There’s a well of untapped promise in the corners of Armenia’s villages. Villages where teenagers dream of improving their communities, children are eager to learn and educators work hard to give students everything they need to grow, create and imagine. Debet is one such village, bubbling with potential but in need of critical resources to bring that potential to life.
“Debet people have always been hospitable, smart and quiet,” said Debet Community Mayor Ararat Kocharyan. “Our people always tend to solve problems in a peaceful, diplomatic way.”
Mayor Kocharyan looks outside of a window, pointing to the picturesque scene beyond the glass. “We live in a beautiful place described by poets. Our children see these pictures every day. Some of them were trying to draw the wonderful nature of Debet, but were not skilled enough to convey the beauty of it. However, COAF did everything for our kids to gain that skill. They hired a recognized, retired artist to run extracurricular drawing sessions at our school…”
Kocharyan pauses for a moment, recalling another story. “COAF also hired a teacher to run a dhol club,” he shared. “Our kids know they will be able to earn a living if they learn to play well enough. And now everybody waits impatiently for the COAF SMART Center launch so that they can get enrolled in more after-school activities.” He paused. “You cannot imagine how glad we are to feel the presence of COAF in our community.”
Stories like these from Mayor Kocharyan are not uncommon. