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

пятница, 3 сентября 2010 г.

St. John’s Armenian Church Detroit Builds 4th House in Armenia

By: Barbara Haroutunian


“The earth like a living thing has its own spirit, and without one’s native land, without close touch with one’s motherland, it is impossible to find one’s soul…”
Mardiros Sarian

On June 18, 2010 a team of 11 people representing the Fuller Center for Housing went to Armenia to build a house. All members were from St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit, Michigan. The team leader was Jackie El-Chemmas and she did an outstanding job organizing the group and relating the daily activities. This was St. John’s 4th mission trip to Armenia, however the goal was always the same, to build a home for a needy family and gain a sense of one’s heritage in Armenia. This year St. John’s Armenian Church School donated the funds so that our team could build a house in the mountain village of Shatin, Armenia near the town of Yeghegnadzor.
Summer is a wonderful time in Armenia. Food shops have increased substantially, quaint cafes, and many boutiques selling the latest fashions from Paris and Milan. There is construction everywhere in Armenia, especially in Yerevan. We strolled around the capital city if only to marvel at how it has changed so much in such a short time. The streets are finished by grants from Kirk Krikorian and virtually every main thoroughfare is crammed during the day and early evening. Yerevan is bustling with activity. Here is a land smaller than the state of Maryland where we can witness the old with the new. Armenia is reborn and its Diaspora has given it new energy and money.
On Monday June 21st we checked into Gohar’s Bed and Breakfast. This quaint Armenian style Inn is located in the picturesque mountains of Yeghegnadzor. For the next 10 days the team built a house. Together in total harmony, we laid gravel and mixed cement and established a bucket brigade to lay cement on the floor for four rooms. We worked two days and traveled Armenia on the third day. On our free days we visited Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the very first Armenian Church built in 303 AD. The cathedral echoed with the sounds of bells and beautiful voices of the clergy and choir. On the way to Khor Virab we saw Mt. Ararat standing majestically on the horizon. This mountain symbolizes the spirit and survival of every Armenian. Khor Virab Monestary is the site where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for preaching Christianity. Many climbed down the pit where St. Gregory lived for 13 years. On to Garni, the pagan temple and of course Geghart, the church which was carved out of solid rock. We went to the Areni Wine Factory, the Sardarbad Memorial, the Matenadaran, and Tatev Vank which was built in the 9th century on top of a mountain. The visit to Tsitsernakaberd Monument was emotionally moving. We laid flowers and said a prayer at the eternal flame. After 10 days our job was completed and we headed back to Yerevan with a stop at Lake Sevan. As a result of new roads Lake Sevan is just a 15 minute drive from Yerevan.
On July 4th the group headed for the airport. We had worked and contributed to the building of a home, working in Armenia side by side with our Armenian brothers and sisters. We all had tears in our eyes and a reluctant departure for home, our fantastic experience had come to an end. We all recognized the importance of a culturally vibrant and successful Armenia. We were instilled with a sense of pride and a desire to return to Armenia again and again. Armenia is ours and such will remain!

среда, 9 июня 2010 г.

Global Builders volunteer team in Armenia






Global Builders team from USA arrived to Armenia for 2 weeks. They will work in Vanadzor area. The team overcomes number of challenges. We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the entire team and Patricia Zerounian for recruiting and leading the team.

четверг, 3 июня 2010 г.




Our sudent Alina is enjoying her classes. She is looking forward to graduate by the end of June and start cooking in her home village to earn income and help her family. Thanks to all supporters herlping her dream come true. Alina is the daughter of one of our beneficiary homeowners and dreamed to learn some cooking/decorating skills.

понедельник, 10 мая 2010 г.

One dream at a time

One dream at a time

Today, May 10 is a special day for 17 years old Alina Karapetyan. She is going to fulfill her dream and take a course on making and decorating cakes. This skill will help her to earn some income in the village.
Special thanks to Rotaract Club of YEREVAN for sponsoring Alina to attend this course.
For 19 years the Karapetyans’ family was forced to move from place to place with no hope to finally settle in a place and call it “our home. Senik and Karine Karapetyans have 4 children.

In December 2005 with the funds provided by Tufenkian Foundation and Hye Dzmer Pap Foundation, the family obtained a piece of land where to build a house, further VivaCell-MTS and Tufenkian foundation provided funds to build foundations and walls, and now with the non-interest loan provided by Fuller Center for Housing Armenia the family is close to realize their dream of so many years.
To read more about this family please visit http://www.fullercenterarmenia.org/en/about-us/newsroom/41-newsroom/93-buildin-in-geghard-with-agbu-yp
Together we can help more families…

четверг, 6 мая 2010 г.

What is coming next with the Fuller Center Armenia

Soon number of home dedications will follow: 100th house, 17 families home dedications at the same time in Vanadzor ARDA project with Lazarian homes. Next the greatest time is coming when the volunteer teams (Global Builders) arrive one by one to build homes with beneficiary families. Lots of work but such a rewarding time!!!

Check our web site for more news www.fullercenterarmenia.org

среда, 5 мая 2010 г.