In the same year, Armenia was officially recognized as a nation, I was born in the United States. My parents gave me a name to reflect the duplicity in my identity – both French and Armenian. This nod to France acknowledges an important political movement in the early 20th century where my great grandfather barely escaped the Genocide and successfully relocated to France, alongside my great grandmother and many other Armenians. Several generations later, I grew up in the relative security of the diaspora, attending family gatherings where I was constantly reminded of my identity as an Armenian. Even though I had only lived on American soil, my extended family claims real estate on my face – pointing out the shape of my cheekbones, the curve of my nose, eyebrows, and color of my eyes as distinctly Armenian — exact replicas of the features belonging to my distant relatives. At university, I wrote my final paper on Memory Theory: The Armenian Genocide as a Case for Identity. I argued that, in the absence of a globally-recognized homeland (before 1991), individuals living in the diaspora instill a powerful sense of identity in the appearance of the young people. In an academic sense, I understand deeply what it means to live as an Armenian amongst a melting pot of other nationalities but, until recently, I had never even visited modern-day Armenia. It became apparent that I couldn’t possibly speak or write about what it means to be Armenian, without experiencing the country itself.
There are a handful of Armenians who work at my company, and we made a concerted effort to find and connect with each other. My coworker, James Tatosian Rabjohns, introduced me to the Children of Armenia Fund when I suggested we volunteer in Armenia. Our company is enormously supportive of employees taking time to volunteer with non-profit organizations, and we were excited to support COAF.
It is so wonderful that many non-profit organizations support the economic and social growth of Armenia. However, COAF demonstrates a uniquely successful approach to the advancement of children in Armenia. I am so lucky to have grown up with both the support of my family, who provided many tools for success, such as technology and excellent educational opportunities. No matter their background, children intrinsically have the same promise, and COAF delivers to them the tools they deserve to realize their bright futures. I am really impressed with COAF’s vision to support 100 villages in their second decade of growth, and it is clear that COAF truly believes that Armenia’s future is rooted in the children. I share this vision, and therefore I agreed to support COAF in Armenia.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. COAF goes beyond providing support to rural communities. COAF also spends significant resources training local community leaders who already live and work in their villages. This strategy ensures that communities don’t have to rely exclusively on outside support, but rather that communities learn to sustain their own growth, indefinitely. This distinction is particularly important because I feel that Armenia’s growth as an independent nation is largely dependent on the ability to grow in all areas, rural and urban. As we know, economic and social disparities between urban and rural areas within nations eventually can lead to social injustices. COAF’s strategy to support rural areas by helping them support themselves is a powerful tool for improving the lives of many Armenian children in the future.
I am so pleased to work with an organization that supports children in Armenia by providing them the tools they need while investing in the sustainable growth of communities through training and trusting the village’s existing leaders.