среда, 14 сентября 2011 г.

Bill & Fran Chattin, first time volunteer experience in Armenia

Three years ago we did not even know Armenia existed. Then we hosted an exchange student, Hasmik, from Armenia, and we learned about the great republic of Armenia. When Hasmik went back home, we promised to visit her and her family. As we began planning our trip, we learned of FCHA through facebook. We inquired about volunteering and found a trip that would fit with both our's and Hasmik's schedules.

When we arrived in Yerevan, Gohar from FCHA was waiting for us. We joined the rest of our work team and traveled to Vanadzor where we would be working for the next two weeks. It took us about an hour every morning to get to the work sites. We worked with 2 different families, one for 5 days and the other 2 days. At both sites the family was always waiting for us along with friends and extended

family members who had come to help. The youngest daughter of the first family, 7 year old Suzie, worked with us all day, talked with everyone, sang songs for us, and just won the hearts of everyone there. We mixed and poured concrete into forms already built around the perimeter of the four external walls and one internal wall. This involved mixing the concrete in an electric powered mixer and shoveling the concrete into buckets to be handed through a bucket line to the destination at the top of the walls. We also moved dirt along a bucket line to level the floors of the home so that the cement floors could be poured. At the second work site, we also moved dirt via the bucket line to level floors of the house so the concrete floors could be poured. Both families worked so hard, and really impressed me with their strength and endurance. The friendship and the acceptance of us non-Armenians was something that we felt very strongly, and will always cherish.

While we were still in Armenia, but after we had left working with FCHA, we learned that the next team had made a lot of progress on the first house we worked on and that it may be ready to live in by November of this year. It was a great feeling to know that we were a part, if even a small part, of making this happen.

One thing that we have taken away from this whole experience is the attitude and spirit of the people we helped. They have very little in the way of material possessions. And they have a very hard life. But they have not given up. The Armenian families that we worked with have a pride in their work and in their homes as they work on them. They seem to enjoy life, and especially enjoy each other. They are a very hospitable and generous people.

After our two weeks with FCHA we spent another two weeks visiting Hasmik and her family, where we experienced more great Armenian hospitality. We now realize that we have not just an Armenian daughter, but a whole Armenian family. We also got to see a lot of Armenia both with FCHA and with Hasmik. Armenia is a beautiful country, with wonderful people. And FCHA is doing a great work in Armenia. We plan to come back again. God bless Armenia!

четверг, 8 сентября 2011 г.

Brittani Howell, a volunteer sharing her experience in


We came as strangers. We came as volunteers: the Mercer Service Scholars, the FCHA's first group of university students. We came as odar — as non-Armenians, as outsiders. Only one of our group of fourteen students and two professors had any ties to the country: our fellow student Jessie Boloyan, whose grandmother came from Armenia decades ago. By the time we left we were no longer strangers, and while we may still

be odar we no longer feel that way.

The people there amazed us with their generosity, their kindness, and their cheerfulness in the midst of hardship and hard work. Through the Fuller Center we worked wit

h the Ghazaryan and the Avetikyan families, and though we thought that we had come to serve them, they actually gave us more than we could ever repay. Through kind smiles, laughter, patience on the work site, and some truly fantastic Armenian home cooking, the families showered us with hospitality and friendliness. The highlights of our days on the work sites were playing with the unforgettable children of the families, who quickly stole our hearts. We will be telling stories about Siramarg, Siuzi, Suren, Vahan, and Samson for years to come.

With the Fuller Center we had the privilege of working with, not for, the people we had come to serve, and we came to admire their strength and resilience. Once, when I was shoveling cement for the floor of the Avetikyan family's new house, their oldest son Samson approached me. To my astonishment, this ten-year-old boy took my shovel and began scooping the cement into buckets more quickly and more accurately than I could. Armenia, clearly, is not a place that “needs” help. It is, however, a place that graciously accepts helping hands when they are offered, and that values partnership and friendship. Being allowed to work on their houses alongside them was an honor — an honor, we learned, that not many non-Armenians get to experience.

One phrase I heard several times during our stay was this: “No one there understands what it's like here.” Most Americans without an Armenian background know very little about the country's rich culture, its struggles, or its triumphs. One of our Armenian friends had studied in the United States for several months, and she expressed her frustration that some of her American friends had been so ignorant about what Armenia is actually like. There is a gap between the two cultures, and it is typically only those who occupy both worlds—that is, Armenian-Americans—who set out across the ocean to close that gap. But my impression of the Armenian people is that they want to understand as much as they want to be understood, making the distance between our cultures seem very small indeed to those who are willing to cross it.

We started out as odar, but by the time we left Armenia we had, by the grace of the people we met, been invited to be so much more. We were guests, partners, unofficial babysitters, playmates. Occasionally—particularly with our driver, Melik—we were co-conspirators in playful, good-natured pranking. We were no longer strangers to Armenia; we were friends.

I don't think any person on our team can express just how grateful we are for what Armenia and her people have given us. We can't describe just how beautiful a place it is, and I'm not just talking about the landscape. Armenia defies description. If you want to know what we mean—if you want to understand the amazing country and people we encountered on our journey—then you will have to go yourself. If our experience is anything to go by, rest assured that you will not be odar for long.

воскресенье, 28 августа 2011 г.

“My Life”

The Story of Nareh Mouradyan, 18 years old

The construction of our house started in 1991. Before that we had been living at my granddad’s house with the families of my uncles. The family was extended (14 members). In 1992, when my uncle left for Russia with his family to work, we moved into my uncle's house. But in 1995 my uncle came back to Armenia and we moved into the basement room of my granddad's house. In 2000 my eldest uncle again left for Russia and again we moved into his house, as it was unbearable to live in that basement where there were no utilities, no conditions for living. Humid.... Gloomy.... Shabby.... Poky.... It seemed to me that no one, no living creature would live in such conditions. When we moved into the house of my uncle I was 10 years old and could understand that we were living in bad conditions; I could understand what need was. At that time the semi-built house of my uncle seemed to me a palace: separate bedrooms for kids, and real sun rays instead of diminished light barely penetrating through the small window of the basement.

We started cultivating my uncle's garden so as to solve vital problems. Until 2008 we lived at my uncle's house dreaming of our own, which seemed so inaccessible.... Sometimes we would clean the area of rubble and, when having some rest, we children would imagine being in our own house. We would imagine how our living room and bedrooms would look. Each time in my imaginary world I gave special place to the toilet (bathroom) because I knew what “the long way to the outside toilet and the flu epidemic” means in freezing winters. I have always dreamed of having a home with all the necessary accommodations like those in big cities so as, at least during rainy weather and winter storms, not to go out. But looking at the gloomy walls of our house I understood how far my dream was from reality.

In the spring of 2008 my uncle came back from Russia, and again we had to leave not knowing where to go. Granddad's basement room was already too small for our extended family, but we could not move our house because only the walls were built. So my father applied to the municipality and the provided us with a metal container, the roof of which was deteriorated and leaked when it rained. It was just a room full of dangers: snakes and scorpions from under the floor and water leaking from the roof. We tried to somehow renovate, but we had to be alert at all times to avoid snake and scorpion bites.

It was impossible to live there, so our whole family worked very hard, shoulder to shoulder, to build at least half of the roof of our house. Then we unrolled old carpets and started living in our semi-built house.

Now I look back to my family's past way of life and already see that there are rays of hope... that very soon I'll live in the house of my dreams where it is not damp, where I'll have my own bedroom, where I won't be ashamed to invite my friends, where it won't be difficult for my mom to do housework.

понедельник, 7 февраля 2011 г.


by Melanie Broussalian (age 17)

I have always been told that our homeland is Armenia, but for me home has always meant Southern California. From my perspective, Armenia is a remote place where my ancestors have lived for more than 3,000 years, in times of growth and prosperity as well as suffering and ruin. In Sunday and Armenian School, I have learned that my people are strong and unyielding in their faith, Apostolic Christianity. I have heard the stories, read the books, and felt the pain of the Armenian Genocide through the experiences of my great-grandparents. But still, Armenia and its people have been a vague and distant notion. I never felt completely connected to the nationality that supposedly defines me, until this past summer when my mother and I traveled to Armenia as volunteers with the Fuller Center for Housing.

When we landed in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, I began to realize the magnitude of my journey. The hot summer heat was unbearable, the humidity was stifling, and my first impressions of Armenia were questionable. On our first night, my mother and I ventured into the main square (Republic Square); here we caught a glimpse of Armenia on the rise. The cars were modern and luxurious, and the buildings were weathered, but well maintained. I always imagined the country would be dilapidated, but what I found in Yerevan was a thriving city. The nightlife was vibrant, and, unlike going out at night at home, I was never worried about my safety. I began to feel better about spending the next two weeks in Armenia.

Our trip was separated into workdays, when we would help complete a partially-built house, and tour days, when we would explore the Armenian countryside. The house we worked on was in a remote village called Dasht, about 30 minutes from Yerevan. All five of the family members had been living in one cramped room for nearly 20 years without indoor plumbing or basic living necessities. Unlike in affluent Yerevan, in the villages we saw terrible poverty. Our group of 15 volunteers came ready to work and was happy to play a small, but significant part in completing this family’s home. In typical Armenian fashion, the entire village came to watch us work. Despite their limited means, they offered us homemade bread and cheese as well as homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Our tour days were long and hectic, but always full of adventure. Every destination revealed an ancient church. Places such as Geghard monastery, carved into a rocky mountainside, or the ruins of the 11th-century Ambert Fortress, amazed me. They were built centuries ago, and every Armenian generation since then, even in times of peril, protected these monuments as a mark of our long history. As each day passed, I was becoming more closely connected to my heritage.

