BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
In 2015, I had the opportunity to visit various Armenian communities throughout Europe followed by my visit to the motherland. I wrote about some of my travels, the places I visited, and the people I encountered. I had plans to write more stories, but time escaped me and all of a sudden I realized we are already two months into the New Year. As cliché as it may sound, “Time flies!”
A week ago on February 10, there was a story in Asbarez online paper about finding a matched bone marrow donor’s stem cell harvested in Yerevan for an Armenian man in Australia. The story reminded me that I’ve put in the back burners a column that I had the intention to write while I was still in Armenia.
Here’s the story…
Since Armenia gained its independence in 1991, we’ve come a long way. After the hardship of the 1990s, the country has evolved tremendously. We’ve seen the philanthropic work of many passionate and dedicated individuals, mostly from the diaspora, who have paved the path to progress by creating organizations that focus on humanitarian aid, education, health, community development and so on.
During my stay in Armenia, I had the chance to visit many organizations that are helping build Armenia’s future. Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) and the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) are among the many organizations that I had the opportunity to visit.
On September 19, I came home around 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon from a busy day. As I was dozing off in front of the TV, I heard loud music along with announcements. I was staying near Cascade, a colossal stairway which also houses a multilevel Cafesjian Museum of Art, where all too often concerts or dance performances are held in the open air by its steps.
I always enjoy cultural song and dance events happening in Yerevan, so I put away my afternoon sluggishness and hurried outside to see what all the commotion was about.
At the foot of the Cascade I saw dancing, balloons, and a big crowd of mostly kids all wearing red T-shirts. As my curiosity grew and I came closer, I realized that the event was a bone marrow donor registry campaign. They had set up two tables from where they were taking cheek-swab samples and registering the donors.
The master of ceremony was the Armenian version of “Dr. Oz,” a popular TV show in United States. Dr. Vahe Ter-Minasyan just like “Dr. Oz” has a talk show about healthy living on Armenian TV. The name of the program is “Mi Vnacir” taken from a Latin phrase “non nocere,” which is the Hippocratic Oath meaning “do no harm.” It’s a show I watched in Yerevan quite often. Dr. Vahe Ter-Minasyan is a sweet and lovable character.
Soon I learned that World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) had initiated that very Saturday September 19 to be the first-ever World Bone Marrow Donor Day. Currently, 25 million people around the globe are listed as potential marrow donors in hopes of saving the lives of those battling life-threatening blood related diseases.
By all measures it was an electrifying event. To make the event more appealing, they had invited many popular celebrities, such as singer Ala Levonyan, jazz pianist, Tigran Hamasyan and chess champion Tigran Petrossian. They had also invited a mobile gymnastic team to perform on different kinds of bars.
In addition the organizers had partnered with COAF—Children of Armenia Fund, and had bussed about 100 kids from different villages to Yerevan. A few days after the event I visited the office of COAF in Yerevan. I was extremely impressed with the setup and young professionals that run the office—about 26 of them.
I met with few administrators at their conference room. They gave me the history of COAF which was founded by Dr. Garo Armen in United States and had begun operation in 2004. The organization has poured millions of dollars into villages with the aim to reduce poverty. COAF has refurbished schools in 33 villages and has brought healthy lifestyle for kids and their families.
Back to the event…
At the foot of Cascade everybody was jazzed up and in a happy mood. The COAF kids who all wore the same T-shirts, started group folklore dances (shourj-bar) and everybody joined. Those kids are so well behaved and neatly dressed. There’s no way you can tell that they are village boys and girls.
The event lasted until 7 p.m. During the two hours they had gathered about 100 cheek-swabs. I called the Bone Marrow office in Los Angeles to find out if one of the samples taken on that day was the matching specimen for the Armenian man in Australia, but no one answered the phone.
At the end of the event as everybody started to pack and leave, I came across one of the village-boys who was bussed to the event. He was helping to cleanup. I started asking him questions about, his village, his school and if he was happy to be at the event. He was a jovial 12 year-old, but he sounded mature beyond his years. Then he wanted to know why I was asking him all those questions. I told him that I’m a writer and that I’m writing about Armenian communities and people I meet. Then he turned to me and said, “Morkour, (auntie) what you’re doing is very important, because you are preserving the history.” WHAT? His words put me in awe. How could a 12 year-old village boy understand the value of preserving history?
So, it goes without saying that what he told me could be a testament about Armenian kids being so intelligent. Is it the mandatory chess-game in the school’s curriculum that makes those kids so smart, or is it the genes? I still have yet to figure out.