Thursday, July 7, 2011

Armenian Adoption Adventure-An Armenian Orphan explores his past






Great story from Samuel Armen, the son of Dr. Garo Armen of the COAF (Children of Armenia Fund) More parts to come as his past unfolds where his life started....in Armenia.


Samuel Armen
Part I
On October 12, 1988, a boy who would become I, had the infinite blessing of being born in Gyumri, Armenia – the country’s second largest city.
On December 7, 1988 the ancient land shook violently with a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake that collapsed schools and structures to dust, and ended the lives of at least 25,000 men and women – most of which 2nd generation genocide survivors – and children who might have had a brighter future if their school ended five minutes earlier.
25,000 strong Armenians were no longer dancing, singing, speaking, breathing, or living. I was 56 days old, a fragile infant of less than two months of age, presumably incapable of even crawling, yet, I lived.
From that moment to the age of five my life is shrouded in mystery, illuminated only by the details told to me by five individuals. What they told me is a series of miracles that has led me to a blessed journey of life. Surviving the Gyumri-Spitak earthquake was my first miracle.
Just as the earth was created with the aid of the heavenly constellations, my life’s fortunate journey to a family began with Stella.
I heard the name a few times in stories – Stella Grigorian this, Stella Grigorian that. At the age of fourteen I was told she would have answers of my past that no one else could tell me. So through the help of Alice Movsesian – another of my past’s historians – who tracked down Stella, I was able to speak to her. In the order of my known life, she would be the first person I knew to thank. I was fourteen, nervous and in my room clutching the telephone receiver tightly with sweaty hands and a racing heart as the phone rang and rang. “Samvel?” an enthusiastic voice suddenly sang with more than a hint of joyful youth. It was tranquilizing; her calming voice settled my nerves and our conversation began with a chapter of my life too obscure for anyone besides herself to find.
She told me, my last name was originally Darakashvilli, my biological mother is half-Georgian, my father was a mechanic and the name of my orphanage. Stella worked across the street at Lenshintrest – the state construction offices – working for the JDC (Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) working to build the JDC Children’s Rehabilitation Clinic and training local medical professions as physical and occupational therapists. Several times, she would see me outside from her second story window playing in the backyard of the orphanage.
Being one to explore and one who is familiar both with children and children in need, she visited from across the street. She had already known this particular orphanage was for mentally disabled children, but could not understand why I was there. She found soon that my eyes – my cross eyed vision and appearance – was the defect that led to such a mistake. Because I was too young to express my intelligence, and because the medical departments were old and already outdated, I had landed in this particular orphanage for mentally challenged children.
Stella wanted more than anything to adopt me then and there, but she was already pregnant, and was afraid of not being able to provide for two children so quickly. Fortunately, she would soon receive news from Alice Movsesian that I was in good hands.
Between Stella Grigorian, Arthur Halvajian – the Armenian-American philanthropist involved in numerous outreach programs – and Alice Movsesian – who worked under Arthur – I would be brought to America with the excuse of having my eyes corrected. Without Arthur’s approval of going to America to get my eyes fixed, I would not be given a visa, and thus remain in the orphanage. But in the times between any such surgery, they – especially Alice Movsesian – were determined to find me permanent parents. They were also determined to introduce me to America; to have my senses amazed by the sight of the towering Manhattan Skyscrapers, the rushing feel of an elevator rise, the soul-stirring sounds of Jazz, and the taste of biting into a New York City Burger.
It would be in New Jersey at the age of 3 where I would find my first real home.
