I grew up in the United States (Chicago, IL) to an English father and Armenian mother. I started participating in Armenian events through our church, St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, IL, and dioceses expanding to AGBU programs and ACYOA (Armenian Church Youth Organization of America), as I got older. These programs left me wanting to develop a deeper connection with my Armenian roots and heritage. I would hear stories of many of the struggles rural Armenians faced from other family members who spent time in Armenia, explaining a lack of necessities, let alone opportunities for growth. Knowing that we are bonded by a shared history, it’s particularly heartbreaking to realize they do not have access to the same opportunities I am afforded. I felt compelled to learn more.
My first visit to Armenia was in 2010, where I raised money and collected supplies in cooperation with a family friend. We spent a week living at a school and orphanage in Dilijan. We saw firsthand the plight of many rural Armenians, and I was devastated to see the lack of opportunities for growth for these extremely bright children. The lack of connectivity and exposure to things most Americans take for granted was stunning. One of the most impactful parts of my first journey was when we gave a couple hundred children in Dilijan the opportunity to choose while we distributed supplies.
We set up a room full of various outfits, shoes, and toys, where we had each child individually walk through and choose a few new outfits based on their own preferences. This honestly confused most of these children, as they had not previously had the opportunity to choose for themselves! The fact that they these children were not being given something, but rather being empowered to choose for themselves was extremely eye-opening and put things into perspective for me. The ability to choose was something I had always taken for granted. Upon my return to the states, I could not understand why others in the US were not doing more to help these children, and how their stories were not better known.
I have first exposed to COAF a few years ago when my cousin began working for their office in New York. She explained Garo’s vision for this, at the time small organization, and how they were working to support rural communities in Armenia. I thought this was an incredible mission but did not entirely understand the extent to which they were making an impact in the country itself. In December of 2016, I was invited to attend COAF’s Gala in New York City which was an eye-opening experience, as I realized I finally found an organization that genuinely understood the plight of rural Armenians, and was positioned to truly improve their situation in a powerful way.
Their explanation of their SMART initiatives, vision for the next ten years, and past success stories made me decide I must return and support their work first hand. The extreme amount of effort put forth to organize such a large event by bringing in impactful speakers, presentations, and compelling stories made it clear the passion within the organization to make a difference in the lives of rural Armenians. The focus on children as the future of Armenia and COAF’s relentless drive to motivate others around the world to help was deeply evident and solidified my desire to participate in their programs.
I am extremely honored and excited to be allowed to support COAF in their mission this year. Their push for up-skilling individuals in technology does not just improve rural Armenians’ current situation but increases the overall reach and opportunities for young Armenians. The increased connectivity and opportunities provided by COAF programs allows them to make a global impact, and bring more opportunity to future generations of Armenians.