Sweeping in Armenia
Profile of an Armenian Street Sweeperby Grisha Balasanyan with Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Laura Atoyan is a street sweeper in Artashat, Armenia, a town some 30 km southeast of Yerevan.
Ms. Atoyan is one of the many women in Armenia who keep the streets cleaned and, as a direct result, the towns looking tidy. Like most, she uses what are called 'eco-friendly' brooms made of branches to perform her job. Throughout Armenia, mostly women sweep the streets of the country's towns, both large and small, as a way to make a living.
Laura starts her work day at 6am, when most residents are still fast asleep in their beds. She has a particular route she is assigned to keep clean. Typically, it will take her about 5 or more hours to finish sweeping in her designated area.
Atoyan is a veteran at the job; she has been cleaning the streets of Artashat, the capital of Ararat Province, since 1992. As a result, almost everyone in the town knows her by name.
Other members of Laura's family have also chosen street sweeping as their way to make a living. Her three daughters also work as street sweepers in Artashat. All start out before sunrise to tackle the cleaning of the empty thoroughfares with nothing more than their brooms.
For her work, Laura makes 45,000 AMD (UD$110) per month. That's not much, though she says she's lucky to have the job despite the meager salary. "Such is life, one day good, one day bad," says Laura as she bids a good day to a passing pedestrian.
Unfortunately, though, her salary is not quite enough to live on. It disappears before the end of the month, which forces the family to rack up debt. However, a new government came into control recently and Atoyan hopes that officials will take steps to raise salaries for workers like her. "I take pride in my work," she said, "and I know that local residents respect me for the important job I do to help keep our city clean. Sometimes, people even come up and thank me personally."
While she doesn't have a specific request of the authorities, Laura would like to see them focusing more on the problems faced by those who end up emigrating from Armenia. She's concerned that the country is emptying out. When she speaks about the problem Laura gets misty-eyed and her voice quivers.
"It's not good that Armenians are leaving. Something must be done to keep them here. They go because there is no work that pays enough so that they can take care of their kids. Only our love and attention will keep them from going," Laura says. "The leaders live off the backs of the workers. They should understand that.
"How is it that we invite everyone to 'come home', while local Armenians [can't make a decent living and so] don't have a place in Armenia? That's not acceptable. It's like separating a child from its mother. And our country is our mother. However, I'm content and people respect me."
Shortly afterward, Laura got a call from her daughters saying they had finished their shift and would be waiting for her. "We'll go home and rest a bit. Tomorrow's another work day, bright and early," said Laura as she waved goodbye.
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