Watching the Armenian people bring themselves out of generations of Soviet oppression and seeing them persevere made me realize that I have a great duty as a daughter of this community. About midway through our trip, my role as an Armenian living in today’s society began to take shape. I know it is important to keep the Armenian spirit and legacy alive, and I can achieve this by educating myself and sharing my knowledge with others. My dream is to learn the Armenian language and history, and I hope to enroll in these programs if they are available in college. I know that my ancestors have suffered and been martyred to preserve our culture and faith. It’s a privilege to carry this torch in honor of those who came before me. Now more than ever, I am proud to be Armenian.

среда, 1 декабря 2010 г.

It’s in YOUR hands!

вторник, 16 ноября 2010 г.

A Visit to Armenia by Jeff Harabedian

In mid July our family of four flew to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. Armenia is a small, land-locked nation of nearly four million people located on the Asian continent. Geographically, Armenia is north of Iran, east of Turkey, south of Georgia, and west of Azerbaijan.

Armenia has a rich ancient heritage. Historically, Armenia touts its notoriety of being the first country to adopt Christianity as their national religion in 301 AD. During the seventy plus Soviet-Communist years, that faith went largely underground. In 1991, Armenia declared its independence from the melting Soviet Union and began the journey of democracy and self-government.

However, when Armenia declared independence, all of the socialized programs ended. Many families living just above the subsistence level were suddenly on their own. Of that group, many young families midway through a housing construction project were no longer able to continue building. Even today, many of these families live in their partially completed houses, while others do what they can.

In 2005, Habitat for Humanity’s founder, the late Millard Fuller, started an organization called the Fuller Center for Housing (http://www.fullercenter.org). This organization has been actively working in Armenia and in other developing countries, since that time. Qualifying families are provided zero interest mortgage loans, construction supervision and a labor pool to complete these houses. Both my wife and I are of Armenian descent and when we became aware of the service opportunity in Armenia, we decided that this could be a great experience for our whole family.

We departed LAX aboard an Air New Zealand 747-400 to London Heathrow. The London to Yerevan flight was by Star Alliance partner British Midland (BMI) flying an A-319. We were to have a five hour layover in London, and arrive in Yerevan about 02:30 in the morning (after about 20 hours of travel). This was going to be difficult but BMI apologetically bumped us up to business class allowing us to use a well apportioned lounge at Heathrow. We arrived in pretty good shape and ready to hit the ground running.

Yerevan is a clean medium sized city of about one million people. Yerevan contains about one-fourth of Armenia’s population. The city has a number of open air malls where people walk, socialize and enjoy the many outdoor cafes. There is also a large central area (Republic Square) with fountains that come alive after dark. The fountains perform to music with a synchronized light show. After a full day of working, our team would enjoy a nice meal together and then go walking in the temperate evening air.

Our construction team was composed of thirteen people that originated from across the USA. Our team leader was a civil engineer from New Jersey. The team also contained four teenagers, including my two kids. We worked for seven of our eleven days in Armenia, building a house for a needy family living in the small rural village of Dasht. Dasht is a small community of perhaps less than twenty families about forty minutes southeast of Yerevan. The village is surrounded by green planted fields and low rolling hills. Each day we would commute to the job site in a small bus. The roads out to the village were surprisingly good but narrow.

The job site was a single family house approximately three quarters complete. It was constructed of large pinkish blocks (an indigenous volcanic rock called Touf,) with concrete and steel reinforcement. These materials are plentiful, and therefore, affordable compared to lumber which is expensive. The ceiling was also a concrete slab with steel reinforcement. Sheets of tin were positioned as a roof, creating an attic space over the concrete slab ceiling. The sheets of tin appeared to be supported with scrap lumber. I am guessing that the house was about 900 square feet in size.

Inside there were five rooms. A family of four has been living, cooking, eating and sleeping in the largest of these rooms for twenty years. The house had no running water and limited electricity. Cooking was done using a propane stove. Only recently, a previous construction team installed glass into the window openings. We noticed that the concrete ceiling in one of the adjacent unused rooms was blackened in some areas. It turns out that the family had been so desperate to keep warm during the harsh winter months that they would literally build a bonfire here to generate some heat in the room they were living in. The blackened ceiling was soot from the fires.

