BY NANE VARDANYAN
The working day winds down in Armenia but the Children of Armenia Fund work cycle is everlasting. More than 5,000 miles away from Yerevan, in the heart of New York City, our second office stands near the famous Flatiron building on the very Fifth Avenue. It is a second home where our team keeps the ball rolling and the momentum moving forward. The COAF family does not have a nationality, and here as well, two of our employees are non-Armenians.
Meet Eleanor Robb, our Operations and Development Manager, who has joined our team since June 2018. While a few years ago she didn’t know much about Armenia, she is now a COAF ambassador working towards advancing the rural communities in Armenia. Two Armenian rugs from Vernissage (a large open-air market in Yerevan) she is obsessed with, reflect the spirit of Armenia in her house. She even knows the essentials: how to say hi (barev), yes (ayo), and no (voch) in Armenian.
“I definitely remember first hearing about Armenia in high school from a friend of mine whose family is part of the Armenian Diaspora. I kind of got my first introduction through a very cool art piece he made about Armenia at school,” remembers Eleanor. When she started her job, the Velvet Revolution had just occurred in Armenia, and she was quickly thrown into the amazing period getting inspired by the way people came together and succeeded.
She clearly reflects her first trip to Armenia when one of our old and gold employees, Razmik, “my buddy” as Eleanor calls him, picked her up from Zvartnots airport. “I had never been so far from home,” she confesses with laughter. “Not speaking a word in Armenian, everyone was so wonderful and helpful and took the time to know me.”
Eleanor always jokes that the New York office is the Armenian office when they are asleep. To her, it’s a perpetual motion where the key is to use the time to our own advantage. “I do feel such a connection to the team in Armenia and the mission and the work that is being done. The dedication that everyone has is definitely something you want to easily support.” Her grandfather, 85, is a COAF donor who sponsors a child in rural Armenia and always hints to Eleanor saying, “When are we going to Armenia?!”
During her second visit, Eleanor became a guide to Tessa Seindenspinner, the Development Associate at COAF and our second American employee at the NYC office. Tessa had known a few important things about Armenia before being involved with COAF: yes! that Kardashians are Armenians and about the Armenian Genocide.
“It is such a beautiful mountainous country. I tried to go in with no expectations. Even though it’s on the other side of the world, it felt so familiar,” describes Tessa. Coming from NYC she was surprised to see the expanses of land outside Yerevan, especially the peaceful area where the COAF SMART Center is located.
“The food was amazing!” says Tessa, who nominates Armenian cuisine as the “best tasting food you can get for a low price, and when people serving it care about what they are doing”. Being a vegetarian, one of her favorite things from the trip was having pickles in the breakfast bar. “It was insane how the food was so cheap. To get a whole fresh meal under $5 which you can do in Armenia is just unheard of. In NYC you will spend $18 and get food where vegetables are either frozen or from a can,” compares Tessa.
Nowadays, when everyone appreciates modern technologies enabling us to work remotely, we have been on distance working with our NYC colleagues for many years. “Of course, it would be disastrous if not the right tools,” says Tessa, thinking that perennially working from two cities is way more productive. To her, COAF has felt like a welcoming place that also challenges and makes her think and move forward in new ways.
While the world is figuring out how to organize distance working, our Yerevan-New York transit continues productively and smoothly sowing seeds for the better future of Armenian youth.
Nane Vardanyan is the Communications Specialist for Children of Armenia Fund.