World swimming champion, Yerevan State Technological College graduate, cook and makeup artist Tigran Gevorgyan works at the “TMM: Teach Me More” Educational Center as a special teacher’s assistant. Twenty-four year old Tigran has Down Syndrome. Children attending therapy lessons at TMM present with autism, Down Syndrome and other mental health issues. The young specialist teaches them to speak, write, count; he teaches them colors, animals and provides many important skills.
It’s unheard of in Armenia for a person with Down Syndrome to educate children, but Tigran has been breaking stereotypes for a long time, one small stroke at a time. He won the gold medal in open water swimming at the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens and then again in the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles. He even learned how to be a makeup artist refusing to pay attention to the opinion in Armenia that this is “a woman’s profession.”
Tigran is often seen taking the metro to go to work. He says that people sometimes start talking to him, asking him who he is, what he does and he responds to everyone with pleasure. This young man insists that people have become very polite and friendly, they try to help and always encourage him to succeed. Tigran loves going to work by metro because he’s able to avoid the city noise and traffic jams but this mode of transportation demands speed, so he says, laughing, that those using the metro must require skills of agility.
A few months ago, the founder of TMM, Lena Harutyunyan suggested to Tigran that he try working as special teacher’s assistant at the center. She was confident that Tigran would change the lives of many children. And they succeeded. Tigran enters TMM, hugs everyone, and kisses every single person in the hall and as a very professional specialist, starts working. He begins from the numbers, then keeps going with the colors, animals and so on. Sometimes Tigran shouts, sometimes he sighs, sometimes becomes extremely happy and encourages the children, but no matter what happens, Tigran loves his students and the love is mutual.
Tigran revealed that he is in love but has decided to keep her name a secret. He is sure they are going to get married one day, go for a vacation to London and definitely return to Armenia. This young man has a dream to close all the orphanages and nursing homes throughout the world so that all people have a family.
Tigran is working with Manvel
Tigran Gevorgyan: Manvel, be attentive please, give me number three. Which one are you holding? That’s not the number three. Give me three, then one, eight, number seven…
I work at “TMM: Teach Me More” center. I think I was born to become a special teacher’s assistant.
Kushane Chobanyan: Do you think this job is right for you?
Tigran: Yes, it’s for me. I was taking part in a show at Public television called “First Pavilion” where Lena Harutyunyan asked my Mom whether I would be able to work as special teacher’s assistant. I agreed because I understood I had that talent. I didn’t have a job for a very long time. Now I do my best to strengthen my skills. I am trying not to be late because what we do here is very responsible and important work. Children having autism and Down Syndrome attend lessons. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to get along with them.
Kushane: What do you think, do they love you?
Tigran: Yes, yes, they love me. There is a boy, his name is Manvel, he is very developed but sometimes it’s difficult for him to learn numbers, letters, so we keep developing his oral muscles. I’m the assistant of a special education teacher whose name is Evelina.
Kushane: How much time do you spend here?
Tigran: A couple of hours.
Kushane: Tik (diminutive for Tigran), do you teach children to speak?
Tigran: Yes, we talk with syllables. For example, there is a child that can’t pronounce colors. I ask him to continue saying for example “yel-low”, I say “yel” he continues “low.” This process helps to develop oral muscles.
Tigran keeps working with Manvel. The special education teacher asks him to be attentive and help the child write correctly.
Tigran talking to Manvel: Manvel, write beautifully. Don’t look there Manvel, continue writing down numbers. So this is number six. Oh my God, why are you leaving such a long space after writing every number? OK, now we are doing another lesson. Leave your pen and be attentive.
Tigran: “Yel...” continue…
Tigran: Perfect, put the yellow form on the table.
Continues repeating the colors.
Tigran: This is an orange vegetable, what do we call it?
Tigran: Amazing, good job!
Tigran: So, what we were doing with Manvel is providing him an opportunity to learn the numbers. For example I put two numbers and ask him to give one, two, three, etc.
Kushane: Sometimes you become angry, don’t you?
Tigran: Yeah (laughing). Sometimes I become angry just because I see that the person doesn’t want to use all his potential.
Kushane: OK, you start teaching Manvel colors after finishing with the numbers, right?
Tigran: Yes, I took I all color forms to me and start showing him. When he said the right color, I gave him, when not, kept asking and explaining. After colors we started learning animals and vegetables.
Kushane: Oh, so you were showing him the animals?
Tigran: Yes, I was asking him which animal is that and he was answering to me.
Kushane: Tik, do you work with one child?
Tigran: No, there are other children I work with. Evelina assigns me who I am to work with.
Kushane: What did you do with your first salary?
Tigran: Oh (laughing). I gave it to my family to take care of my Mom’s health.
Kushane: Have you managed to buy presents?
Tigran: No, I haven’t managed because I’m really busy with the job I do at TMM. Besides I keep going to swimming. For now, I work hard during my swimming trainings. I put on weight and now I’m doing my best to lose weight. This year we have chosen three sports including swimming, shooting and jogging, but the last one is yet to be discussed.
Kushane: Tik, you mentioned you love going to work by metro, while you use public transportation (marshrutka) when you go swimming. Which one do you prefer most?
Tigran: I prefer the metro because I remember the route better. At first, my grandfather was accompanying me so that I could remember the way, the stations, but now I do it myself.
Kushane: Do people talk to you when you’re taking the subway?
Tigran: Yes, they do. They greet me, ask me who I am, about my past, my present life.
Kushane: So people treat you well, do they?
Tigran: Yes, people are very kind to me. People have become polite and friendly. Sometimes they ask me where the street they are looking for is. I show them the way.
Kushane: Did you graduate from college? What are your future plans?
Tigran: I want to work and enter Yerevan State Pedagogical University to strengthen my skills and become a special education teacher. I want to get a diploma that I’m a professional special education teacher.
Kushane: So, have you have already taken steps to do that?
Tigran: No, first I need to discuss it with my Mom. Besides, there are some exams that seem difficult for me, like Armenian and English languages, etc.
Kushane: Tik, do you come to TMM with pleasure?
Tigran: Yes, with great pleasure. Sometimes I may be late because of traffic. Streets are full of people and I can hardly orientate myself when the metro sound system says Shengavit Station, Gorcaranayin, etc. I need to jump out from the metro fast and walk to my workplace.
Kushane: Tigran, I know there is a girl you are in love with. Please tell me about her.
Tigran: Yes, you are right. I met her at school and fell in love with her at first sight. I told her about my emotions under the rain and it was very romantic. We talk on the phone, we visit each other. Last time when I got my diploma from Yerevan State Technological College, she came with her Mom and brought a present for me. Later, I saw her at Yerevan’s 2800th birthday.
Kushane: Have you already decided your plans for the future?
Tigran: Oh, I have big plans. I want to marry her.
Kushane: Will she agree?
Tigran: She is a bit shy, but I think she will say yes. In the end I want to say that I have a dream to close all the orphanages and nursing centers. I’m sure that safe children develop better with families.