SOAR-Wisconsin Field Trip to Armenia
April 19-29, 2015
Our Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) Wisconsin chapter delegation included the two chapter co-presidents (Dr. Chuck and Mary Kay Hajinian), the vice president (Harry Aghjian), and the treasurer (Leon A. Saryan). SOAR is a charitable organization recognized by the US government under applicable law. The purpose of our visit was to visit an orphanage to which our chapter has provided assistance and to evaluate the economic, historical and social makeup of the people to better understand the orphan situation in Armenia.
On our first day we met with the SOAR representative in Armenia, Siranoush Hovannesian. She escorted us to the Mari Izmirlian orphanage in northeast Yerevan, which we first visited in 2013 and which our chapter has supported financially in the past. This facility cares for children who are handicapped, disabled, or otherwise have special needs. The number of children being cared for has climbed to 110 from 90 two years ago. Staff salaries and basic essentials are covered by the government’s Ministry for Social Services, but very little money is allotted to capital needs and facility upgrades.
We were able to observe several improvements from our visit two years earlier, made possible in large part by donations from our SOAR chapter and other diaspora organizations. Sinks now had faucets, toilets had seats, and damaged walls were painted. Fire-damaged areas were repaired. Medical and kitchen refrigerators donated by our chapter two years earlier have been installed. Also, many children have been provided with new beds, mattresses, and closets for their clothing. We noted that bronze plaques have been mounted acknowledging the Wisconsin and Chicago chapters of SOAR for their donations.
We met with the orphanage staff and found them deeply appreciative and committed to the care of these children. This is a government sponsored home where workers are not highly compensated. To do this work of caring, cooking, cleaning up these kids requires a special heart. This staff seems to have that.
We were also able to assess additional needs: another forty new beds and mattresses, kitchen equipment (commercial blenders, a commercial bread slicer, food processors, large pots and pans etc.) are needed. Another large commercial refrigerator is also needed (estimated at $5000) as well as some additional new washing machines and clothes dryers.
During our meeting with Siranoush, we delivered 14 large bottles of multi-vitamins for orphan children donated and carried to Armenia by the SOAR-WI chapter. We also gave her over 5000 custom-prepared prayer cards in English and Armenian. These prayer cards were designed by Wisconsin SOAR members and Father Yeghia Hairabedian of Glendale, California thru Renewal in Christ Ministries. The cards have a picture of Christ with children and an encouraging spiritual prayer for the children to recite. Some cards were also given to a pastor to take to Jordan and Syria for refugees and orphans.
We also delivered over $2000 worth of dental supplies to support the establishment of dental clinics in Armenia’s orphanages. Partially at our initiative, the Mari Izmirilian Orphanage has a new two-operatory dental clinic operated by a Polish dentist who comes to Armenia twice a year to care for all the children at that orphanage. Siranoush was instructed to distribute the dental supplies as she saw fit.
We also met with several Armenian institutional directors to discuss synergy with SOAR, including Vahram Kazhoyan (email@example.com). Vahram wears multiple “hats” for the government and helps oversee NGO’s. He is the hospitality spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry and works as a Goodwill Ambassador. He was instrumental in working with businessman James Tufenkian in setting up a shelter for battered women in Yerevan. We also met James Tufenkian and stayed at his hotel.
While in Yerevan, we also met with an NGO for Syrian-Armenian refugees. This “New Aleppo” group are relocating families and orphans. These numbers are as high as 16,000 people. We met with families whose ancestors operated ran orphanages during the Genocide. Dr. Hajinian was interviewed on Armenian H3 television, a Danish newspaper and the New York Times published my comments. Others in our group were also interviewed.
During the visit the Wisconsin SOAR officers were able to observe the general status of living conditions that make orphanage institutions essential for the social fabric of the country.
We returned with a new list of needs for the Mari Izmirlian Orphanage and introduced many to the work of SOAR.
Document prepared by Dr. Chuck Hajinian, President, SOAR-Wisconsin, and Dr. L. A. Saryan, Treasurer, SOAR-Wisconsin.
June 1, 2015