Our first stop was at the village school in Chinari. A wealthy Russian Armenian financed the complete renovation of the school and I wanted to check it out. I would give the renovation a solid C+. Unfortunately, they used poor quality materials and made some bad decisions like not installing bathrooms inside of the school. But, the principal and village mayor are still very appreciative. Next stop was the village medical outpost. The building needs to be gutted and rebuilt, but budget cuts have left the village with only a part-time nurse. Most villagers have to go to the neighboring village for regular medical visits. Doesn’t really make much sense to do any renovation work on the building until the government can guarantee a Doc or at least full-time nurse’s salary. Our key mission in Chinari was to hold a town hall style meeting with villages to present our agribusiness project and distribute the applications.
I was floored in that more than 30 people showed up to hear about our project and apply. Gegham and Samvel the mayor led what we might be able to describe as a meeting. Villages have a very interesting trait of not listening to one another, but rather all talking at the same time. Then yelling at one another. Then dredging up old memories, etc. etc. Sos and I joined in too and tried to help Gegham out as much as possible during Chinari-fest 2018. On a serious note, the high turn out and the depth of the villagers’ questions in Chinari confirmed the fact that these folks need help.
Following a long and exhausting Q & A session, we high-tailed it out of dodge and headed to Nerkin Karmir Aghpyur (NKA) to see the progress on the school, meet with the new mayor and visit some of our agribusiness and home repair families. Not to leave empty handed, Samvel the mayor gave us three bottles of home made wine and vodka!
Our plan was to do a quick visit to the school, then meet with the new mayor and visit as many of the new families we are trying to vet into our agribusiness and home repair program as possible. Uh, so plan….meet vodka. We were met at the school with stern directions from Nara, the principal, “we are not ready for you, go back out and come in again!” The staff and students received us with a traditional bread and salt welcome. Students working with their dance teacher prepared two dances for us. It was all pretty terrific. We inspected all the work that the Atamian family from New York has sponsored. Work is almost complete. The wet weather has prevented the crew from finishing up the paint and flooring in the auditorium, but everything looks pretty amazing. We went into the cafeteria and were shocked to see a full meal waiting for us. Nara organized a full khorovadz meal for us and all the teachers. Our plan for the rest of the day pretty much was smothered in several shots of vodka.
We managed to break away and meet with Levon, NKA’s newly appointed leader. He is a humble younger man that seems to want to do some good work for the village. We managed to squeeze in a visit or two to a couple of families before dark. We ended the day at our hotel in the city of Bert pretty exhausted.
Next morning, we headed back to Chinari to collect the applications, prioritize them and begin visiting the families. First we visited the village’s kindergarten where we have plans to renovate the two story building. We learned from Samvel that there was a terrible fire in the village two months ago that destroyed the village’s library. There is now a remote chance that a new building would be built that would house both the new library and kindergarten. So, our plan is on hold for about a month while this gets worked out.
We got to the mayor’s office and he had already received 33 applications. We went through and prioritized them and began the home visitations and vetting
process. Our team marched through lots of fog, mud and quite frankly poop as we vetted the families. We were ready to depart for Aygepar and NKA, when our plan, once again, was high-jacked by Samvel and some home made vodka. Another meal complete with toasts and good conversation and we departed for Aygepar (with four more bottles of home made wine!)
In Aygepar, we stopped off at the kindergarten we renovated to inspect the final product. Everything looked great. We quickly discussed plans to complete the outside space including adding some more pavers, flowers, etc. We also saw the three new play structures that the Red Cross had installed in the yard. I was hoping that they would have done some of the landscaping too, but no such luck. Our team will tackle the remaining work outside as soon as it drys out a bit. We also visited the building that we want to establish the mushroom farm in for 10 families in Aygepar. I hope to meet with the mushroom guy in Yerevan before I depart for the US.
In NKA, we continued our family visits until dark. Our last family was particularly heartbreaking. The home caught fire and burnt as a result of Azeri shelling in the 90s. The family did the best they could rebuilding it. It is basically a disaster.
We are going to have to quickly raise the $2,000 we need to be able to include this family’s home in the program asap. We were ready to head back to our hotel and I was hoping that we would be done early enough to get some work done, but again vodka entered into the equation. Levon took us to his home for dinner. The evening’s menu included wild rabbit from a recent hunting trip, and of course…vodka. No work tonight…
We wrapped up our time in NKA visiting the last of the families and discussing and surveying a water pipeline issue that we might be able to help with. Currently 110 households in NKA only get water for about 20 minutes every other day. Meanwhile there is a reservoir at the edge of the village whose excess water flows to the Azeri’s. If we can help get water to the villagers for a relatively modest investment, it would be pretty awesome.
Off to Zorakan to review our work on the school’s heating system. More fog, no vodka! On the way back, we visited Meri in Koghb to plan the start of our Empowerment for Women 2 project. Good pakhlava! Again, no vodka. Next stop, Baghanis to work with mayor Narek on our kindergarten plans and family agribusinesses. Visited several families and headed to our hotel just outside of Ijevan. Dinner and (you guessed it-vodka!)
One more visit to Baghanis to complete our family visits and discuss the purchase of a tractor and bailer for Baghanis with Narek. It was difficult to leave because Narek wanted to take me to visit Tbilisi, which is only about an hour away. We departed Baghanis and made a quick stop in Saragyugh to visit the home of a soldier. Then, back to Yerevan. We ended our four day trip at Ideal to purchase heating pipes for Zorakan. All in all a very productive four days.