Hovhannes is two and lives with his parents in northern Armenia. Last month, he got to meet his sponsor, World Vision blog manager Matthew Brennan!
Having seen World Vision's work in Armenia up close, Matthew has high hopes for Hovhannes's future. See why …
Seven weeks ago, I was half a world away in northern Armenia with a group of eight other writers, exploring how World Vision is working to empower vulnerable Armenian families and communities lift themselves out of poverty.
Though the capital city, Yerevan, feels like a modern, eastern European city, where we were in the northern countryside, in the dead of winter, felt far away. Different: rolling, snow-covered hills, almost entirely barren of trees and vegetation; Soviet-era buildings, many of them in disrepair.
Temperate, drizzly Seattle felt far away.
And yet Armenia didn’t feel all that foreign. Despite the landscape and the language barrier, I didn’t feel like an outsider. Everyone we met was wonderful, extending to us a hospitality that helped us feel genuinely welcome.
We met a mother who had gone out to the store and spent money she couldn’t afford to spare on a coffee set because she felt it was unacceptable for us to visit her home and not be served coffee.
On our trip, I had the amazing opportunity to meet the child I sponsor, 2-year-old Hovhannes, along with his parents. That meeting, too, exceeded my expectations. I had only recently sponsored him (they handed me their welcome letter when I sat down), and in advance I was feeling a little strange about meeting the people I was helping to support financially. I sponsor children because I want to invest in that child’s future, but I worried that somehow that motivation wouldn’t come across. I didn’t want to be seen as a false rescuer, or to be seeking gratitude.
I needn’t have worried! Hovhannes’s parents were thrilled to meet me. They wanted to tell me all about their lives in Armenia, and wanted to know all about mine. They wanted me to come visit them again. They wanted to know why I had chosen their son to sponsor.
I told them the truth: that in Hovhannes’s photo, I had seen a spark that I wanted to help ensure wasn’t extinguished by a difficult life. And in person, that energy was real! He barely sat with us for more than three minutes at once, and spent the rest of the time going around the room playing with the other kids. Full of confidence and curiosity.
I chose to sponsor Hovhannes because the northern, rural communities of Armenia where he lives are in the margins of the world: vulnerable to harsh winters, to potential disasters, to poor economies and job markets. Hovhannes’s mother is an educated, certified nurse, but hasn’t been able to find a job in her field. And his father leaves them for 7-8 months each year to take construction jobs in Moscow.
These communities in Armenia have been vulnerable since December 1988 when a powerful earthquake devastated the region, killing 25-50,000 people around Gyumri and crumbling many buildings, power plants, and hospitals. This disaster brought World Vision to Armenia in 1989 to provide disaster relief; our child sponsorship program began in 2001. Some of the earthquake damage is still visible today, more than 26 years later.
And then in 1991, the Soviet Union—which had supported Armenia for 70 years—collapsed, and much of Armenia’s infrastructure, government, economy, and earthquake relief went with it. In Gyumri, we saw the church of Surp Amenaprkich still being rebuilt.
The removal of the infrastructure that the Soviet Union had provided left a vacuum that took time to fill, longer for these rural communities. This northern part of Armenia has a long winter—seven or eight months with snow on the ground, which keeps the growing season for food brief. To heat their homes during these long winters, families face power bills they struggle to pay, spend half their days gathering sparse firewood, or burn animal dung. And a long walk for water is even more difficult through two feet of snow.
A community becomes vulnerable when governments are unable to provide a safety net. They lack resilience, which slows their ability to rebuild after disasters and to develop. The earthquake and fall of the Soviet Union happened decades ago, but without a resilient structure in place while living in a harsh part of the world, recovery has been slow.
Hovhannes’s parents are still feeling some of the effects of their community’s vulnerability from 25 years ago.
But I have hope for Hovhannes: that, unlike his parents’ generation, he won’t grow up missing a Soviet system that had once provided that basic safety net.
That he will grow up seeing his father for more than four months each year.
That he will be able to get a good education and enter a job market that can utilize and reward his skills.
That he will never lose his confidence and curiosity and energy, that he will grow up in a time and place that won’t tear that away from him through hardship or despair.
And the good news is that World Vision is at work in Hovhannes’s community, filling in some of those structure gaps and giving families the ability to better support themselves. I have real hope for Hovhannes’s future because I know that World Vision’s model works.
I’ve seen it.
Give a child in Armenia a second chance! Sponsor today.