Lernik Ohanjanian is a physician and scientist, specializing in kidney cancer immunotherapy and targeted therapy. She was born in Tehran, Iran, went to high school there, and then her family moved to Yerevan, Armenia, where she studied at Yerevan Medical University. Later, she went on with her studies in the USA and graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
A couple of years ago, Lernik started thinking about volunteering in Armenia. She made it happen in March 2018, when she joined the health team of Children of Armenia Fund.
“I learned that poverty among children reaches a staggering 64% in Armenia. Most of them live in rural areas,” Lernik says. “It’s awful because I think that their future is our future… I am convinced that there can’t be Armenia without protected kids.”
That’s when Lernik decided she would contribute her knowledge and skills and help Armenian children through volunteering with COAF. “COAF is a trustworthy organization,” she says. “People in rural areas trust COAF, and it’s very important. My mission at COAF was to understand how I could use my knowledge to help people. I decided to “translate” medicine into community work. My aim was having better educated kids in rural Armenia in the aspect of healthcare. Also, I wanted to find out what kind of health issues they had and how I could address them.”
Lernik says it’s very important to assess healthcare issues of children and provide necessary interventions. “That’s essential because better health allows children to get better education. And I decided to adjust my knowledge and my skills to the needs of those kids.”
Having worked in underserved areas in India, Lernik insists that volunteering in Armenia was a different experience. “There were lots of things I learned here. When you work on the ground, you understand children’s needs and see how everything works. For example, I didn’t know that there was so much tooth decay among children in Armavir. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that children in Lernagog, Yeghegnut or Gusanagyugh, for example, were so educated, so nice and intelligent. They were so willing to learn. The interesting thing is, teenagers in rural areas were more educated than their parents. I taught them about STD prevention. It was not easy at first because most of them were very shy but then they started asking lots of smart questions, and it turned out that they were more open to talk about “difficult” issues than many adults. It was a challenge for me, but it worked somehow…”
Lernik thinks that COAF has changed the life of children in rural Armenia. “The kids in Tavush, Lori, Shirak and Armavir don’t have the same opportunities, as the kids in Yerevan. There are too many disparities. COAF does a fabulous job to overcome those disparities. The good thing is that COAF integrates all aspects of development – education, healthcare, social well-being. They work closely with the communities; they have earned the respect of the communities. I mean, people really trust COAF… Trust is very important – everything starts from it. Now the Diaspora knows that there is an NGO that directs 100% of donations to villages where children have a choice to become what they want… It would have been impossible without COAF employees working on the ground. They don’t sit in the office but do their work in villages.”
Lernik says she would like to have more collaboration with COAF in the future. “Next time I will think of ideas and programs that will have a more powerful impact on the community,” she says, thoughtfully.
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