It’s that time of year again. Schools have begun a new academic year and welcomed students from all walks of life. Some have all the necessary supplies, while others are less fortunate and struggle to meet the bare minimum standard. There are even those who regrettably don’t have any school supplies at all. This is especially true for some elementary, middle, and high school students in the small towns and villages of Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. This condition is not publicly evident, most notably due to the pride and self-respect of the parents of less fortunate students. However, a chance encounter during a memorable trip to the Ararat region of Armenia triggered multiple successful initiatives to help ameliorate the situation.
This is a story of how, in 2007, a family’s visit to a newly renovated school in Orgov village initiated the Armenian Educational Foundation’s School Supply Project. To date, 18,000 students have received basic supplies including backpacks, calculators, notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, colored pencils, and coloring books. This year alone, 300 students in Javakhk and 340 more in Artsakh have already received school supplies to begin the new school year.
When Ara and Lily Savadian along with their family visited the Orgov school, students dressed in their Sunday best greeted them with wildflower bouquets. Being unaware of the challenges of village life, the Savadians were taken aback by the sight of students sitting at their desks with hardly any supplies in classrooms with bare walls. The decorative stickers they had brought to share with the children were not enough to address the issues these students were facing. Regardless, the Savadians were overwhelmed by the resilient spirit of students who exhibited a fierce drive and determination to learn. In some cases, families with more than one child sent each of their kids to school on alternate days, because they only had one pair of shoes that had to be shared in the family.
Upon returning from the trip, the Savadian family committed to helping in any way they could. Collection boxes were placed in AGBU’s Manoogian-Demirdjian School in Canoga Park to collect supplies and classroom decorations. The boxes were then sent to the school in Orgov and letters of gratitude came pouring in. To expand the program and involve other volunteer sponsors, Lily Savadian proposed to Vahe Hacopian – AEF president at the time – to make the project an integral part of the foundation’s annual program and budget.
The School Supply Project is focused on smaller, remote schools that require the most assistance. Due to recent restrictive custom regulations, rather than collecting supplies, new ones are bought in the United States and sent to Armenia and Artsakh. As for Javakhk, the supplies are bought in Georgia from Armenian merchants. Many young volunteers from the U.S., as well as Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk, assist in acquiring the supplies, filling the backpacks, boxing, shipping, and distributing the supplies to the students.
This year, university students helped distribute the supplies in Javakhk. Armenuhi Shirinyan, an AEF scholarship recipient studying in Tbilisi University who was raised in Javakhk, described the event:
“When we were giving the school supplies to the children, I was particularly impressed by a 14 to 15-year-old girl with blue eyes, who was not only intelligent but also had a brilliant mind. It feels as if the expression of her face has been tattooed on my heart. She said ‘When anyone cares about us, our hearts fill with gratitude. We must study as hard as we can because it is a great responsibility being part of this kind and caring organization.’”
Anahit Yazyan, another AEF scholarship recipient, who volunteered in the distribution wrote:
“I am very proud that our nation has such worthy people as benefactors. Not only do they help university students, but also school children in need. On August 9, they helped school children in three villages of Ninotsminda. You should have seen the smiles on the faces of the school children as they received their supplies for the new school year. Their parents blessed both the benefactors and us for their presence.”
For these two volunteers, it was like looking into a mirror of their childhood – they saw themselves in the students they were helping. They reminisced their first day of school, with an unsharpened pencil in their pencil pouch and a fresh, crisp notebook on their desk, eagerly waiting for the chance to use them both.
Even at a young age, students understand the impact of new school supplies. Not only does it give them the tools they need to excel, but it also cascades to their self-esteem knowing others are advocating for their success.
Pencils, markers, notebooks, paper – these supplies are all meant to help students excel. Students need to focus on learning, instead of worrying about having enough pencils to write the next great novel or compose the next symphony.
We’re here to help. Until students no longer have the need, the School Supply Project is dedicated to helping those who need it most. For further inquiries regarding the School Supply Project and other gratifying Armenian Education Foundation projects, please contact the AEF office at 818.242.4154.