Digeen Mariam (Ms. Mary-Anne) and Baron Krikor (Mr. Gregory) Saraydarian were my caretakers. But as they say, quoting a four-year old me: “I give you life.” They were the first parents I truly loved and still love. They gave me my first friend, my first family, my first birthday at the age of four, and I nearly gave Digeen Mariam her very first heart attack when she lost me inside of a toy store. Even after my adoption, they would come visit or I would visit them and we would talk about anything for hours. They were the ones who told me about Stella Grigorian, and told me that Alice Movsesian could get a hold of her. They were also related to the first person to make a prediction about me. Baron Krikor’s father, whom I called Babuk George, watched over me for an hour when no one else was in the house. When his son Krikor returned he told him, “That boy is either going to be something spectacular, or end up in a federal prison – watch him.”
(See the picture 1: Samuel smiling with his hero, Sesame Street's Big Bird.)
When I turned four years old, Digeen Mariam and Baron Krikor surprised me with my first birthday party. Baron Krikor had his brother dress up as Big Bird from Sesame Street. When the doorbell rang and Mariam and Krikor asked me to get it, they could hear from any corner of the house the wild delight of a young boy who had come face-to-face with his hero. At some point during this party, Big Bird lifted me in his arms and one destiny-weaving photographer took a picture of me – a young boy with a patch on his eye smiling from ear to ear – which would eventually appear in the Armenian Reporter.
One week later and 25 miles away in Long Island, New York, in a blessed moment in space and time, my third miracle began. A man named Dr. Garo Armen received a call from a family friend that there was a photograph of a boy in the Armenian Reporter up for adoption who sort of looked like his own son, Zachary. After speaking to his wife, Valerie, the two wanted to at least see this boy.
By the time Garo and Valerie began their drive to the Saraydarian house in New Jersey I was four-and-a-half and their daughters Alice Saraydarian and Karen Arslanian, I was sort of an attraction in the Armenian community in New Jersey. Families would ask to borrow me, take care of me, feed me, have me sleep over, and meet their own children. To this day I find it quite strange that I know a family of beautiful Armenian girls whose parents could have adopted me, making all of them my sisters.
No matter who wanted to adopt me, Baron Krikor and especially Digeen Mariam were very strict. The parents had to be good enough for this young boy they had grown to love. And through the nearly-mystical precision of Armenian hospitality and the placement of a blanket, that family would be known.
When the Armen’s first called they were turned down because another family was taking care of me.
It was this one family that came, that seemed alright, and that wanted to adopt ,e. Krikor and Mariam allowed the family (like many other families whom they knew) to take care of me for a week. As they got to know them, Digeen Mariam rose to serve food, and frowned clandestinely when my potential mother did not budge or even offer to help. Nevertheless, they let them take care of me for a week. Before leaving, Digeen Mariam isolated the mother, handed her my favorite blanket, and whispered to her that she should put that on or near the bed I’d sleep on, as it would comfort me.
When Digeen Mariam visited me in my potentially new home, she was infuriated with what she saw: The blanket – my favorite blanket – was tossed aside, collecting dust in some room far from where I slept. After interrogating the mother, Digeen Mariam’s mouth dropped when she stated that “it’s okay – we’re giving him a cleaner blanket.” Needless to say, this family had lost their change of adopting her little boy.
But it was during my stay with that family that the Armen’s called and had to be turned down. After Digeen Mariam excommunicated the family from me (so to speak), the Armen’s were called back.
At the time, my father was in Dublin, Ireland. When he received the message from the other side of the globe, he began calculating, and it wasn’t long before he decided that a 3,187 mile flight and half-hour drive was worth seeing me.
When Digeen Mariam rose to make food, my mom leapt upwards. When she told them about the blanket, they nodded with a sincere countenance. When Digeen Mariam visited, she saw me wrapped comfortably in the blanket and sound asleep.
It was then decided, these would be my new parents.
I was told this news in New Jersey, and began crying instantaneously. I asked to Digeen Mariam and Baron Krikor, “Why can’t you take care of me anymore?” sensing that perhaps I had done something horribly wrong. To this they responded, “We are too old.” I turned lugubriously to Garo and Valerie Armen and asked them “Are you too old?” Fate had it that they were not.

