Established in 2000, the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) is the result of Founder Garo Armen’s desire to provide every child in Armenia with opportunities for self-development and growth. The philanthropic organization enables them to become future contributors to their communities.
Armen, a triumphant businessman who serves as Chairman and Chief Executive of the successful biotechnology company Agenus, Inc., is Turkish-born, of Armenian descent. He has lived in New York City since 1970 but frequents his homeland to survey COAF’s impact. In August 2003, he visited the then desolate and impoverished village of Karakert. He held a town meeting—during his visit—which was attended by more than 700 community members desperate for change. The organization launched ground operations in 2014, and today the village houses a renovated kindergarten, school, health clinic and community center. Impressed by the changes, neighboring villages began to inquire about working with COAF.
By the year 2006, as funding became available to the non-profit, COAF took on five more villages. Since its inception, 22 communities have benefitted from COAF’s assistance, reaching more than 28,000 members in rural villages in Armenia.
COAF aims to safeguard a brighter future for children in Armenia’s impoverished rural villages by improving education, healthcare, community and economic conditions while restoring critical pieces of the villages’ infrastructure. Each community’s development strategy differs—to meet varying needs—and each project is developed from the ground up. COAF’s community projects have increased the level of care and education by providing updated training to physicians, nurses, teachers and school administrators, establishing development centers and providing vocational training for youth, and support for children with learning and speech disabilities.
1. SMART site.
2. Garo Armen, Ara Arslanian.
3. Blessing of lunch.
4. Garo Armen with local girl.
To advance economic conditions, COAF assists low-income borrowers in securing an interest-free loans. And to ensure sustainability in the field of agriculture, villagers are taught to make the most of natural resources. Recently, a 3,280-foot long irrigation pipeline was completed in the village of Aragarsavan, serving over 320 acres of land. Prior to the irrigation system, more than 25% of the water was wasted. Twenty staff members are based in Armenia and work on site with village residents, community leaders, and government officials. They also collaborate with local and international agencies with expertise in needed areas.
This year, COAF debuted their SMART model, created to deliver regionally relevant, holistic and creatively stimulating educational programs throughout rural villages. Through this model, COAF will use strategically located, state-of-the-art epicenters as learning and knowledge exchange hubs. Each SMART Center will feature outdoor activities, vibrant greenhouses and indoor areas to train and enable children and adult villagers in relevant skills including farming, forestry, carpentry, construction, pottery, and beekeeping. The Centers will provide world class programs through interconnected virtual classrooms, meeting areas for students and youth clubs, auditoriums for performances and presentations, libraries, and studios for language, arts, and music.
Wednesday, July 8th, 2015 marked the groundbreaking for COAF’s first SMART Center, located in the Debet Community in Lori, a region of northern Armenia. For the joyous occasion, Armen, supporters, government officials, community members and friends were joined by Archbishop Sepuh Chuljyan, Primate of the Gugark Diocese, who performed a blessing. The first SMART center is expected to be completed in 2016, and there are ten more projected SMART Center locations.
Local Armenian girls.
“The construction of ‘SMART’ is an experimental, first-of-its-kind, and highly progressive concept. Our objective is to integrate new world methods in partnership with local approaches to iteratively develop a model that can connect rural communities through state-of-the-art, sustainable methods. In implementing this innovative concept, we not only stimulate the advancement of rural communities throughout Armenia but the world,” Armen said after the event.
COAF’s method integrates a holistic approach with and entrepreneurial spirit. By empowering Armenian communities, COAF’s ultimate goal is to support thriving communities, enriched by citizens, and armed with the necessary skills and the desire to see their communities flourish. ■
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Getty Images for COAF / © Daro Sulakauri.
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