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Tag: Gyumri

Paros Blog

Why Gyumri?

Sarah Derderian enjoying the afternoon with one of her four legged friends.

Almost three years ago I made the move from Philadelphia, PA to Gyumri, Armenia to work at the Debi Arach Children’s Center. What I expected to be a one-year assignment has evolved into a longer-term, life changing adventure. Since the day I arrived, I have been asked the same question repeatedly from everybody I meet (whether they are from Armenia or elsewhere.) “Why Armenia? Why Gyumri?”. The “Why Armenia?” question is very simple to answer.  I am one of many repatriates who were born outside of our motherland, but decided to move back. “Why Gyumri?” is the question that I struggle putting its answer into words.

Today, Gyumri is commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Spitak earthquake; the earthquake that took the lives, homes, jobs, and futures of so many people. Now, 30 years later, many locals say that not much has changed. Sure, there are new buildings, new businesses, new places to go, but an uneasyness arises any time the topic of the earthquake is mentioned. A city that was once the cultural capital of Armenia, which prospered under the Soviet Union, the home of some of Armenia’s most famous comedians, playwrights, and artists,  is now a place  where many people struggle daily to survive. Three generations of people continue to live in what seems to be a never-ending cycle of poverty.

 Why Gyumri? I chose Gyumri because there islife outside of Yerevan and I wanted to move to a community where I felt I could contribute to a greater cause. I chose Gyumri because I believe in the power of education and the importance of nurturing the next generation. I chose Gyumri to instill hope among students who may not believe in a future.

 Gyumri is not an easy place to live. On the contrary, it’s very difficult to live in a community riddled in poverty and in many aspects stuck in a Soviet mentality. But, what gets me through is my work at Debi Arach and the hope that the investment we make in this next generation will be a solid step in moving Gyumri forward. I currently work with an amazing group of children who are the next generation of Armenia’s doctors, politicians, programmers, and leaders. 

 I guess I’m here to say that there is hope in Gyumri, and that’s “Why Gyumri.”


Sarah Derderian works as development officer and special projects director at the Debi Arach Children’s Center in Gyumri.  Sarah has also founded the D.O.G.-Dogs of Gyumri project, which works to spray and neuter street dogs and arrange for adoptions of puppies.  Be sure to visit Sarah, Debi Arach and D.O.G when you are in Armenia.

Paros Blog

Off to Gyumri

Sos, Gegham and I departed for a two day trip to Gyumri yesterday.

People lined up for free bread for Yerevan’s City Market’s baking facility in Malatya.

On the way out of town, we drove past a location  in Malatya that Yerevan City Market uses to bake lavash and distribute it free to anyone who lines up for it.  The oligarch that owns Yerevan City Markets is generally not well regarded, but is clearly trying to help people in need at some level (and trying to improve his image.)

On our way, we tried to visit the “Armenak & Ann Tadeossian’s” Children Rehabilitation in the Aragatsotn Region of Armenia, but the Center is closed on Monday (go figure.) The entire clinic and rehab center was built in 2014 and we have collected some funds to help with the children’s rehab related costs.  We will have to connect with them next trip!

First of our “To-Dos” in Gyumri was to meet with and tell two families who are living in Domiks, that they were selected to receive new apartments through our Purchase a Home project.  Initial meetings had taken place with these families about two months ago, and now, with cash in hand thanks to the Ekmekjian Family from Los Angeles, we are ready to purchase both families a new apartment and oversee the tear down of their old domiks, and thus help clear Gyumri of these eyesores. We stopped at the Shirak Center, NGO and picked up our friend Vahan Tumasyan to take us to the families we had previously screened.  Unfortunately, all of these domik neighborhoods in Gyumri look kind of the same and having Vahan as a friend and partner definitely helps move along the interaction with these families.  Plus we enlist Vahan’s services to help organize the crew to tear down the domik after the family has moved out.

Neli and I in her family’s domik.

Rima’s little girl.

Thanks to the generosity of a bunch of different donors, this is the 8th and 9th family we have been able to visit and tell that we are ready to move them into a new apartment.  It is a humbling experience and the families are almost always in shock when they hear the news.  Both Neli & Artyom (and their three kids) and Ashot & Rima (and their three kids), were quite excited with the news.

After telling both families the good news, we departed for a quick visit to The Terchoonian Home.  A couple of years ago, we renovated the third floor of this orphanage/school with support from our good friend Herman Hintiryan and the Terchoonian Home Foundation in Michigan, and the Arslanian family from New Jersey.  Terchoonian currently has 23 children living at the facility full time, about another 22 or

The solar panel array at The Terchoonian Home.

so that live their during the week and go home on weekends, and another 40 or so that come there each day and attend school and go home in the evenings. Overall things seemed ok and I was pretty impressed with a new solar array that has been installed to help subsidize the electric costs of operating the facility.  Sonia, the director of Terchoonian, indicated that it has saved them as much as $300 per month in electric costs.

Next we began to cruise the Mush 2 neighborhood in Gyumri to try and find two apartments to purchase for our families.  Sos had secured a couple of phone numbers and we set up appointments to view them.  Most people advertise their apartments for sale by simply putting a small sign on a piece of paper in the apartment’s window. Other’s list the apartment for sale on, Armenia’s version of a Craigslist type service.  We successfully were able to view two apartments that might work.

Students at Debi Arach competing to solve the math problems using our new SMART projectors.

Before calling it a night and heading to our hotel, we also made a short visit to Debi Arach to arrange a few facility upgrades.  It was very cool to see our new SMART projectors being used to help augment the teaching methods in the math class.

We ended the day at the Gyumri Hotel.  Our plan was to walk to dinner and have a drink from one of our many bottles of vodka from our Tavush trip.  We figured we would ask if it was ok to drink our own and worse case just buy a bottle from the restaurant and drink ours….well, Gayane the waitress was NOT having it and totally put us in our place!

Next morning we had a quick breakfast and headed back to Mush 2 and the surrounding neighborhoods to try and secure some more potential apartments for sale.  We got a couple of more leads and was able to lock up the first apartment.  We got to Debi Arach and I was able to meet with Aida and Sarah and discuss our next fundraising approach while Sos and Gegham took care of a few odds and ends at the center.  We barked out some orders and took off to Yerevan (LOL).  On the way, we visited one of our work crews at the school in Hatsik to check up again on their progress.  Things are coming along nicely!  As a bonus, I was given some honey from our one of our worker’s home!  Yummy!

Made it back to Yerevan at a decent hour, so instead of calling it a day, we went searching for pipes and pumps for the water project in NKA to try and solidify the budget for this project.  We were able to find a vendor that called the water pipe manufacturer in Armenia and got us a firm price on the kind of pipe we need.  In addition, he seems to carry some high quality fittings that we will ultimately need when running a new 2,000 meter water pipe.  After this stop we called it a day and I dropped the guys off and headed home.