Just as Digeen Mariam and Baron Krikor were the first family to make me feel loved, they were the first family to break my heart. I was convinced, for some reason or intuition, that I would never see them again as I sobbed in the backseat of the Armen’s car. Fortunately, that was definitely not the case. By the age of 5, I was adopted into the family and slowly becoming very close to my English and Armenian speaking brother, Zachary. As we grew older we played, we fought, and most of all, we learned from each other and still from each other today.
Today I love them like family, because family loves, cares, and teaches.
Today brings me to why I am writing this. My life and many of its mysteries can only be found in Gyumri. In less than five weeks I will be going to Gyumri to lift off the veil of my past as much as possible. There are still too many questions I have: Where did I live? Are my parents alive, were they killed during the earthquake, or did they already pass away in the last two decades since they’ve last seen me? Why was I cross-eyed? Why do I have particular phobias? Why do I look the way I look? Why do I have three small scars on me since as long as I can remember? Why do I write? Why do I calculate people so much? Who gave me my eyes, my nose, my voice, my chin, my face? What was I like as a baby? Did I cry and talk too much like I talk too much today? Why is my hearing so sharp and my vision so blurred?
I write this all in Yerevan, and my hands shake at the thought of being somewhere I haven’t been in twenty-one years. When I come back, I will write my experience, detail any and all of the answers I have found, and introduce to the best of my ability the complexity of what it truly feels like to be adopted.

From Hetq
http://hetq.am/eng/articles/2745/

http://hetq.am/eng/articles/2849/


11:42, July 12, 2011
Samuel Armen
The following entries, as I hope you will find, will not only elucidate the events of my days as an AGBU Intern but will also prove to be an all-around guide, explaining:
• Yerevan and Armenia in the eyes of an American – from the northern most part of Lake Sevan to the tip of Karabagh; from the attractions in the busy city of Yerevan to the serene grounds of Garni and Geghard.
• The AGBU YSIP internship program – Who is in it? How many people are there? Who do we meet outside of the internship? What are the jobs like? What are the events like? When do we work? Where do we work? When do we travel? How do we travel? Where do we stay? What do we do? What’s there to see? Where do we go? What do we eat? And how do we feel with all these new questions being answered so quickly?
• The lifestyle – from the culture and fashion to the clubs, lounges, bars and night life
• And much, much more…
Day 1 – Many Introductions
After two delayed-flights – first from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, and second from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the Yerevan Airport – a total of 17 hours, I arrived in my home country, Armenia.
Though I was born in Armenia, the car ride to our house through hills and cobble stones and twists and turns in the middle of the night seemed alien to my American understanding. I was adopted from Gyumri before I was 5 years old, and remained in New York my whole life. On occasion, I would travel to Armenia with my family for a week, but this internship would prove the longest I would stay – the internship alone was forty days and I would stay an extra twenty after.
The car stopped atop a gigantic hill – almost a mountain - with both the stars and the city of Yerevan in clear view. I grabbed my bags and headed towards the house in front of me. I opened the door, beginning the story of my journey with an immediate surprise: Even in the dead of night, and in the drowsiness of long travel and jet-lag, I could see that for the next forty days I would be living in a mansion.
A quarter up the marble-like stairs was an intern who was struggling with her luggage. Noticing she packed enough clothes to last several of her life spans, I helped her carry her bags to her room. She would be on the third floor, which was a vast wooden area with the corners divided into spacious dormitories. She told me to come with her outside, so I followed her back downstairs to the balcony. This is where all the interns were.
As I walked in, they turned to me. I introduced myself to them, saying first that my name is Samuel (Samvel). As the introduction continued, I proved myself to be a good source of new information as I would eventually be able to tell the world what it’s like to live in Armenia as a writer, a vegan, a recent college graduate and one who speaks almost no Armenian.
Then they introduced themselves. Together, our group of 21 interns would be fifteen women and six men. Five of us from New York, six from Los Angeles, two from San Diego, three from Pennsylvania, one from Miami, one from Vancouver, two from Syria and one from Moscow.
It was well-past midnight and deep in our conversations when our two supervisors suggested we get rest, declaring that the following six weeks would require it. I made my way to my room where my room mate was left unidentified, sleeping in the cover of darkness. Only a short moment later, jet-lag pulled me down into a much anticipated slumber.
DAY 2
http://hetq.am/eng/articles/2900/
DAY 3
http://hetq.am/eng/articles/2926/