Using Fuller’s construction supervisors, our team worked together along side the family members, and occasionally other village members, pouring concrete and insulating the attic space. Construction methods were primitive to say the least, but improving. As an engineer, I also want to help improve the construction process and identify safety hazards. One of the young family members was breaking large Touf blocks to be used as aggregate filler in a concrete walkway that we were preparing to pour. He was using a sledge hammer to break the blocks and chips were flying everywhere. I encouraged him to use my safety glasses, and though he declined at first, gentle persistence paid off.

It was amazing how much communication could be accomplished with a few remembered Armenian words and some hand gestures but, when more complex information had to be relayed, the Fuller staff was able to interpret. No interpretation was required when the family expressed their appreciation to us. They often showered us with hugs and kisses on each cheek (common method of greeting) including “Medz Mayrig” (the Grandma), who continually beamed with warmth toward us. One day, some of the village neighbors were baking flat bread and invited our team to their house for some fresh bread, cheese and apricots. It was a real treat.

Our team and a few teams to follow were working toward completing the house before the cold season arrives. We were so glad to be able to help this family work on the house, and much heavy work was accomplished. Something else that just blew me away with pride was how hard my teenaged kids worked. They worked diligently on any task they were asked to do, without a single complaint (were they really our kids?)

In addition to working on the house, our team visited a few key sites in Yerevan including Tsitsernakaberd (Armenian Genocide Memorial) and Matenadaran (Ancient Books and Manuscripts Depository), as well as some ancient locations in nearby areas such as Khor Virap (meaning “deep pit” where St. Gregory the Illuminator was held captive in 301 AD), Amberd (the ruins of a fortress complex built in the 11th century), Gheghard (a monastery carved out of a mountain during the 3rd century), Garni (a 1st century temple/fortress), and Lake Sevan (huge mountain lake that that comprises 5% of Armenia’s size).

We Departed Armenia on July 26 for nine days in Europe. Europe too was amazing. We had the opportunity to visit a number of historical sites like the town of Bastogne-Belgium (as in WW-II Battle of the Bulge, and famous quote “Nuts” by American General McAuliffe - when ordered to surrender by Nazis), Waterloo-Belgium (as in Napoleon’s defeat), Paris-France, Normandy-France (as in D–Day beach sites June 6, 1944), and finally London-England. To tell of this part of the trip and our travel by high speed TGV trains will have to wait for another time. But, in many ways, Armenia impacted each of us with a great sense of satisfaction and we hope to return sometime soon.

- Jeff Harabedian

среда, 15 сентября 2010 г.

Breast Cancer Survivors Help Eliminate Poverty Housing in Armenia

Linda Chagachbanian and Barbara Hovsepian spent last summer under treatment for breast cancer. This summer Barbara led a Fuller Center for Housing team of six to Armenia to help eliminate poverty housing there. On the team’s first day of work they were joined by six members of the Chaghachbanian and Baramian families to share the work.

Linda and Barbara are members of St. Leon Armenian Church of Fair Lawn, NJ. St. Leon members have long supported the efforts to improve the housing situation in Armenia and this year had three team leaders take teams there to work with the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia staff.

Linda Chagachbanian was undergoing treatment for her cancer when Barbara Hovsepian found she too was stricken with the disease. Linda was a great help and comfort to Barbara and the St. Leon community kept both women in their prayers that summer. Barbara’s only regret was that she was unable to lead a team in 2009, but daughter Lori continued the family’s mission and was part of a St. Leon team last year. This year husband Leon joined in the efforts.

Linda’s husband Gary and daughters Lauren and Nicole, as well as her sister-in-law Susan Chagachbanian Baramian and her husband Vigen were vacationing with family in Armenia but had made arrangements with Barbara to join the team for a day of service.

The partner family, Tamara, in the blue dress, and Ohan, to her right, Gharibyan and their sons Gevorg and Grigor, left and right bottom corners, worked side by side with the FCHA staff and team members Minas Arakelian, top second from left,a custodian at St. Leon, and Mary Ann Mozian, bottom second from left, the church secretary. The sixth member of the Hovsepian team was Charles Takesian, top right, from Ocala, FL.

The two other St. Leon teams worked on the Gharibyan home earlier this summer and by October the family will be in their completed home.

Top: Vigen Baramian, Minas Arakelian, Tamar Gharibyan, Ohan Gharibyan, Barbara Hovsepian, Leon Hovsepian, Susan Baramian, Charles Takesian

Bottom: Girgor Gharibyan, Mary Ann Mozian, Lauren Chagachbanian, Linda Chagachbanina, Lori Hovsepian, Nicole Chagachbanian, Gary Chagachbanian, Gevork Gharibyan