BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
Last year I accomplished a dream. I took a small group of non-Armenians to my homeland, and introduced them to our enchanting Armenia, the land of Noah. We traveled to the four corners of Armenia and enjoyed the raw beauty of our motherland. My friend Yaffa, who is from Israel, wholly fell in love with Armenia.
To inspire deeper understanding of our culture, in our itinerary, I included a visit to Dsegh, the birthplace of our beloved writer Hovhannes Toumanian. The idea of visiting Dsegh came to me one day while I met with Kariné Aboolian, president and director of the nonprofit organization Focus on Children Now (FCN). She mentioned that FCN conducts a youth program there and that she can arrange a visit to Dsegh which is one of many villages throughout Armenia and Artzakh where FCN provides snacks to school children.
Thanks to today’s technology and mobile phone system, the coordination of our visit to Dsegh went smoothly. In Armenia on that October day, after we concluded visits to Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, on the way back to Yerevan, we stopped in Dsegh. We didn’t arrive until 3:30pm – a little later than I had anticipated.
In the main square of the village, we were welcomed by two FCN volunteers, young women who were coordinating the youth program. They ushered us to the school, where fifth and sixth grade kids who were part of the English language club were impatiently waiting for us. With the help of their teacher, they had prepared for us a few wonderful skits in English, of course. Everybody in our group was amazed to hear these talented Armenian kids perform in English.
It has been almost six months since that visit. I was just prompted to share that experience in this column because on Friday, April 4, FCN is hosting a benefit dance at Giggles night-club in Glendale, to raise funds for their numerous programs. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell readers more about FCN and how I was inspired.
It all began when one day Robert Amirian, his wife and his four-year old son were sitting at a café in Yerevan having lunch. A husband and wife at the next table introduced themselves to the Amirians as American Peace Corps Volunteers. They were stationed in Gavar, a village by the shores of Lake Sevan.
The Peace Corps Volunteers told Amirian about the dire situation of a boarding school for special-need kids in Gavar. The next day Amirian decided to visit the village and see the school for himself. It was a cold day in late October. What Amirian saw that day shocked him. The inside walls of the school were soaking wet, and the wind was blowing inside from numerous cracked and broken windows. It was so dilapidated it could hardly be a shelter, much less a school.
Amirian took it upon himself to repair the roof of the school and provide heaters. The very next day, he bought 12 heaters and delivered them to the school. Coming back home to the United States, he asked a few of his friends to come together and look into ways to raise funds to ease the appalling situation of this and other schools in Armenian villages.
That’s how the non-profit organization, Focus on Children Now, (FCN) came alive with a great mission: To help impoverished children access basic necessities of life. The group adopted the following motto “Breaking the poverty cycle, one child at a time”
To raise funds, the group decided to open a thrift shop with 100% of net proceeds benefiting children. The shop also provides opportunity for each and every individual to get involved and to make a difference in a child’s life by volunteering, donating and/or shopping at the store. Since its inception, eight years ago, FCN has made tremendous strides in reaching out to needy families, not only in Armenia but also locally in US, Thailand and a few African counties.
The charity has provided the following services and financial help:
• Donated over 1.1 Million pieces of clothing and shoes to disadvantage children and their families in Armenia and Artzakh
• Reached over 110,000 children and their families through its Humanitarian Aid program
• Provided Nutrition to over 1,000 children and students daily in kindergartens, or at after school programs
• Sponsored 35 youth to obtain Cisco Certification in Gyumri
• Sponsored college tuition
• Donated over 150 new bikes through FCN CampMed to orphanages in Africa and Armenia
• Implemented CampMed at two local high schools, giving the students the opportunity to get exposed to the Medical field by participating at a free two nights and three days camp.
Kudos to the board of FCN and Kariné Aboolian, co-founder and president, whose dedication has made funding these services possible. When I met Aboolian before my trip, we visited together their thrift store, “opportunity shop” as they call it, in Granada Hills. The shop features items such as clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry, furniture, artwork, antiques and household items. In 2012 and 2013 the Opportunity Shop were voted “Best of LA” among thrift stores by the Daily News.
For more information about the organization and the upcoming event, you may go to www.focusonchildrennow.org, call 818.554.8832, or email [email protected]
Catherine Yesayan is a columnist for Asbarez. Read more stories on her blog.