Monday, July 4, 2011

Armenian Adoption Adventure-Armenian Orphanage in Canada (Georgetown Boys)



The people of Canada took in 50 orphaned boys from the Armenian Genocide and labeled the home "Georgetown Boys". This home recently recieved a historical plaque from the Historical Society.

http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/June2011/27/c9404.html

Provincial plaque commemorates The Armenian Boys' Farm Home, Georgetown
TORONTO, June 27, 2011 /CNW/ - Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto unveiled a provincial plaque to commemorate The Armenian Boys' Farm Home, Georgetown.
"The arrival of Armenian child refugees at Cedarvale Farm in Georgetown helped to lay the groundwork for this country's international humanitarian efforts throughout the 20th century," said Dr. Thomas H.B. Symons, Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust. "We are proud to honour this significant event in our history with this provincial plaque."
The plaque reads as follows:
THE ARMENIAN BOYS' FARM HOME, GEORGETOWN
On July 1, 1923, a group of 50 Armenian boys arrived at this farm site from an orphanage in Corfu, Greece. The 'Georgetown Boys,' as they came to be known, arrived in Canada between 1923 and 1927 - 109 boys in all. The orphans were survivors of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923). Their plight touched the hearts of thousands of Canadians, who raised significant funds and lobbied the Canadian government to bring them here. Under the care and supervision of the Armenian Canadian Relief Fund's Farm and Home Committee, the children lived at Cedarvale Farm located on this property and were taught English and farming skills. By 1928, the orphans were placed with farm families in Southwestern Ontario. As adults, most of the Armenians became Canadian citizens and chose to remain in this country. By providing assistance to non-British Commonwealth refugees, the Armenian Boys' Farm Home was the first humanitarian effort of its kind in Canada.
"The plight of the Georgetown Boys is a powerful reminder of our deep conviction as Ontarians and as Canadians to help those in need," said Michael Chan, Minister of Tourism and Culture. "This plaque helps to honour our history and commemorate this experience that has shaped the cultural fabric of this community and the province."
The unveiling ceremony took place at the Armenian Youth Centre - Hamazkayin Theatre in Toronto. The plaque will be permanently installed at Cedarvale Park in Georgetown, the site of the Armenian Boys' Farm Home.
"Canada's humanitarian efforts in aiding the 109 orphaned Armenian children who survived the Armenian Genocide of 1915 must be remembered and commended," said Armenian Community Centre President Vatche Kelebozian. "This provincial plaque will immortalize the memory of the Georgetown Boys and act as a permanent reminder of Canada's proud humanitarian tradition and its unyielding commitment in aiding Armenians."
The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario, dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's heritage.
Quick facts:
• The Ontario Heritage Trust's Provincial Plaque Program commemorates significant people, places and events in Ontario's history.
• Since 1953, over 1,200 provincial plaques have been unveiled.
• There are 110 provincial plaques in the city of Toronto.
Learn more:
For more information on the Provincial Plaque Program, visit www.heritagetrust.on.ca.

Armenian Adoption Adventure-COAF has another successful year.


