BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
FCN (Focus on Children Now) is one of the many organizations formed by the Armenian Diaspora to provide basic necessities of life to the widespread poverty that exists in Armenia, especially in the villages. The organization was formed in 2006 with the mission of “breaking the poverty cycle one child at a time.”
Enabled by its generous benefactors, to-date, FCN through its Nutrition, Education, Humanitarian and Health programs has helped over one million impoverished children and families across Armenia and Artsakh.
Few years ago when I was in Dsegh, a village in the Lori region of Armenia, I had the pleasure to attend a short play performed by fifth and sixth grade students of the English language club that FCN had established at that school. With the help of their teacher, they had organized and performed a skit in English.
It was an Armenian children’s story translated into English by their teacher. I got chills watching the kids perform because they displayed so much talent. Honestly, I was not expecting to see such an accomplished bunch of kids from an English language club at a village.
Today, after attending many such events and performances by kids in Armenia, throughout my visits, I have come to realize that children growing up in Armenia are extremely brilliant. I have to say that this is not just my own biased observation. Among the people I know, the consensus is the same.
I was in Yerevan when I received a message from the co-founder of FCN, Kariné Aboolian. She wanted to know if I was interested to join a small delegation of people visiting a preschool at a village in Lori region for the opening of their playground and their donated furniture.
Attending any school reception in Armenia is pure joy for me; therefore, I put aside all my other obligations for that day and accepted the invitation.
On Wednesday July 11, I was up early and happily anticipated the events of the day. At 8:30am, Anahit Kalantaryan, the coordinator of FCN programs in Armenia, picked me up along with two other members of the board and we hit the road.
The family who had sponsored the cost of the playground and the bunk beds of the preschool, came in another car.
When traveling to the North of Armenia, it is a must to visit the Gntunik bakery in the town of Aparan. We stopped there to stretch our legs and, of course, try different types of freshly baked breads, snacks, and sweet and salty pastries.
I bought one kilo of mini chocolate croissants to take for the kindergarten students, which I paid only four dollars. Their products are excellent and quite inexpensive.
At the bakery, you can actually see how the traditional Armenian Matnakash bread is baked. At the entrance of the bakery, there are two elevated ovens specifically for baking this bread.
Watching the process of baking is an experience in and of itself. The baker takes a cushion with dough spread on it and partially jumps into the oven to press it onto the walls of the oven. A few minutes later he takes out the aromatic, freshly baked, hot bread. A joy to watch!
We spent about half an hour at the bakery and then continued our trip to the village of Tsaghkaber in the Lori region, where the school was located.
We arrived around 11 am and were greeted by the staff of the school, the kids, the parents and the village officials.
Tsaghkaber is a small village with only 1374 population and 424 homes. Some 300 young men have left the village for better work opportunities either at Eastern European countries or at Russia.
The village has one school, funded by the government and it’s free to 150 students of the school.
The kindergarten, however is not free because it is not part of the ministry of education mandate. It costs $10 a month to enroll a child in the preschool. The price includes the cost of daily food served to students.
Some families cannot afford the tuition and cannot send their child to a preschool. Also, according to an old Soviet law, a kindergarten can only register students if it has enough beds for every child, to nap.
Tsaghkaber Kindergarten has 40 students separated in two age groups of four to five & five to six. Each group has their separate classroom and sleeping quarters.
The Aslaninan family had donated the funds to build the school playground and the cost of the beds and bedding.
Desks for the teachers, colorful classroom tables and chairs for the students, and their little lockers were furnished by another Diaspora organization, Armenia School Foundation—USA.
ASF—USA was founded in 2003 in Glendale, California. It provides new and updated classroom furniture to schools throughout Armenia and Artsakh.
During the last 15 years of its existence Armenia School Foundation, through numerous fundraising events and generous donations of their benefactors has expanded its operation and has been able to furnish 310 schools and Kindergartens, doling out over one million dollars.
FCN and ASF have a close working relation. Together they bring so much delight into the lives of Armenian families.
Let me take a step back and start at the moment we arrived in Tsaghkaber village. As we entered the gate, we saw a crowd of close to 200 people waiting at the school yard. At the door a boy and a girl of 10 and 11 years old, dressed in Armenian traditional costumes, greeted us and offered bread and salt on a tray. This is an Armenian custom expressing hospitality and showing that the guest is welcomed. The guest is supposed to take a small piece of bread, dip it into the salt and eat it. This same tradition is also customary in Eastern European countries.
The Aslanian family had traveled all the way from California to be present at the opening ceremony.
The playground was dedicated to the memory of Arthur’s parents Vram & Janet Aslanian and the beds with beddings were dedicated to his his wife’s, Anita, grandfathers—Davit Avanessian and Vartan Hartoyan.
Arthur and Anita, with their four children (two daughters at ages seventeen and fifteen and a set of twins, a son and a daughter, at age nine) were all smiles. The faces of all the family members told me how happy they were to be there.
After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the kids, who were impatiently waiting to use the playground, rushed to start playing with and using the new equipment.
When the kids had a chance to enjoy the playground for a little while, the principle of the school invited us to watch a dance performance of a group of school girls in their traditional Armenian attire.
Afterwards, we were invited inside where a nicely decorated table with a spread of a variety of appetizers, finger foods, and drinks were set at the school hall.
As we gathered around the table, before the food was served, the village chief gave a heartfelt speech and thanked the Aslanian family as well as the two organizations FCN and ASF for their valuable work. Afterwards, the little cognac glasses were passed around to make toasts.
When I see the Armenian hospitality at a village, considering their limited resources, and how they strive to make everything to look great and bountiful, my heart starts racing and emotions overwhelm me.
After the reception we visited the classrooms to see the donated furniture and the beds. At that time a few kids, around of the ages of four and five, lined up to recite poetry. Each kid had a few solo lines. Again I was stunned to see how well these little kids could learn and deliver. Of course all this could not have been achieved without the constant labor and love the educators and parents have for the children.
I asked the young principle of the school about the murals on the inside walls of the building. She said, “my staff and I did all the paintings.” I could see how much love and effort they had put into making the kindergarten to look lively and appealing for the kids, whose faces were filled with happiness and pride.
We spent a few wonderful hours at the preschool and met many caring people who had created such a clean and updated environment; however, since all good things come to an end, we left the school and took many good memories with us.