
For Vagharshak, who is autistic, cooking is his newfound passion. His mother, Nara, said that she had noticed considerable changes in Vagharshak since he started going to Parakar in September of last year. According to Nara, the new Vagharshak school’s environment, its caring teachers, and the cooking classes have positively impacted his health and well-being and have also helped him to build confidence and independence and boost his life skills such as communication and social skills.
“When he comes home every Friday he enjoys assisting me with meal preparation. The biggest change is that Vagharshak has acquired skills and our most important achievement is that he has developed a definite desire to learn a new specialty, which means that tomorrow he will be able to earn a living,” she said.
Vagharshak’s success didn’t happen overnight. Anjela Sargsyan, the school psychologist, said that they took many small steps over a year and encouraged him through his interest in cooking.
“Vagharshak had problems expressing his emotions; he wouldn’t communicate with his peers either. If you didn’t ask him direct questions you wouldn’t understand whether he got a lesson or not. We worked on his emotions first then plenty of practice in the kitchen classroom. Now, I can proudly say that we have made progress,” she said.
One day, Vagharshak hopes to become a head chef in a restaurant. “That’s my dream,” he said, beaming.
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