Investing in Our Children’s Future is Investing in Their Armenian School

 

“Where Are We Coming from, What Are We, Where Are We Going?”

(the title of the famous canvas by French Post-Impressionist Paul Gaugin)

K.Tahta Armenian Community Sunday School of London held its Annual Christmas Party last Sunday for their youngest pupils in Acton, West London.

The joyful party celebrates the achievements of our children and tireless dedication of the staff, but also reminds of the challenges facing the Sunday school in the 21st century.

By Hasmik Harutunyan, free-lance reporter, London.

 

Armenian Community of London has grown considerably in the past decade; as Armenians from Irak, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt are fleeing from the region torn apart by civil wars. Countries that once welcomed Armenian refugees and orphans after the first Genocide of the 20th century paradoxically became unsafe and dangerous for them in the 21st century. In many cases, Armenians yet again had to abandon their homes, businesses, schools, churches and neighbourhoods behind in search of a safer life for their children. History repeats itself, helas.

Whereas Armenian communities in the Middle East had dozens of very well attended and thriving day schools for their children, in London the only opportunity to continue their education of Armenian language is Saturday or Sunday schools. Trying to understand human behaviour through Maslow’s pyramid of human needs, it is obvious that once those families find safety and security in the shores of England, they would be looking for the next step up in the hierarchy of human needs: social acceptance, communal belonging and cultural identity. Armenian school is the place for them and their children to find that cultural identity.

Established in 1975, Armenian Community Sunday School was named after Kevork Tafta, whose generous donation to the ACCC helped to start the Sunday school. The longest serving Head teacher was Mrs. Anahid Kazarians, and after her retirement in 2005, Mrs. Rousanna Tatoulian took over her role. I caught up with Mrs. Tatoulian in the school cafeteria before the start of the Christmas Show:

“We have continued working and improving on the solid foundations that my predecessor has established, mainly in the curriculum area. We constantly update and upgrade the teaching and learning methods, textbooks, activities”, said Mrs. Tatoulian.

“We currently have 150 pupils from age three to sixteen, and we provide classes in Classical Armenian, Western and Eastern Armenian. It is very important to cater for everyone, so Armenians from Iran, Middle East, Cyprus, Armenia or Russia can feel included”.

“I rigorously defend teaching classical Armenian which is the backbone of our civilisation. If we loose the knowledge of classical Armenian, we will loose the link with our past”, Mrs. Tatoulian told me passionately. I have always admired the incessant dedication, passion of the staff here: all twenty-one teachers together with teaching assistants, dedicated governors and generous and hard working parents committee are crucial for this school that depends heavily on voluntary contributions to run week after week.

Children here are introduced to Armenian culture through music, dancing and drama lessons. Mrs. Jenia Nersesyan, People’s Artist of the Republic of Armenia and renowned theatre actress, has been working with the Sunday School for over twenty years. Her contribution to children’s education is invaluable not only for regular poetry readings and drama productions that she has produced here, but also for introducing the young learners to modern and classic literary masterpieces: Paruyr Sevak, Daniel Varoujan, Toumanian, Tcharentz, Siamanto and many others.

Three members of the Music department, professionally trained musicians from Armenia, have regular lessons introducing pupils to Armenian classical and folk music and children regularly perform in concerts and recitals. During the celebration of Christmas on Sunday, the school choir performed Christmas carols in front of parents, governors and Father Christmas himself!

K.Tahta Sunday School has been hiring classrooms at Twyford Church of England School in Acton, and every week all teaching material, equipment and books must be transported and stored in the homes of the staff, explained the Head Teacher with gravity in her voice. She praised the teaching staff as well as the Parent Committee and the School Governors for their enthusiasm, continuous support and sacrifices they make.

The Head Teacher explained that without the funding from the four main benefactors: Benlian Trust, AGBU, ACC and Kasardjian Sis Trust, the school would have not been able to pay its bills and to carry on.

I came across a flattering article about this school written in September 2001 by Mrs. S. Ananian for “Nor Or”, and I noticed that the number of pupils has decreased significantly since the turn of the century.  Even though Armenian community of London has grown in numbers, sadly the number of pupils has dropped by almost hundred. It is obvious that the British culture is overpowering and dominant not only in the UK by globally. However, there are two areas of urgent concern to reflect upon for the Armenian community. The first obstacle is that Armenian language (unlike Polish, Turkish, Greek, Russian etc.) is not recognized as a GCSE subject by the official examination boards such as AQA, Cambridge or OCR any longer, therefore youngsters are not as motivated to take up Armenian language and think of it as a waste of time. Secondly, the Sunday school has still not found a permanent base of its own, and even with the indefatigable devotion of the staff, it is impossible to extend the school any further without having a permanent site of its own.

Let’s hope that among other pressing issues facing Armenian community and their British friends in present times, education of our children should be kept at the top of everyone’s agenda and that one day in the near future, Armenian school will open its doors to embrace hundreds more young children in order to safeguard and develop Armenian cultural and linguistic inheritance.

Hasmik Harutunyan

December 15, 2014

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