In July, 12 elderly beneficiaries of the Vanadzor Old Age Home received eye exams with the support of the Armenian EyeCare Project (AECP). As a result of the screenings, eight of the patients underwent eye surgery performed by Dr. Asatour Hovsepyan, AECP’s Mobile Eye Hospital coordinator and surgeon at the S. Malayan Ophthalmological Center.
Some of the Vanadzor Old Age Home beneficiaries had been experiencing problems with their eyesight for years and had almost completely lost their eyesight prior to receiving treatment from AECP.
The Armenian EyeCare Project, a nonprofit founded in 1992 by Roger Ohanesian, M.D., works to eliminate preventable blindness in Armenia and to make quality eye care accessible to all. AECP has five primary programs: direct patient care; medical training and education, including on-site training in Armenia and U.S. ophthalmology fellowships; public education and awareness; research; and strengthening the Armenian eye care delivery system through capacity building.
We recently produced a short film about the Fund for Armenian Relief’s live-saving support for the elderly in Armenia. In cooperation with the Bay Area Friends of Armenia and the Karamanuk Foundation, FAR provides a wide range of care services for the elderly, from healthcare and nutrition to warm company.
Sitting comfortably in their armchairs outside the building, a group of elderly people were basking in spring sunlight and looking down the undulating road when the rumble of the engine started to approach from the depth downhill. They all grew agitated as the big bus appeared in front of the old age home.
It was the 27th of April, when students from FAR’s various scholarship programs, were joined by some students from the Vanadzor Taron 2 Children’s Home to visit the Vanadzor Old Age Home.
Upon arrival, students had a refreshing lunch. Then, they got down to work, cleaning the rooms of the building and doing some gardening downstairs. Some of the students, residents of Mer Doon who are qualified hairdressers, washed, cut, and styled the residents’ hair.
Socialization with the elderly was an important part of the visit: students communicated with them, became acquainted with their life stories and also told them about their studies and current news. Chess and backgammon competitions were held between students and the residents. VOAH resident Ashot Sargsyan won the competitions and was awarded a souvenir from FAR.
Closer to the end of the day, a concert of Armenian folk songs was organized by the students from the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory and the audience joined in a vivifying dance together with the students and VOAH staff. When the concert was over, the students gave presents to the residents, hugging them as they would hug their own grandparents.
The residents all felt that attention is what consoles and alleviates pain at the sunset of their lives. Attention from the part of their families, friends, and also occasionally from the young generation that revives memories and brings joy. An added benefit of such initiatives is mutual understanding between the elderly and the youth.
The road undulating upwards and leading to the Vanadzor Old Age Home through a small gorge covered with thick woods was once an active recreation zone. Now, it is the only way to this shelter that hosts more than 50 elderly people.
As winter approaches, the staff of VOAH is haunted by worries over the same issue that crops up every winter. Located in a mountainous area and detached from the city of Vanadzor, the Old Age Home becomes practically inaccessible with every snowfall. Even in a snowless period, the problem persists due to chunks of ice on the damaged road. Gaps in the asphalt make it literally impossible for cars to travel through.
In such times, food and other supplies necessary for daily maintenance are normally brought to Home when VOAH’s Executive Director Tigran Kocharyan hires a truck to open a narrow route in the two-meter snow layer after each snowfall.
The staff of VOAH hope that after numerous requests and applications sent to state entities, the problem will be resolved. That is the promise that was made by Vanadzor’s present mayor Samvel Darbinyan during his election campaign.
“There was a case last year when one of our elderly beneficiaries passed away, and the ambulance could not reach the VOAH, so we were left with the only option of carrying the corpse all the way down to the junction where the ambulance was waiting,” remembers Tigran, hoping that the representatives of the authorities will, after all, keep their word and mend the road for the elderly residents.
A candid picture that children painted for VOAH says “There’s always hope.” The artwork is simple, soothing, and sincere – donated by young minds that couldn’t think beyond bright colors to realize the expression of their wish. But the wishes of the society for their elderly people can and should be realized by the entities, who among other things, are responsible for ensuring dignified conditions for those who live closer to the sunset of their lives.
On the outskirts of Vanadzor, buried in the greens of recreation zones and far from the reach of urban dust and noise, there is a white building that looks like an ordinary pension house from the first glance. It is the Vanadzor Old Age Home (VOAH) – a unique place for the elderly people living in the area.
By a small altar, a cozy place of worship built just three months ago in the vicinity of the Old Age Home, one can often find VOAH residents lighting candles and praying to God.