COAF Kids from the Bagramian region




Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) inspired by Dr. Garo Armen, has done a tremendous job of reaching out to the vulnerable poor villages of Armenia. These people have no jobs, no future, no hope. Many leave Armenia for work to Turkey, Russia and Dubai and sadly leave their children in orphanages while they work a job in a country that has low wages or demeans the workers. Lets create jobs and hope for the people of Armenia.

http://www.reporter.am/index.cfm?objectid=16CED6F0-A409-11E0-8DF80003FF3452C2&pg=2
Yerevan - Launched back in June 2006 as part of the Comprehensive Rural Development Program implemented by the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), the Child and Family Services Program has developed far beyond the initial goals of raising public awareness and sensitivities to the rights of children, particularly those with special needs, and the underprivileged and socially disadvantaged groups.
Today, it serves the entire population of the Baghramian Region of Armavir Marz and represents one of the only resource centers providing social work, community education and psychological services in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations and key stakeholders in the area of child protection in Armenia. COAF's Child and Family Services Program is also an active member of the National Child Protection Network operating in the country.
By addressing the social repercussions of extreme poverty and providing legal counseling and support to at-risk families, COAF's Child and Family Services Program aims to strengthen the social construct of the rural villages by encouraging attitudes and behaviors that create healthy growth environments for children and empower the most vulnerable villagers. Serob Khachatryan, COAF's Executive Director, highlights the importance of the project with regard to child protection. "Our Child and Family Services Program is an integral part of COAF's mission of affording opportunities to this generation of young Armenians, allowing them to reach their full potential. In this respect, we spare no effort in protecting the rights of the children of Armenia's villages and giving them the opportunity to live and grow in a safe and supportive environment", states Mr. Khachatryan.
In the words of Gayane Asatryan, Child and Family Services Project Coordinator, "The success of this program lies in building the capacity of the rural residents and nurturing collaboration between key stakeholders and local leaders, including the village council and mayor's office. We are proud of what the program has accomplished over the last five years, including combating child abuse, raising general awareness on issues such as human trafficking, gender equality, effective communication and physical and mental disabilities, preventing and addressing incidences of domestic violence and violence in schools and support for the acquisition of birth certificates and other identity documents, pensions and state allowances, cases of alimony, etc. Additionally, we are proud that the program has provided the opportunity for so many resourceful children and young adults to flourish in social environments suitable for self-realization and growth", concludes Ms. Asatryan.
A large component of the program involves social workers such as Ms. Asatryan meeting with individual villagers and small groups to connect them with the resources available to them through the state welfare system and provide other social-legal counseling. Many rural residents are unaware of the social resources available to them as citizens of Armenia and this support can make a tremendous difference in their family's quality of life. In addition, psychologists provide one-on-one and group counseling, hold hands-on trainings and case discussions and conduct weekly workshops for school psychologists.
Through the workshops held by COAF's team of social workers and psychologists over the past few years, community members from the villages of Karakert, Dalarik, Lernagog, Miasnikian, Shenik and Argina have been educated on such topics as stress management, parenting techniques, effective communication, healthy child development, common socioeconomic stressors on children and adolescents, teacher-student relationships, and the importance of creating a nurturing, loving environment for children to grow in.
