Posts Tagged ‘far soup kitchens’


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Trip to Armenia Becomes a Character Building Experience.

July 28, 2010

By Levon Lachikyan

When Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) established the American Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) in 1946, his aim was to join the two directions of the new Armenian-American generation’s education – Christian and Armenian.

The 2010 ACYOA ASP Group


Credit: FAR Staff

Pursuing the same purpose, the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) has been organizing pilgrimages to the homeland in recent years. This summer, the ACYOA’s Armenia Service Program (ASP) partnered with FAR to focus volunteering efforts on FAR projects in Gyumri. During the trip (June 29 – July 20), the ASP group worked at FAR’s Ounjian School, which is undergoing renovations, and at the FAR Soup Kitchen, which serves Gyumri’s elderly community.

The group leader was the Rev. Tateos R. Abdalian, director of department for the Mission Parishes of Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

FAR’s Shirak Branch organized a very interesting itinerary, which allowed the youngsters to meet with their peers or with adults.

Fr. Tateos and the ASP Group
at FARs Children Center


Credit: FAR Staff

The one-week of volunteer work in Gyumri and the travel throughout Armenia ensured opportunity for the ASPers to know Armenia from inside. They were fascinated by Gyumri’s architecture and met with families who had been living in temporary metal shelters for the more than twenty years since the earthquake hit. They listened to the wonderful music played by the children of Octet Music School, who must study in temporary shelters as well. At the same time, the ASPers witnessed the outpouring of support for the students of the Ounjian School. With great attention they listened to the stories of the soup kitchen beneficiaries and were surprised when, for instance, they learned that 73-year-old grandma Noune has been living without electricity for nearly 22 years since the earthquake struck.

Young construction group

Young consructors.jpg

ACYOA Group photo in Ounjian	School resized.JPG

Credit: FAR Staff

All this brought them closer together. During this trip, they lived just as their peers in their homeland, celebrating the “Vardavar” holiday and spending a wonderful day under the arches of the Marmashen Monastery.

ACYOA ASPers hailed from the East Coast of the USA – New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and so on. Among them were James Balakian, son of outstanding writer Peter Balakian, Nickolas, grandson of famous benefactor Nazar Nazaryan, among others.

Please read all their stories on our blog.
(Please scroll down after clicking the link)


ACYOA group Bus_resize.JPG

Credit: FAR Staff


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Khachkars.

July 26, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Our week in Gyumri is behind us. We’ve since visited the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries in Lori Marz. We continued onto the town of Dilijan, where ASPers toured Goshavank monastery.  From there, we visited the village of Noraduz and Lake Sevan. Noraduz is a cemetery that was in use between the 7th and 17th centuries.  Currently, it houses  largest collection of Khachkars in a single location.  Khachkars are a distinctly Armenian art form. From a single slab of rock, craftsman carved out a rectangle. They’d adorn it with a cross, surrounded by intricate patterns. Many of them tell stories.


Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Khachkars were commissioned to commemorate events like a birth, or death. Today, Armenians adorn their tombstones with pictures of the dead; a trend that emerged during the Soviet period. Traditionally, however, Armenians who could afford it, placed Khachkars on top of their graves. It took at least 4-5 months to carve one.

During our visit, we weaved in and out of the stones, now overgrown with tall grass and weeds.  We stopped to examine the patterns etched into each one.  Apparently, no two Khachkars are alike. 


Credit: Katrina Shakarian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: Vernissage.

July 23, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Vernissage is an open air market near Yerevan’s Republic Square. It’s open for business on Saturday and Sunday. ASP-ers spent their last Saturday in Armenia scouring its stalls for keepsakes to take home. In just a few blocks you can find paintings, sculptures, needlepoint work, backgammon boards, jewelry, posters, electronics, carpets, coffee sets, woodwork, ceramics, books, and much more. It’s overwhelming to make your way through the market. We spent the afternoon dodging its crowds and negotiating prices in our distinct “Armenglish” dialect.

Needless to say, we all left Vernissage with full hands and empty pockets.

Impressions from Vernissage






Credit: By Katrina Shakarian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 9 – Temporary Shelters in Gyumri.

July 20, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

Picture 001.jpg

Credit: Katrina Shakarian

The earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988 left 25,000 people dead, and thousands homeless. Today, 22 years after the disaster, many families are still waiting for the government to provide those who lost their homes with an apartment. In the wake of the disaster, the government distributed metal containers to house the homeless. Although they were supposed to be temporary, they’ve become permanent staples in Gyumri’s landscape. Thousands of families have made their homes in these metal bins, and an entire generation of children has grown up in Gyumri’s sprawling shanty towns.

Picture 004.jpg

Credit: Katrina Shakarian

FAR’s Gyumri staff took us on a tour of one such area. We weaved in and out of metal containers and makeshift yards.The roads are unpaved and dusty. We stopped and talked to people who live there. In true Armenian fashion, one couple invited me into their shelter for coffee. Armine Stepanyan and her husband Harutyun Amirkhanyan have lived there for five years. They have one son, Garlenchik. According to Armine, her in-laws, who were victims of the earthquake, did receive an apartment from the government, but they were forced to sell it to cover medical bills. This is a familiar story in Armenia, where most people cannot afford to visit the doctor or pay for their medicine.

