Posts Tagged With: YANOA

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

In the Line of Fire.

Dangerously beautiful: Joghaz Lake & Berqaber Village on the border with Azerbaijan.

On my second day in Armenia, we went to the border town of Berqaber (which means “Bringing Fruit Harvest”). It was the end of a long day we’d spent visiting other youth groups and Heifer projects in regions northeast of Yerevan, but Vahe, my Heifer guide, was intent upon taking me to visit this one family before we made the 2-hour trek back to Yerevan.

The Gasparyans have been involved with Heifer for several years.  The father Gorik works in the border patrol, on a small lake that is half-owned by Armenia and half-owned by Azerbaijan (and yes, that is a recipe for disaster). The military is the only industry the town has, so Ella stays home with her three sweet children and mother-in-law, raising food and animals.

Valeria, Hrachya and Veronica Gasparyan

In late 2011, Ella received a heifer that gave birth to twins (a rarity); she’ll pass on the baby heifer to another needy family in a few months. Veronica, Ella’s beautiful daughter, received a turkey as part of her Heifer Animal Husbandry training – which she’s now parlayed into 6 turkeys, 17 turkey chicks, 10 chicken hens and 30 chicks.

The household is full of animals, the yard is laden with fruit and flowers, and the setting is beautiful – except that while we were sitting there having coffee, we heard gunfire (it sounded like firecrackers). Ella’s children told me that when the guns start firing during the school day, they push their desks back from the window and keep studying. And then they showed me the bullets they’d pulled out of the walls of their house.I guess this is what it’s like to live in the Palestinian territories or the settlements. It was simultaneously frightening (not for myself, but for the beautiful children, whom I never wanted to let out of my sight) and totally surreal. You have to wonder how the heck it’s ever going to end and what could possibly be the point of prolonging this age-old conflict.

Across the lake and in sight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, a former Soviet Republic like Armenia, and a big country with untold riches in oil and gas. Its conflict with Armenia is over Nagorno-Karabagh, the predominantly Armenian territory that was made a special autonomous administrative zone under Azerbaijan control by Stalin in the 1920’s, but then sought independence from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union disintegrated in the 1990s. The resulting conflict was a bloodbath on both sides, with 30,000 killed and countless others displaced (most all the Azeris fled their homes in Karabagh and moved east). In 1994, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabagh won the war and declared their independence (though the republic hasn’t been recognized by any other country in the world). Yet the Azeris have not forgiven, forgotten – or even accepted this secession, and troops are still dug in trenches on both sides.

Turkey, in solidarity with Azerbaijan, closed its borders with Armenia, effectively cutting it off from trade and commerce development – and yes, this whole saga is like listening to somebody telling you stories from a bad divorce. You just want it to stop already.

Veronica’s grandmother, who’s lived through the aftermath of the genocide, the Soviets, and the Azeri war.

But for Armenians like the Gasparyans, this is life. Their small village of 450 people has dozens of boarded-up houses, as neighbors flee the violence. Yura, Berqaber’s devoted community leader, is working with Heifer to try to stabilize and empower the village with income-producing animals, but it’s hard not to listen to the words of Veronica’s grandmother and feel some despair.

“My husband’s family came from Western Armenia (now Turkey). We went through the genocide and still they shoot at us. Why our government doesn’t let us shoot back?”

It’s a raw feeling. Two months ago, Heifer visitors were scheduled to come see Veronica’s thriving turkeys but it was too unsafe. She was heartbroken with disappointment. Today, she’s holding my hand and hugging me fiercely as we walk through the gates. I don’t want to let her go. As strong and competent as her mother is, I simply cannot imagine raising my children in this culture of war – and nothing seems destined to change.

I’m so happy Heifer is helping families in Berqabar survive, when no one else is coming to their aid. But until peace comes, I’ll be worried sick about Veronica. She’s in my heart now.

Categories: Heifer International | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Smells like teen spirit.

The first day after I arrive in a country, I’m pretty much in a semi-delirious jet-fog. So when my trusty  Heifer Armenia guide/guru Vahe told me we would be driving two miles north of the capital city of Yerevan to visit a bunch of teenagers, I was … speechless.