One of the measurable successes of the program includes a recent decrease in the number of beneficiaries receiving social-legal counseling. As community-wide knowledge improves, more experienced villagers who may have previously received counseling on similar cases share information with their relatives, neighbors and fellow community members and awareness is raised naturally. This social progress is also seen in the intensified sense of community and unity in the villages particularly among the youth, who have recently been taking the initiative to organize cultural festivities and events.
Another important project initiated within the framework of the Child and Family Services Program in June 2009 was the launch of a School-based Psychology Program in the COAF-supported communities and the subsequent training of eight school psychologists in the foundations of child and developmental psychology. Following the trainings, a cluster network of school psychologists was created and has been working together since, with the future goal of expanding the network to the greater region of Armavir Marz.
Marina Bareyan from Karakert and Marine Khachatryan from Dalarik are among the many village residents who have benefited dramatically from the Child and Family Services Program. They were both unemployed back in 2005 but were educated and had been identified as individuals with significant potential to aid in the development of their communities. After receiving hands-on training from COAF's staff and participating in distance learning courses in social work through Yerevan State University, they received certification as social workers and have been actively serving their communities in this function ever since.
Hripsime Karapetyan, a trained psychologist from Karakert is another testimony to COAF's search for talented local individuals and the value they add to their communities when provided with opportunities for development. Creating professional employment opportunities and inspiring confidence in local leaders are minor accomplishments in contrast to the community-wide impact of the social services provided by this program. According to Hripsime, this opportunity has played a significant role in developing her personality, both as an individual and as a professional working with the children and it has also given her a renewed sense of pride and responsibility for her role in the social development of her community
Since July 2010, COAF's Child and Family Services Program has functioned at Les Enfants de J├ęsus Regional Health Care Center in Miasnikian, allowing the group to provide an expanded scope of services and reach a larger number of beneficiary families. At the Center, the visitors have access to a Resource Center where counseling sessions take place and a variety of research materials and specialized literature on child protection, human rights and other related issues are available.
On the threshold of the sixth year of its operations in the Baghramian Region of Armavir Marz, COAF's Child and Family Services Program serves as an unique and exemplary model to be duplicated in the rest of Armenia's rural communities, where provision of such services is rare, but critical to the formation of sustainable rural communities.
The Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) is a non-profit organization, founded in 2000 in New York City that works to secure a brighter future for children in Armenia's impoverished rural villages through improved education, health care, community life and economic conditions. With the introduction of a unique clustering approach in 2004, COAF currently implements a Comprehensive Rural Development Program in ten villages in the Baghramian Region of Armavir marz and two villages in Aragatsotn marz. Over the past six years, more than 22,000 rural residents including 5,000 children from the communities of Argina, Arteni, Baghramian, Dalarik, Hushakert, Lernagog, Karakert, Miasnikian, Shenik and Yervandashat have benefited from COAF's continuous development projects and the improved schools, kindergartens, health clinics, sport complexes, community centers, capacity building trainings and workshops, and business opportunities that have resulted.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Armenian Adoption Adventure, Bike-A-Thon raises money for children in Armenia


