Breaking Out of Poverty in Armenia

Editors’ note: Pain, anger, indignation, grit, hopes and dreams. Gohar Abrahamyan captured it all in her reporting on the work of the church in Armenia among underprivileged youth and single mothers, including an impromptu conversation with a single mother waiting to receive aid at Caritas Armenia. Listen to some of the back story to her feature article, “Domik Dreams,” in the audio clip below. A full transcript follows.

I’m in Gyumri again. The second-biggest city in Armenia, but the first with its problems and poverty. I’m here again with pain and anger. People are still living in “domiks.” These are vacant or old shipping containers, which were supposed to be a temporary house, 33 years ago, after the devastating earthquake.

Well, until now there are hundreds of families living there. Now, the pain and the problems are doubled after the devastating war and pandemic. I entered the office of Armenian Caritas, with questionable thoughts. The room is noisy and full of people, mostly women and children who have come to get their food packages within the scope of the “Improving Social Conditions for Single Mothers” program.

Some of the women seem to be engrossed in dynamic conversation while the others are in indignation because of the situation they have found themselves in, and actually are trying to go unnoticed.

One of the women calls her friend: “Everything is fine. We have solved this mom’s food problem.” 

Then she turns to me, a stranger she has never met before, and tries to tell me that she has three children. The youngest one is two years old, however, was a newborn baby when her husband passed away in Russia, where he had gone for seasonal work.

Amalya Alaverdyan (far right) lives with her sister and elderly mother, who is ill. Both sisters are single mothers and rely on the support of Caritas Armenia to afford food and medicine for their children. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

She had very, very hard days after her husband’s death. They have survived with difficulties, [overcoming] ignorance, poverty and pain. Her kids have a brief description of their poverty and survival. They used to tell their friends that they had neither clothes nor a father. They were in a tight corner, both socially and psychologically, ignored and marginalized.

The young lady says that the hopeless reality made her apply to Caritas for help, and they didn’t reject her request. They have been providing her, along with the others, plenty of humanitarian aid. 

“Caritas seems to provide us with hope along with the support,” she says. 

However, devoted staff at Caritas realize that only humanitarian support for these families will not eradicate their poverty.

So, they have decided to put a high value on education. They provide partial scholarships to students from underprivileged families, thus promoting their rights to education. I met one of the students in one of the small houses located not far from the downtown. The boy’s paternal family moved into this temporary shelter after the 1988 earthquake, however, has been staying there for decades. 

The boy has a lifetime goal, which is definite. He wants to become a programmer and solve the family’s financial problems through coding, the 21st-century skill. Currently, through Caritas support, he’s on his way of making his dream job a reality, that’s awaiting a better future for his family and himself.

The boy is resolute and strongly believes that through education, his family will get out of this poverty. And I believe in him, too, while also looking forward to writing about his success story one day. 

Mihran Aslanyan, an art student at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Gyumri, Armenia, took first place in an art contest on the theme of single mothers. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

But, until then, I hasten to rejoice in yet another success. Through the financial assistance [of] Caritas, a small solar power plant has been installed on the roof of the State Academy of Fine Arts, Gyumri branch.

The idea belongs to the university rector. The power plant will not only help them resolve the financial problems that the university is currently facing, but also store up around $2,000 and invest it into the university. This program is a unique opportunity in Armenia. Hence, the university rector is optimistic that the innovative idea will be contagious, which is true.

I’m also injected with this optimism. With devotion and persistence of this people, and with implemented humanitarian and development projects, we will break the chain of poverty and troubles. 

A communications specialist, Gohar Abrahamyan manages issues of justice and peace in the Caucasus for local and international media.

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