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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24 thoughts on “These boys mean business.

  1. Heifer is making a difference, one person at a time. Reading today’s blog is a real tonic against the ills of this world.

    • I actually was SO jazzed by the sight of these young men being SO engaged and passionate
      about their own businesses. It was GREAT! Thanks for the comment, Sybil!

  2. Another awesome and inspiring story of Heider’s impact. Thank you, Betty!

  3. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Wonderful getting the next generation involved early!!

    • Because Armenia was a Soviet republic, with all that entails, for the last 70 years — it’s pretty crucial
      to work with the younger generation — first, to allow them to see that there is an alternative to migration to another country for work — and second, because they are open to change, new ideas, entrepreneurial action — stuff that is really foreign to their parents, having grown up under communism!

  4. Nairi sounds like an enterprising young man.

    At the same time, I must confess, I’m a little disturbed seeing those darling rabbits and realizing what their end must be. I know this is overly sentimental of me, but, even at 50, I can’t help but respond to all that “bunny rabbit” represents. I guess it’s good to be able to see this in myself. I, also,know there’s a universe of distance between my American sentimentalizing of tiny mammals and the problem of world hunger. I think I’ve been home in the US for too long now.


  5. Hey, Kathryn — I know what you mean — BUT the one thing I can say without equivocation is that these bunnies have the best life, food and attention ever before they make the ultimate sacrifice .. so ,,, I guess maybe that’s the best we can hope for with protein sources that mean the world to the developing countries — as you know! Just in Vietnam and Cambodia and literally, anything that moves is fair game here– as you and Sara well remember !! xooxox b

  6. Martha Radatz

    I like the part where their acquired knowledge and skills may help them to stay put and invest in their home country, rather than having to migrate elsewhere to find their future. That makes Heifer’s usual “big picture” thinking seem even more expansive, in that it helps build not just one young person’s future, but encourages “nation-building” as well.

    • Martha, considering that there are 3 million people living in Armenia and 8 million in the diaspora … it’s really crucial to the future of Armenia that young people don’t leave! But more than that, it’s inspiring to see that the kids are feeling that they have a future, that they’re capable of earning a living, and that they don’t have to leave the country to make it. Thanks for the comment …

  7. I am touched. Very, very well done 🙂

  8. Another inspiring start to my day Betty, thanks!

    • Aren’t these guys adorable?? They were SO excited to show me their businesses, and so serious about what they were doing — they talked about their competitive analysis of the market and discussed other small businesses they could start….it was really so positive to see these young men SO involved and so engaged in their own futures — and so confident!!

  9. Your posts always tell us stories about ordinary folks, and what they can achieve as long as they are prepared to work hard. And this story is about kids!

    Interesting that some people feel squeamish about eating bunnies, or goats, but don’t think twice about eating chicken or lamb.

    • Well, it is pretty hard to see those cute little animals and know that they might be dinner — but when you see hungry little kids — well, in my mind, it’s no choice. I was so touched by these ordinary kids — with a big, powerful motivation to succeed.

      • Deb Morrow Palmer

        Let us hope in Cambodia and Viet Nam we don’t see them raising kittens and puppies!! I worked with nurses 31 yrs ago from there and they did eat animals we truly consider pets!! I agree we need to realize for some protein is what is needed no matter how they find it.

  10. I agree with Sybil. This post does act as a tonic. Thank you for making us aware of just how people get past hurdles. And at such a young age, too. I wonder if hardships make wiser men…

    • I wonder that, too, P.I…. it was striking to see that these kids responded so enthusiastically to the clubs, whereas in America it might be not be “cool” to do this. Maybe having nothing else to do is a good motivator to get kids involved in something really positive… in any case, I do wish that our kids felt the same kind of impetus to learn, work and succeed independently!

  11. Vivian Martinez

    Wow… I love how this young man grabbed the reins of his business and is now being productive and independent… he found his calling thanks to Heifer! Great story Betty! I specially like stories such as this one where teens are becoming directly engaged with their future…

  12. Vivian — or Bibian, as I will always call you! I loved this story, too, and as you have a special love for young people, I am really happy you read it!

  13. Having done all the rabbit raising for Global Village at Heifer Ranch for years, I can well appreciate the work of these young men.
    These boys have the face of a Byzantine icon. The penetrating eyes.
    Bless them.

  14. Dina — I agree! The young men were really composed, mature and hard-working, with an eye well on the future. And goodness knows, YOU know what it takes to raise good rabbits!! Thanks so much for the comment, Dina!!

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