Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) has many youth programs: Youth Centers, “Antranik” scout camp, Yerevan Summer Intern Program, “Discover Armenia” Diaspora youth trip to Armenia, etc. AGBU Young Professionals (YP), created in 2007, implements educational, cultural and social activities in Armenia and Karabakh. Besides Yerevan, there are groups of AGBU Young Professionals in North California, New York, Philadelphia, Lebanon, Paris, etc. In December the Yerevan YPs visited Gyumri in order to provide help to the Mkhitaryans family, who are in a dire social situation. According to Anna Aghaganian, a graduate of University College Dublin, the idea of social projects in Shirak region was conceived at the University of Utah by 13 students from Armenia under the presidency of Gagik Melikyan. One of the members of this committee is originally from Gyumri and he informed his friends about the plight of the local families, who have no permanent homes as a result of the earthquake. Donations were received from the president of the Armenian Relief Association in Utah Raffi Shahin-ian and Doctor Miriam McFadden. Matching these donations AGBU YP Yerevan visited Akhurian, where the Mkhitaryans live and tried to help them through at least this winter. Anna says that the Mkhitaryans have lived in a metal cabin for the last 21 years on Jrashinararner street of Akhurian region. All the members of the family: parents, 3 children, son in law and the baby live in one room with gaping holes in the roof, no glass on the windows with a constant wind blowing in. 53-year-old Amalia, the mother, was bedridden for more than 3 months. This family lives in conditions unimaginable to us with no outside help and no social assistance from any governmental body.” Anna, who as a small child, moved to Ireland with her family cannot imagine how people are able to survive in such conditions. Her desire to help the poor is so strong that she decided to stay in Armenia and to implement social programs with her group. Due to lack of finances Amalia was unable to receive medical help and her condition was worsening. With the help of AGBU Armenian Representation Director Ashot Ghazarian, they were able to get medical treatment for Amalia at the regional hospital. Upon examinations and blood tests it was discovered that Amalia suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. The AGBU Youth provided Amalia with a month’s supply of the necessary medication, fuel to get them through the winter and upon finding out that the family had not eaten for a number of days they also provided them with the necessities to last them for at least a month. “Of course we can lend a hand to some of these families, however there are governmental bodies in place for just these situations, it’s their sole responsibility to take care of these families. I know there are hundreds of families like the Mkhitaryans and our groups can’t help them all. Yes we helped this family survive another winter but this is only a short term solution. There are three men in this family who are ready and willing to work on any construction site but they are unemployed because the major construction firms working in Gyumri are from Yerevan and they bring in their own workers and do not hire locals. These are issues that must be tackled immediately in order to help these families pull themselves out of the hopeless situation they have found themselves in” says Anna. She and her friends are amazed that many young people in Yerevan are simply not aware of the social conditions in which many families live in Gyumri and other towns. The group consists of 22-40-year-olds with various backgrounds such as doctors, architects, musicians and other professionals, who meet once a week to discuss new projects. Each group member uses their connections and professional expertise in order to put the minimum budget they have to the maximum use. As part of one of their largest projects so far, the group organized a cultural day out in Yerevan for the Children of a Gyumri Orphanage where they visited the circus, organized a meeting with their favorite celebrities, used the proceeds from their fundraiser to renovate a room in the orphanage, hire English and computer teachers who would supplement the subjects learned at school and provide a second career options for the future and a possible way for them to make additional money. The group has also worked with the Fuller Center, which with the help of volunteers constructs homes for socially vulnerable families. “22 of us went to Kotayk and helped a family construct their house. In one day we were able to bring forth their completion by one month. One of our upcoming projects is in Khachik village in Vayots Dzor. The village authorities have given us a room, which we will turn into an Information Center for the youth. Can you imagine that to use the internet or just to print something people from Khachik have to go to their nearest town? It is our ultimate goal to create an environment in the village conducive to the youth staying and working in their place of birth.” Anna works at the AGBU Armenian Representation and as part of this project she has asked her office to donate a fax machine, printer and computer. After the New Year holidays the group will also start an environmental project in another village to provide the local youth with something to do and a source of income to encourage them to stay in their village.

By Rouzanna Poghossian,

Azg daily