Inside Hairavank Monastery at Lake Sevan

We started at beautiful Lake Sevan – Armenia’s largest lake that is surrounded by lovely dun hills and ancient monasteries. These rural communities are challenged by high levels of unemployment and poverty, aging Soviet technology, low agricultural productivity, and for teens: the absolute lack of anything to do.After 70 years under Soviet rule, Armenia is still shaking itself awake from the soporific habit of socialist dependence. In 2002, Heifer’s dynamic country leader Anahit Ghazanchyan decided to kickstart that change with a clarion call to those most likely to respond: the youth of Armenia who are open to new ideas, full of fearless energy, and eager to flex their entrepreneurial muscles.

Change agents extraordinaire.

Heifer’s youth project, called YANOA– Young Agriculturalists Network of Armenia– is a huge undertaking, touching the lives of 4000 youth in 29 rural communities. In Lake Sevan alone, YANOA has produced 3 generations of kids who have been through a rigorous after-school program that teaches kids practical life skills in any one of 7 Directions: Animal Husbandry, Business Development & Management, Ecology, Health Education, Civic Education, Public Relations & Journalism, and Logical Thinking. It engages them in their communities doing everything from publishing newsletters to fixing holes in the street; debating gender issues to influencing town policies, starting small businesses to raising animals.

The sweet faces of the future of Armenia

YANOA is taught and managed by community volunteers like Osana Sahakyan who follow an established Heifer curriculum with the kids for three years and take them through a remarkably sophisticated and hands-on learning process that ultimately earns them the gift of cows, fruit trees, worms, seeds, or seed money from a $22,000 revolving business loan fund. Armenian kids respond to the opportunity like thirsty plants soaking up water; I saw the results in Metaqsya Matevosyan and the adorable entrepreneurs of New Original Beautiful.

Beekeeper Metaqsya and her YANOA mentor, Osana Sahakya

Metaqysa’s father is an accomplished beekeeper, and she chose the Business Direction because she wanted to focus on producing her own honey. After studying the market, competition, and developing a business plan, she qualified for a $100 loan from Heifer that she used for two fully-equipped hives with about 80,000 bees each. With favorable weather those hives will produce 20-25 kilograms of honey that she can sell at $6 to $7 a kilo.

Metaqsya and her hives

Metaqsya has branded her honey A+A for “Work Advantage” (in Armenian) produced great labels, and is selling in direct competition with her dad, which he loves. She’s on fire to get more hives and once she passes on the $100 loan to another budding entrepreneur in December, she is going to ramp up her business and really get going.

Where the New Original Beautiful magic happens – around the sewing machine, of course!

The five 15-year old friends who have formed the textile collaborative New Original Beautiful are equally articulate, confident and enthusiastic about their business potential. They’ve enlisted David’s mom, a skilled tailor, to help them understand fabric, sewing techniques and experience, but the creativity comes from the fab five. Ani is the best sewer. Mariam likes to write commercials and do marketing. Vahan is the distribution guy. And David & the other Mariam make sure work gets done on time, savings are put away to pass on the gift of their $100 Heifer loan, and their pricing is right.

Picking the fabrics is Ani’s specialty (with David’s mom’s help).

Recently, they realized that the bed linens they were producing were not profitable enough, so they’ve moved into producing tablecloths, which are very profitable.

Their slogan: “We work during the day so you can rest at night” has proven to be very popular .. and even though they’re all just 15, they feel they are an unbeatable team and plan to have their own factory one day .. and sell tons of stuff in America.

Mariam loves writing& recording commercials, and New Original Beautiful was her name creation

What makes this particularly moving to me is the unvarnished excitement and full engagement of the kids. They can’t wait to talk about their big plans and what they’ve learned so far. Like teens everywhere, they’ve also had a trickle-up impact on the adults that work with them — like Osana, their YANOA mentor, who has evolved from a quiet housewife into a committed civic leader as she’s helped these kids develop enormous new confidence, vocabulary, ideas and perspective—and learned from them the feeling that anything is possible.

Armine and her son Ishkhan, 16, who wants to become a farmer and extend the family lands.

Instead of thinking they need to migrate or marry to have a promising future, these Armenian teens are learning they can develop a business in Armenia, be successful, and  control their own destiny. Says 16 year-old Ishkhan of Chkalovka, “Before we were counting on the state. Now we count on ourselves.”

How New Original & Beautiful!

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(And to read more about MY beautiful Classy Weekend, click here...)

Categories: Armenia, Children, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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