Picture 006.jpg

Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Like many men in Gyumri, Harutyun is unemployed. His family survives on disability payments he receives because of an injury he sustained while serving in the army. The disability payment, or monthly toshak, is 20000 dram (roughly $55 per month). With that money Armine purchases a gas tank for cooking, and flour to bake bread. Although they have running water, the family uses it infrequently. Armine saves water in empty soda bottles and leaves them out in the sun. When they warm up, she uses the water for washing dishes or showering.

Picture 005.jpg

Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Armine and Harutyun’s story is one of many in this sprawling patchwork of rusting bins and containers. As important as it’s been to tour Armenia’s museums, monasteries, and national monuments, it’s also been important to witness the realities of daily life.

Picture 003.jpg

Credit: Katrina Shakarian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 8 – The Group in Garni.

July 17, 2010


Credit: Lisa Zaroogian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 7 – Embracing Armenia.

July 14, 2010


Credit: Lisa Zaroogian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 6 – Zvartntoz Tachar.

July 13, 2010

ASP-ers posing in between columns at Zvartntoz Tachar


Credit: Lisa Zaroogian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 6 – FAR’s Soup Kitchen.

July 13, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian
ASP-ers divided their time in Gyumri between assisting with renovations at the Ounjian school and FAR’s soup kitchen. Everyday four members joined the staff at the soup kitchen, where they helped prepare a meal for 100-140 senior citizens.  
The kitchen employs four people who prepare meals and clean the facility. The soup kitchen is run by FAR; it was established by benefactors Margarite and Nishan Atinizian of New Jersey.    
The average beneficiary is over 65, and lives alone in Gyumri. Many of their children have gone abroad. Some are orphans who were sent to Gyumri as teenagers to work in Soviet textile factories. Some lost their spouses during the war in Karabakh. Others are refugees from Azerbaijan or victims of the 1988 earthquake.  
Their only income is their monthly pension, which ranges from 15,000 to 37,000 drams per month. In the summer months, 20,000 drams covers roughly 15 days of gas and electricity. It is not enough for food, running water, or medical care.

FAR’s Soup Kitchen in Gyumri


Credit: Katrina Shakarian

I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Gor Simonyan, who supervises operations at the soup kitchen. I asked him to list things that they need to improve their services. He said the facility needs a refrigerator and freezer, an oven, tables and chairs, cutlery, and silverware. Gor hopes that one day Gyumri will have its own senior center to provide a range of services for the elderly.
The work done at FAR’s soup kitchen is truly God-sent. At lunchtime, ASP-ers passed out bowls of borsht and gretchka. We placed cups of colorful limonat on each table.  

However, the most important part of our time at the soup kitchen was mingling with the people, eliciting a smile, and lending a hand. We listened to their stories. The people who visit this kitchen built this country as teachers, doctors, and engineers. They are its backbone, its heart and soul.

Father Tateos and FAR Staff in the Soup Kitchen


Credit: Katrina Shakarian



[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 5 – FAR’s Ounjian School and Soup Kitchen.

July 12, 2010

By James Balakian

Like every day in Gyumri, today was incredibly busy. Apart from our work at both the Ounjian School and the soup kitchen, we partook in the blessing of the Ounjian School. We also had the opportunity to meet an elderly woman, who walks to the soup kitchen every day. Respectively, these events brought me both joy and sadness.

First, Father Tateos blessed the Ounjian School. The presence of Doctor Ounjian, along with the governor of Shirak province, further added to the significance of the event.  As this school comes closer to opening, it allows some light to shine where there has been much darkness. Gyumri is a city that still struggles from the earthquake of 1988. There are still many ruined buildings, as recovery has been slow here. Yet, this event gives me hope for the city, since I can see that progress is happening. With advancements like this new modern school, the younger generation here will be given a life that was unattainable by their parents.

After working at the soup kitchen, we drove an elderly woman named Nuneh back to her apartment, located in central Gyumri. In her home, I witnessed but a sliver of the bitter poverty that exists here. This woman lives in a one-room apartment. Here, she has no plumbing, no electricity, and no heat. She has no family, and at 73, takes care of herself. Her main source of sustenance is provided by the soup kitchen, to which she walks daily.

Being with Nuneh in her home has only strengthened my conviction that charitable work is necessary if more improvements are to be made here. To conclude, this trip has been beyond words, and I believe it will take much more exploration and thinking to understand this place.

Nuneh in her home in Gyumri


Credit: Katrina Shakarian


[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 5 – Gyumri Youth Center.

July 12, 2010

By Eric Ashbahian

Do as the locals do. That has been my credo as I have toured and worked in Armenia over the past week and a half. When the group visited a local youth center, one of the girls there said that some youth were gathering in the main square to read at 7:30 in the evening. At the time I did not know exactly why they were doing this, but I learned that the goal of the event was twofold: to try to show Gyumri locals that reading is not geeky and to bring the local youth together.

We read silently for about 15 minutes and then had discussions in groups of about 10 as to why we felt reading was important, as well as what our favorite book was and why. The participants asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing in Armenia, as well as what I thought of their country. They offered to take me on a tour of their city.

The people of Gyumri are extremely proud of who they are and the culture they have been able to preserve. I received an amazing introduction to Gyumri from the viewpoint of the youth. I will never forget my time with them; it is an experience I will carry with me always.

In and around Gyumri; the old district of Slabotka


Credit: Katrina Shakarian