VOAH was established by FAR in 1993 with the exclusive assistance and under the patronage of the eminent French-Armenian singer and benefactor Charles Aznavour. It has been operating on its own since 2001 and is one of the few shelters in Armenia where the elderly, including the underprivileged elderly, are welcomed into a friendly, safe, and caring environment.
This entity, which was registered as an autonomous foundation in 2000, has been sponsored by the Kevork and Sirvart Karamanuk Foundation within the framework of the Fund for Armenian Relief.
Executive Director of VOAH Tigran Kocharyan cooperates closely with FAR on issues relating to the development of the charity network that helps sustains the Foundation. The establishment is proactive in seeking sources of financial aid.
As a result of its active initiatives in search of additional funding sources, the foundation receives a 14 million AMD subsidy from the state budget on an annual basis. The funds are mainly channelled towards maintenance costs, especially communal expenses in harsh winter conditions.
Apart from assistance from the government and non-governmental organizations, Mr. Kocharyan applies a truly creative approach to increasing resources: he is currently thinking of raising some funds by selling the exceptionally tasty natural honey produced at VOAH through a unique small business of beekeeping.
The circle of friends and partner organizations is also an important asset. Recently, the “Home Care” NGO organized a small-scale event to benefit VOAH on September 6. Among the attendants of the fundraising event were prominent doctors and physicians, as well as well-known Armenian celebrities, such as the pop duet Aramo & Emma Petrosyans.
Youth organizations in their turn are also active supporters of the Old Age Home. On September 30, the students’ council of the Yerevan State Linguistic University after Valery Bryusov surprised VOAH residents with a special visit to donatebrand-new linens and underwear purchased by funds collected among university students, as well as second-hand clothing.
A youth dance ensemble of about forty from Gyumri’s “Huys” (Hope) orphanage accompanied the students and offered residents a remarkable performance of Armenian folk dances.
Yet another special event was organized on October 1, when the Governor of the Lori region of Armenia Artur Nalbandyan, accompanied by the leader of the Gugark Diocese Bishop Sepuh Julchyan, paid a visit to VOAH in celebration of the International Day of Older Persons. Mr. Nalbandyan donated some funds collected for the elderly residents and passed food supplies contributed by Moscow-based Armenian businessmen, the Harutyunyan brothers.
It is empowering to see the expansion of the VOAH charity network. It grows saplings so that the new branches of charity entities developed through FAR can function as ever-growing and viable organizations for the benefit of socially vulnerable groups.
In December, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) held a meeting at Vanadzor Old Age Home (VOAH) to present and talk about some of its economic development projects, which include beekeeping, poultry and cattle breeding. Currently VOAH has partnered with UMCOR on a beekeeping project, in which residents are learning how to cultivate their own honey. Representatives from the Yerevan Medical-Psychological-Pedagogical Assessment Center also attended.
The presentation was followed by active discussions on each program’s need, effectiveness and sustainability. VOAH director Tigran Kocharyan presented on the beekeeping project, providing data about progress and results “During the very first year our old people tasted high quality honey,” he said.
After the meeting Christmas gifts were presented to VOAH residents.
* Within the framework of the Fund for Armenian Relief, the sponsorship of VOAH has been carried out by the Kevork and Sirvart Karamanuk Foundation. The foundation is also supportive of many active charitable programs in Armenia as well as educational institutions in Turkey.
After the meeting Christmas gifts were presented to VOAH residents.
Vanadzor Old Age Home’s (VOAH) continued partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was evident most recently during the Healthy Food seminar, which was held at VOAH. The first phase of the seminar focused on food security and was based on UMCOR’s Fighting Hunger Through Sustainable Livelihood Development project, which was in July.
Both seminars were led by Yerevan hospital physician and dietitian Siranush Aghayan. UMCOR Food Program Coordinator Anahit Gasparyan, her assistant Lilit Mnatsakanyan, Gayane Gevorgyan assistant to VOAH Director Tigran Kocharyan, and VOAH’s medical and kitchen staff participated in the seminar. The main purpose was to provide certain VOAH employees with improved knowledge on how to provide secure and healthy meals to the home’s elderly residents, and how to be better informed about caloric intake and nutritional standards. The seminar was a great success, filled with active discussion.
*Within the framework of the Fund for Armenian Relief, the sponsorship of VOAH has been carried out by the Kevork and Sirvart Karamanuk Foundation. The foundation is also supportive of many active charitable programs in Armenia as well as educational institutions in Turkey.
UMCOR recently partnered with VOAH staff to hold a seminar on healthy eating.
The seminar was a success, filled with active discussion.