Sister Arousiag Sajonian’s first name means “Carrier of Light” in Armenian. For more than two decades, she has been bringing light and hope to a troubled corner of Armenia, a land ravaged by earthquakes, wars and economic crises. A sister of the Immaculate Conception, she now serves as the superior of Our Lady of Armenia Convent in Gyumri, the country’s second-largest city. Sister Arousiag spoke with us during a recent visit to New York City.
ONE: Tell us about yourself.
Sister Arousiag: I was born in the Middle East — raised there, between Syria and Lebanon. I attended the school of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. I had a very happy childhood and very exciting youth before I entered the convent. I had fallen in love. I wanted to get married. But then this voice in me said that I should become a religious. Despite the fact that I was in love and I knew I could make a very good wife, that voice was too strong. That’s how I entered the convent at age 19.
ONE: Describe your work.
Sister Arousiag: We have an orphanage for 40 children. We have a daycare center for the elderly. We have a vocational school. We also have a very extensive summer camp program. Last year, we served 850 needy orphan children in our program.
ONE: What are some of the particular challenges facing the people you serve?
Sister Arousiag: The greatest challenge is how to help these people become independent. Humanitarian help is good, but it takes away the dignity of the people. Usually, people would like to be able to support themselves.
ONE: How has CNEWA been involved in your ministry?
Sister Arousiag: We went to Armenia and used to spend hours getting from one place to the other. But CNEWA bought us our first vehicle, so we could go and teach catechism in different villages. Then it began a sponsorship program for our children. Every time I haven’t been able to get enough funds for a project, I’d write a letter to CNEWA and put on the top “S.O.S.” And I always received a positive response. Immediately.
ONE: What is the one message you’d like the world to hear about the work that you do?
Sister Arousiag: My message would be to share what they have with the least fortunate. Most of the time, they are people who don’t know how to get out of their situations. What we want is to teach them how to overcome — how they can have a more dignified life. That is very important: that we don’t pity them. We just help them to live a better life. That is something every human being strives for. They want dignity.
Greg Kandra is CNEWA’s multimedia editor and serves as a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.