http://www.mirrorspectator.com/2011/06/30/bike-a-thon-raises-money-for-children-in-armenia/
QUINCY, Mass. — On Memorial Day weekend, Isabella Boyajian, 3, sat in a borrowed trailer attached to her dad’s bike and rode from Cambridge to Lexington on the Minuteman Bike Path, all to benefit her peers in Armenia. Joining them were a dozen other bikers, many of whom have made repeated annual rides to support the Nish Boyajian Memorial Foundation whose mission is to help the children of Armenia.
The Bike-a-thon was started by Richard Boyajian of Quincy, a retired barber, nine years ago in memory of his brother, Nish, who died about 16 years ago from cancer. Since 2000, Boyajian has raised money for playgrounds and other school-related projects in Armenia, with a focus on rural schools.
After the Bike-a-thon, bikers and other supporters attended a traditional Armenian BBQ held at the home of Richard Boyajian near Wollaston Beach. About 100 people stopped by throughout the afternoon to enjoy the BBQ and support the cause. “It’s a great community activity and a great cause,” said Houry Youssoufian, a guest who has long supported the group’s mission. So far, more than $5,000 has been raised after this year’s bike-a thon.
“I ride every year and usually get my friends to join me. It’s a very reasonable bike ride. My uncle’s been doing it for years. Some of my cousins race to support my uncle and what he believes in,” shared Melissa Boyajian, hailing from the Lowell area. “I’ve been to Armenia three times; two times was with my uncle so I’ve helped him with this project as videographer (documenting the) before and after, and made a promotional video for the Foundation. The foundation is getting bigger and bigger every year. They really needed the help, with bad plumbing and terrible classroom facilities.”
During the BBQ, Douglas Boyajian, Richard’s nephew, said this was his young daughter’s second race, the first being when she was 6 months old. This time “she wanted to ride her own bike” to help. “This is something we look forward to every Memorial Day Weekend,” he said. “We don’t have enough exposure to the Armenian culture, music and food so this event gives us that opportunity.”
Of course, no traditional Armenian BBQ would be complete without some good old-fashioned Armenian music and many talented musicians donated their talents to the delight of the audience including Garo Papazian, Harrry Papazian, Mal Barsamian, John Berberian, Hagop Garabedian, Joe Kouyoumjian, Mike Gregian, Costa Maniatakos, Richard Boyajian and Gregory Smyrlian. Some other musicians and guests couldn’t resist, and grabbing a spare dumbeg, tambourine or oud, joined in on the musical fun. Others danced Armenian style, encouraging other guests to join their snakelike line.
And it wasn’t just Armenians enjoying the BBQ. Majid Bensellam, originally from Morocco but now residing in Boston, has been a friend of Richard Boyajian for 16 years. “I am sympathetic to this cause. It was a pleasure to do the bike ride early in the morning,” declared Bensellam.
Echoing the sentiment was Nancy St. John of Cohasset. “We think what he is doing is great and we like to support it.” She heard about the benefit event through her husband, who makes flags, including ones representing Armenia.
Boyajian thinks of every little detail in planning for the annual event. Indeed, he even goes to a local farm in the western suburbs to procure meat so that’s it’s freshly killed “like you’d find in Armenia,” he says. Boyajian not only prepares his home and outside yard for the days leading up to the event, but procures and cooks much of the food served at the post-ride BBQ. Twenty-four hours before the event finds Boyajian with a volunteer team making dozens of yalanchi. Then there is a huge salad to put together as well. The next day, the finished products are brought outside and laid out on a long table next to the hugest, deepest platter of hummus that I’ve ever seen. And of course, no Armenian meal would be complete without pilaf. One really busy place is the BBQ pit where chefs Ara Ghazarian and Ben Der Torosian are constantly moving, flipping and turning the meat, serving an admiring crowd.
Boyajian has tackled numerous projects, often playground-related, in various parts of Armenia, including Sissian, Gumri, Zeitoun and Nor Marash. The foundation’s latest project is in the village of Hnaberd in the Ararat Valley. He said this is the first time they have taken on the responsibility of rehabbing an entire building.
How he found Hnaberd is the story of one connection leading to another. After he visited a treasured archaeological site at Dvin, an ancient capital of Armenia, “Deagin Frina, the archaeologist, asked me, Peggy Hovanissian, a member of my Board of Directors, and her dad to meet the mayor of a nearby bordering village. The mayor said, ‘We don’t need a playground. We need help with this building!’” recalls Boyajian.
On a future trip, Peggy Hovanissian represented the board and oversaw the construction in purchasing the materials from local sources and hiring the local skilled labor to put a roof on the building, add doors and windows, remove the outhouse and redo the plumbing. Half of the building is now used as a community center, and the other half is used as a teaching and napping area for Kindergarten age children. Hopefully, cots, a stove, refrigerator and cabinets will soon be added — essential when the staff must prepare meals since the children stay there half the day and need to nap while their parents are working long hours in the fields and farms to earn a living. In three years, the Foundation has raised around $25,000 for this Hnaberd project. The building, named the Mary Boyajian Parechanian Kindergarten, is in memory of Boyajian’s late mother. The sign on the playground acknowledges the donation by the Nish Boyajian Memorial Foundation for its creation.
All the monetary donations received go directly to each project. Boyajian himself pays for his plane fare and hotels.
For this summer’s trip to Armenia, Boyajian will take quilts made by a group of senior volunteers from the Beech Street Center in Belmont, to be used by the children when they take naps. “Not one of the quilters is Armenian,” said Boyajian, “It transcends nationalities. It’s just human beings helping other human beings with their needs.” Some of the quilts were displayed and admired by guests at the BBQ.
Besides helping across the Atlantic, the foundation has also worked to help children locally. Through contact with Precision Fitness’s CEO David Aykanian, a life cycle was donated for use by children attending the Abaka Armenian School for Performing Arts. Apo Ashjian, Abaka’s founder, was grateful for the gift as it helps the dancers prevent injury.
The foundation’s website (www.boyajianmemorialfoundation.com) has pictures of some of its projects.