My volunteer work at the [Children’s] Center began on June 24, 2013. During my two months there, I got to know a young man named Grigor** through our daily activities. He is a very responsible and mature young man, but it was not until our interview that I got a glimpse of his hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
After asking him a series of questions, I was able to put together some of the puzzle pieces of his life story. Grigor is one of the older children at the center. He was born in Yerevan, Armenia and has lived here his entire life. He was brought to the center because of conflict with law. Grigor stopped attending school last year, and the center – with the cooperation of his mother – is now in the process of re-enrolling him back in school. The center has a special program designed for teenagers who are in conflict with law, in an attempt to provide social rehabilitation and a clear understanding of the long-term consequences for these adolescents. The center also provides guidance and support not only to the teenagers, but also to their parents.
Grigor is 14 years old and has a sister who is 17. He lives at home with his mother and sister, but dreams of going to Glendale, California and reuniting with his grandfather. His grandfather Haygas has lived there for many years and Grigor yearns to meet with him again and be able to study in America. His grandfather is his only father figure. Grigor’s parents divorced when he was four years old and he has no contact with his father since then. His father has remarried and is providing for another family.
Grigor is our go-to computer technician, film editor, and photographer. He loves not only taking pictures, but also editing them and making videos. He has made several videos of the different groups who have visited the center, but also of the children’s activities/excursions. He is gifted and has a natural talent for photography. He wishes to continue his education in photography, computer programming and film. One thing that stood out for me during his interview was his deep desire to leave. I asked, “What don’t you like about life?” and he responded, “Living in Armenia.” I asked why, but after a long gaze into the sky he said “No comment.” He did not want to go into the details of why, but in his mind, his life…his happiness is somewhere far from here.
*Griselda is an Armenian Volunteer Corps volunteer from the U.S.
The Fund for Armenian Relief is starting a 5-year child-poverty prevention program in the Ararat region of Armenia. The program aims to identify children from families at risk and provide them with comprehensive support packages through early intervention. Long-term consistent work with the beneficiaries aims to consolidate the program’s impact.
Based on specific criteria used to determine a family’s economic standing, 25 families will be selected to benefit from the program.
Services included in the support packages will range from legal consultation and assistance, socio-psychological, material and humanitarian assistance, as well as development of parental skills through a variety of methods, including workshops and trainings.
At the moment, the FAR Children’s Center, which is the direct implementer of the program, has already completed an initial assessment of the target group. After studying the social conditions of 120 families in Ararat and another 120 in Masis, from which it has identified 100 who are in extreme need of the planned assistance.
A peer review committee, made up of FAR staff, local administration representatives, the Department of Social Issues, and the Armenian Church, will identify the 50 families (25 in each community) that will benefit from the program. Immediately after this step, social workers, in consultation with the peer review committee, will devise individual plans for each family, so that support packages may be delivered starting in May 2013.
The implementation of this program in itself is the best gift to the lucid memory of its supporter Robert Samuel Ajemian – scientist and teacher, member of the AGBU and the Armenian Assembly – a FAR benefactor who passed away in March 2009. In our implementation efforts of this program for the children of Ararat, we look up to his humanitarian lifestyle and his care for our compatriots.
The Toufayan Media Lab at the FAR Children’s Center serves as a place where children, including beneficiaries of other FAR programs, and Center staff engage in various trainings, discussions, and exchange experience on topics related to the IT sphere. Last year, FAR Young Professionals Trip participant Alexander Jahani led a session focusing on various applications for photo-editing on Mac. Staff members and volunteers, including Zambak Scholarship beneficiary Gohar Vardanyan, have since been sharing the skills/knowledge gained from Alexander with children.
Now, Nver Kirakosyan, an 18-year-old volunteer and photography enthusiast, leads similar sessions on different aspects of photography for Children’s Center beneficiaries. Nver, a political science student at the Yerevan State University, has been deeply affected by a terrible car accident in 2006 which took his mother’s life and his father’s health. Following the life-shattering tragedy, he found himself in a different world – one that made him grow into a guardian and protector, himself. Nver came to understand those who are left without parental care and felt eager to lend them a helping hand.
“Even if I manage to help one child, I will be very happy, because I know what it is to be left in a difficult situation and not to fall into despair,” says Never.
Nver’s interaction with the children consists of more than just answering questions during class or providing ad hoc help. It has grown into an ongoing relationship of learning and dialogue. Nver has become a mentor for the children.
“One of my students at the Media Lab is a young man who attends my classes instead of returning to a dangerous life in the streets where he could be betrayed and abandoned by his peers. I’m trying to be his big brother and helping him grasp the art of photography, with which I hope he can make a living one day.”
Incidentally, “Nver” in Armenian means “gift,” which is exactly what Nver has become for the young souls seeking solace at the Children’s Center. According to him, the feeling is mutual: “I find volunteering to be very rewarding. Every day I spend at the Media Lab, I enjoy discovering an imaginative world that is very different from the realities of the adult life.”
FAR Children’s Center harbors the growing dreams of many children who have been left without parental care for a variety of reasons. Many of those children were found wandering alone in a cruel, pragmatic society. They were then directed to the Center, where they are becoming empowered to overcome the psychological barriers of reintegrating into a family setting.
Gohar is able to keep up with such ambitious studies through the support of the Armine and Garabed Zambak Scholarship, which helps young Armenian become strong and dedicated future leaders in politics, international relations, and public administration. It also aims to develop the culture of philanthropy in Armenia by encouraging recipients to give back, though Gohar had been a volunteer long before she became a recipient of the Zambak Scholarship. To date, she has volunteered for a number of NGOs, including the Red Cross International, and is particularly interested in working with children.
Last summer, Gohar learned the basics of photography from Young Professionals Trip participant Alex Jahani at the FAR Children’s Center Media Lab. Now she is passing on her new skills to the beneficiaries of the Children’s Center during weekly photography classes.
Gohar is passionate about involving the kids in photography, which is both enjoyable and creative for them. Among the group of youngsters who participate in weekly trainings with her are two teenage boys: Karen and Levon. They don’t talk much, but they clearly appreciate doing something that deviates from the routine of their everyday lives. This week, for example, they explored the visuals at the Lovers’ Park in Yerevan, which is one of the different locations that Gohar chooses to photograph each week.
“I don’t like keeping good things to myself. If I know something well or I have a skill or experience, I am more than willing to pass those down the ladder for those who are learning,” says Gohar. She then recalls her unfinished leadership studies at the School for Young Leaders in Yerevan that she began in 2012 and never had the opportunity to complete. Perhaps what she does at the Children’s Center is a continuation of establishing personal leadership. Through every photography lesson, she leaves the footsteps of the leader that she once strove to become.
When asked why she decided to volunteer for FAR, Gohar simply answers, “It is important for me to take part in FAR’s benevolent work.” Her credo is to “try to be more kind-hearted,” which sounds like a gentle plea for more citizens to join the network of volunteering.