Founder of “Children of Armenia Fund” Garo Armen’s observations
These days, the Founder and Board Chairman of the “Children of Armenia Fund” (COAF), Garo Armen was in Yerevan. Since the work of the “Children of Armenia Fund” is aimed at building a better future for children in vulnerable rural areas of Armenia through the improvement of education, healthcare, community life and economic conditions, we asked Garo Armen why they attach a special importance to the role of education, renovation of schools, training of teachers, why it is so important to contribute to the system of education.
As described by Garo Armen, in today’s challenges it is possible to succeed right with the help of education. He stated the fact that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the quality and level of education have dropped in Armenia but the capability of rural children is not suppressed. “Only their conditions grew poorer, and it was important to restore these conditions so that they would also participate and move forward,” says our interlocutor.
He is convinced that other problem in the complex should be solved for the advancement of the education system: healthcare, social and psychological. He noted that currently, the Fund is working in 6 marzes of Armenia: Armavir, Aragatsotn, Gegharkunik, Lori, Shirak and Tavush, in 44 rural communities and intends to expand this list in the future with the so-called SMART initiative. SMART is a new vision which will provide farmers with the necessary tools by providing the welfare of the individual and the society thru the state-of-the-art technology.
The first SMART center is already being built in Lori marz. Garo Armen says that this program will be able to help at least 150000 people. “We have decided to encourage every village, the villages have a dream to take a step and to bring the world closer by technologies and learning English. We have a dream to eliminate the borders and the Diaspora Armenians and foreigners join them, and we would help … The nation should be encouraged to determine its future plans, and it is highly importantly for the people to trust their efforts for the fulfillment of some steps,” says Garo Armen.
“Aravot” asked whether the villages of Armenia are ready for changes, as the individual may have crazy good programs but the village will not be ready for it. Our interlocutor opines that the best way to answer this question is to personally go to the villages of Armenia and contact with people. He argues that the residents of marzes have much more capabilities than for example Yerevan residents. During our conversation, we talked about Aragatsavan village which has two schools, apropos, the government has renovated one of them without solving the issue of the heating system. Garo Armen was just amazed at how children study in these schools without a heating system and having difficulties associated with living standards, “Some of the children are studying English, there are so many progressive thinking people: the teachers, principals, and children, you feel proud. Incidentally, it seems to many people that the situation in the villages is backward, and I have one recommendation to such people: go and look with your eyes and hear with your ears and if you listen, only then you will completely change your impression and ideas.”
The Founder of the “Children of Armenia Foundation” also calls on to get rid of the complex to introduce yourself miserable and doing something out of compassion. “We are so capable nation and have done so many things in 5000 years. The sense of compassion is associated only with the last 100 years when Armenia was under the USSR domination, and then an earthquake, war, a government which unfortunately did not have the capability to rule better… All of this followed one after the other during 100 years, and now should not think about feeling pity for each other,” says Garo Armen and lists the projects planned for the next 10 years, with using the powerful potential of the rural population. We asked how they are raising funds, especially since the amounts allocated to the charity are cut off because of the global economic crisis.
Here, our interlocutor attaches more importance to completed work. He mentioned that during 13 years, USD 30 million was raised from individuals, organizations and companies who trust them. We raised a question of what to do to use the potential of the Diaspora at best in the marzes of Armenia and not to have the perception that the Diaspora is merely a money-giver. Garo Armen says that there are various mechanisms to bind people to marzes of Armenia, bringing closer is also possible technologically, the other way is to skillfully transfer the results of their completed work to them. “For example, we were thinking that grandfathers and grandmothers would communicate with their children via Skype and video and have the experience to develop English language. In this way, the Armenians living in the Diaspora will feel that they are also the owner of our completed work. If the person feels an owner of something, he will be involved in the work more: with heart, soul and money. Hopefully, the Diaspora Armenians should be more of an Armenian,” said our interlocutor.
Speaking about the fact that children in rural areas are standing higher ideologically on some issues than the urban children, Garo Armen stated as a fact that it is not only an Armenian problem and the same picture exists in the United States and Europe. He says that everything depends on who and what serves as an example for the child. In his words, many people in America are seeking just to get rich, the same is in Yerevan. “There is also wealth in Yerevan: cars “Bentley,” “Mercedes” and so on … This is what the urban children see, this is their example. While rural children are more firmly attached to the ground and are more Armenian. Being bound to the land can be extended 5-10 years but not 15-20 years. Eventually, they may be disappointed. We must use the window of this period in a better way to turn the situation in the villages into a paradise. Of thing are better in the villages, the children will not flee to Russia or Europe,” says Garo Armen in confidence.
He notes that the great part of their supporters is foreigners, recently local and Armenians companies have also joined, “The Americans Armenians and foreigners always ask us that we are giving a lot of money to Armenia, so whether the Armenians of other countries cannot participate in it … The Armenians in Moscow also have a lot of wealth, and if Americans Armenians and foreigners can help Armenia, it would be better for Moscow Armenians do the same. I personally do not make benefit from this work and I personally have given 4-5 million to COAF and come to Armenia 4-5 times a year to control the works done. I’m not a pensioner, I have my own business but I want to implement programs with our enthusiasm and money, and it would be nice if our success is multiplied, if Armenians of other countries join us, especially since there is a lot of work to be done. Now, SMART with its innovative views will provide farmers with the necessary tools providing the welfare of the individual and the public with art-of-the-state technologies. The first SMART center is already being built in Lori marz. We would like to establish 20 SMARTs in the marzes of Armenia, and if successful, Armenia will become a better country than Switzerland.”
Garo Armen also stated that Artsakh is also part of their programs, right after the war COAF psychological, social and medical teams arrived in Artsakh, we also have ongoing projects in border villages of Tavush. Their goal is to implement a small SMART in Artsakh too because as Garo Armen says, Artsakh is our Armenia.