Sports Play a Role in Disability Advocacy

Employee at Pyunic pushes manual wheelchair
MIUSA's exchange partner in Armenia shares the motivation behind his work and the status of disability in his country.

Get to know one of MIUSA's partners for a SportsUnited Exchange program in Armenia. Founded to provide relief to children with disabilities following a major earthquake, the Armenian Association for the Disabled (Pyunic) has since grown to empower people with disabilities to be involved in culture. MIUSA talked to Mr. Hakob Abrahamyan, Pyunic's president to find out how sports and recreation play a role in disability rights in Armenia.

MIUSA: What is your mission at Pyunic?

Hakob: Armenian Association for the Disabled (Pyunic) was established in 1989, just after the disastrous earthquake in Armenia. The mission is the integration of disabled people into the society through:

  • Physical, social, and psychological rehabilitation
  • Assistance with health and educational issues
  • Protection of rights
  • Creation of income generating business
  • Development of national sports for disabled athletes.

What motivates your work? Why do you do the work you do?

By profession I am an engineer and was working as a teacher in one of the remote regions of Armenia (near Gyumri), which was the epicenter of the earthquake. I participated in many rescue works during the earthquake and saw many people in need, including those who became disabled.

What is the one accomplishment or highlight of Pyunic that you’re proud of the most?

During the Soviet times, disabled people were isolated from the society and the society was not at all aware of their needs. In 1989, when Pyunic was founded, it was the first NGO that dealt with disability issues in Armenia.

I am proud that as a result of our work, people with disabilities became integrated members of the society and can receive education, work, be engaged in public activities, go out for sports, and become involved in culture.

I am mostly proud that the athletes of Pyunic have represented Armenia in many World and European championships as well as in Paralympic games.

How do sports play a role in disability advocacy and rights in Armenia?

In the whole world, as in Armenia as well, sports play a great role in disability advocacy and rights. When you are able to demonstrate the achievements and results of people with disabilities in sport, and especially if it takes place abroad, it immediately attracts the attention of governmental bodies and decision makers. As a result many issues, related to the 194,000 people with disabilities in Armenia, are raised and solved.

What is your dream for youth with disabilities in Armenia?

My dream is that all schools, colleges, universities, cultural centers, and sport schools of Armenia are accessible, so the young disabled individuals can receive education and go out for sports.

What keeps you up at night?

Lack of money allocated from the government for the development of recreational and sport activities for persons with disabilities in Armenia.

What is your favorite Armenian tradition or saying?

My favorite Armenian tradition is while you pass near the church or hear church bells’ sound, you cross yourself. Armenia is the first nation in the world to have adopted Christianity. My favorite saying is: “tsavd tanem,” which means “I’ll take your pain.”

More about Pyunic

Armenian Association for the Disabled (Pyunic) was created in February of 1989 to provide programs and services to the children who were disabled by the 1988 earthquake, and has grown into a national non-profit advocacy and service organization. Since its inception, Pyunic has offered sports for people with disabilities, as a strategy for achieving its mission of integrating people with disabilities into society. Pyunic conducts summer and winter sport camps and year round athletic training.

The three-story Pyunic Center for the Disabled and Sport Complex in Yerevan was granted to Pyunic in 1998 by the Armenian Government, and features accessible sport facilities, swimming pool, and fitness gym, as well as administrative offices and facilities for vocational training and income generation. Pyunic is one of nine members of the Independent Life National Network that deals with rights, health, education, sport and recreation issues of people with disabilities. Pyunic partnered with Agate Center for Women with Disabilities and Special Needs and MIUSA for a SportsUnited Exchange in 2014.