A Striving And Surviving Community in Lebanon

"Our schools are determined to serve our children and youth against all odds–but will need your constant support," said Rev. Megerdich Karagoezian to the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) Field Director–Dikran Youmshakian during their meeting at the Union headquarters in Beirut–Lebanon.

On his first trip to the Middle East as Field Director of AMAA–Youmshakian visited Armenian Evangelical Churches–schools–and institutions in Lebanon–Syria–and Turkey. Youmshakian was accompanied by Hagop Krikorian from Armenia who captured the field mission on film and will prepare a documentary on the organization’s work in the Middle East. The video and accompanying photos will be used to create awareness of the urgent needs of our communities throughout the Middle East.

The first stop on Youmshakian’s trip was Lebanon. Here–the President of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East Union–Rev. Megerdich Karagoezian–gave an update on the situation and described the difficulties faced by the Armenian community and its schools in particular. Unfortunately–political tensions in Lebanon have prevented the country’s full recovery from a 15 year long civil war and the economy is at a standstill.

In the midst of such uncertainty–there still exists a vibrant and active Armenian community–with churches–schools–and cultural organizations. There are–for example–five active Armenian Evangelical Churches in Lebanon and seven schools. All schools except two are affiliated with a church.

As a result of immigration and due to economic restraints–the number of students attending these schools has drastically decreased.

The AMAA established a Child Education Sponsorship Program long before the Lebanese civil war to provide tuition aid to help needy students. The AMAA remains committed to keeping Armenian children in Armenian schools and thus does its best to support the schools financially. The service Armenian Evangelical Schools provide to the new generation is unique as it combines the required local curriculum with both Armenian and Christian Education.

Although the schools were hit hard financially–their academic achievemen’s remained excellent. All four high schools ranked high academically–with almost all students passing the Baccalaureate exams. The schools provide a continuous supply of students to Haigazian University–the only Armenian institution of higher education in the Armenian diaspora.

During his visit to Haigazian University (HU)–Youmshakian–a graduate of HU himself–was encouraged to see the buildings renovated and a record number of enrolled students. HU has been excelling academically and many high school graduates consider it their first choice.

Youmshakian also met with Dr. Kevork Karaboyadjian–the Director of CAHL (Centers for Armenian Handicapped in Lebanon). The centers house the elderly and also the blind and handicapped. The residents of the centers–in their conversation with the Field Director–were full of complimen’s for the care they received and especially the personal and compassionate care of its Director.

In Trad–Youmshakian visited poor families in the Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center. Rita Loa–the Director of the center–said that the number of families living in very poor conditions in on the rise–even within the Armenian community. Together they visited some of the families and were disturbed to hear about their difficult experiences and witness their suffering. In the Bourdj Hammoud area (mainly populated by Armenia’s) there are many families with no electricity–no heat–and no running water. Not all households can afford the luxury of telephone service. The unemployment rate in Lebanon remains very high and prices have sky-rocketed.

One area which needs immediate attention is the Sandjak Camp where 18 Armenian families still live in very primitive conditions. The camp is the only one left from the years when Armenian refugees settled in the suburbs of Beirut after the Genocide. The municipality of Bourdj Hammoud would like to develop this area and is trying to force the families to move. The municipality–however–has only limited resources to help these families.

Youmshakian also visited the Armenian village of Ainjar–which is located in the Bekaa Valley (about 30 miles from Beirut) near the Syrian border. Ainjar’s population is 100 percent Armenian. The Armenian Evangelical School of Ainjar has 300 students. Almost half are in the boarding school and many of their families face financial difficulty. The boarding school–once completely funded by the German Hilfsbund Missionary Organization–now experiences a major shortage of funds. Hilfsbund–gradually over the years–has reduced its financial support of the school.

The Armenian community in Lebanon is a thriving one. It acts as a major force and helps to preserve the Armenian Christian heritage in the diaspora. A significant number of leaders in North America–particularly among Armenian Evangelicals–have their roots in the Middle East. The Armenian community in Lebanon is very active politically and in preserving the Armenian Christian heritage. Yet today they need our support.

The Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center provides aid to needy families–both physically and also spiritually. Unfortunately–the number of needy families is on a tremendous rise and the center has limited funding. Special aid for Lebanon relief through the Center will provide hope to these families. CAHL needs assistance to improve its facilities. One urgent need–according to Karaboyadjian–is that of an elevator in the home for the blind to prevent further accidents and injuries.

Assistance to our schools is also essential. Over 80 percent of the students in Armenian Evangelical Schools cannot pay any tuition. Unless these students are sponsored through the AMAA they will not be able to receive an education. The cost of sponsoring one child is only $200 per year. Those who are interested can contact the AMAA headquarters at 31 West Century Road–Paramus–New Jersey–07652 or call (201)265-2607.


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