Armenia

Astonishing Armenia.

Shangri-La I’ll be honest – I wasn’t very excited when Heifer International suggested I visit Armenia last year in one of my trips visiting its projects working to end poverty and hunger around the world. I’d never known anybody who’d been to Armenia, and had barely heard the name Yerevan, the country’s capital. And so, it came as a big surprise to me that I didn’t just like Armenia – I fell madly in love with it.Prayer CrossesFor one thing, the land itself is beautiful. From Mt. Ararat towering just over the treacherous border with Turkey…

Even Armenia's beloved Mt. Ararat, where Noah's Ark supposedly landed, is now part of Turkey.

….to the dun northern hills that made me think of Afghanistan…landscape…to the lush green pastures that support gorgeous orchards of fruit and nuts…Apples…to the rocky outcroppings where Christian churches were tucked in the crevasses, hidden from marauding invaders. rock churchThis is an ancient land with a totally unique history.buggy Armenia is the first Christian country in the world, and is ardently religious still.crossIt was the first country to experience heartbreaking genocide after World War I,

The Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan

The haunting Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan

A country in near-constant conflict with its neighbors: Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.

Across the lake and in gunsight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Across the lake and within gun range: the Azerbaijan Border Station

And then, of course, there is the food.fruit pyramid

 Armenians dearly love to welcome you. And wine you. And dine you. And bread you. And fruit you. And cheese you. And coffee you.

Lahvosh & cheese You better come hungry when you visit Armenia, because you’re going to eat.PicklesAnd despite the severe challenges of moving beyond a Soviet mentality to establish an economy that can sustain the young people growing up here (which Heifer is working so tirelessly and creatively to support), there is a tenacity of spirit and national pride that is simply not to be denied.

Look at these beautiful faces!One of 44 members of Tsaghkavan CARMAC committee

Tamara Sargsyan

Naira Gyulnazaryan

The I am enI am Hope of Armenia

rabbitsBarev, Armenia – I’ll never forget our time together!cute boy

Categories: Armenia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

Thanks4giving!

Guatemala, January 2012.

The following faces have been brought to you by … you.

Haiti, February 2012.

You see, in 100,000 miles of travel to Heifer projects around the world this year, one thing has been utterly consistent.

Peru, March 2012.

People will take my hands, look in my eyes, and tell me to thank you.

China, April 2012.

Thank you for helping them to feed their children.

Nepal, April 2012.

…and send them to school…

Cameroon, May 2012.

….and stand with dignity…

Romania, June 2012.

…and have the chance to create a better life.

Appalachia, July 2012.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you their thanks.

Rwanda, August 2012.

Thanks for being so compassionate…

Armenia, September 2012

…for being so generous…

Cambodia, October 2012.

… and for your willingness to share your good fortune.

Vietnam, October 2012.

Look at the beautiful things you’ve done!

Malawi, November 2012.

Have a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend!

(And if you haven’t given to Heifer yet, I still love you ( : )

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, Hunger, Malawi, Mothers, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

Ardent Armenia.

Inside the monastery at Geghard.

For over 1700 years, Armenia has been a Christian country.

A church destroyed by the 1988 earthquake in Mets Sariar.

The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its origins all the way back to the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century.

Its religious culture informs and infuses every aspect of Armenia’s tortured history, and explains the isolation and vulnerability of this small country straddling Europe and Asia.

Khachkars, or prayer stones were places to worship when churches were inaccessible.

There is no better way (besides eating) to experience the unique character and enduring tenacity of Armenia than to visit its churches and monasteries.

The treacherous steps at Noravank remind Armenians that it’s difficult to go up to God, but harder to move away from Him.

A baptismal font.

I’m leaving beautiful Armenia with images I’ll never forget.

Next stop, Cambodia and Vietnam!!

Categories: Armenia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

These boys mean business.

At the age of 17, Nairi Hakobyan is a walking advertisement for the YANOA (Young Agriculturalists Network of Armenia) program that Heifer is supporting in Armenian schools. With a $100 loan from Heifer (that came after he wrote the first business plan in his 90-member club) Nairi is following in his father’s footsteps and starting his own nursery of 3,000 fruit trees in beautiful Getap, Vayots Dzor Marz in southern Armenia.

Nairi has planted seeds for 2 types of pear, 5 varieties of apple, 3 types of peach, and 2 varieties of apricot trees on 800 square meters of his father’s land and used the rest of the money to buy fertilizers and vaccines to protect his tender plants. After the trees grew to 2 feet, he painstakingly grafted a tiny branch of a cultivar to every slender stalk. (Otherwise, the trees will revert to the wild and produce no fruit).

Nairi’s been working for one year and his 3,000 trees are flourishing but it will take another year before they’re ready to sell. He’s invested $100 of his own money in his business, but when he sells to the local market (his dad is the only other nurseryman in the area, and everyone knows the Hakobyans sell the best trees), he’ll make well over $2,000 (including the $100 loan he repays to another budding YANOA entrepreneur).

Like father, like son — a gift for growing.

That’s a lot of money in rural Armenia – but Nairi has worked his tail off for it, and his plan is to plant more trees and expand onto more land (but first, he’ll have to serve his mandatory 2 years in the military). His father can’t believe the transformation in his son. “I could never get him interested in farming before,” says the tough but proud Aram. “But I’ve seen a big change in him. He’s doing grown-up business-thinking.”

Aram, Narek & Arsen: Rabbit Raisers par excellence!

Other young men in the YANOA program have experienced the same entrepreneurial thrill. Narek Gasparyan, an orphan living with his grandparents in Tsaghkavan, was taken under the wing of his high school YANOA mentor, Rabbit Whisperer Iskandar Mehrabyan – and is now raising, breeding and selling 60 rabbits (worth at least $10/each)  in the back yard of his home.

His friends Armen and Arsen are doing the same – and the collective knowledge they are gaining transcends the small businesses they are building.

As Nairi’s dad says, “Kids are like sponges. The most exciting thing they’ve gotten from YANOA is knowledge about what it takes to run a business. And they can take that anywhere.”

Sevak Gafaryan,15, is raising strawberries in tiny Mets Sarian, a town almost destroyed in the 1988 earthquake.

I’m willing to bet these young men will both stay put (and not have to emigrate to Russia or Iran for employment) and put everything they’ve learned into action to make a good life for themselves and their families.

Sevak’s strawberry seedlings will earn him $700, three times a year!

What a powerful lesson in competence and confidence for these young men in a post-Soviet society. And what an ROI for Heifer – and Armenia!

Categories: Animals, Armenia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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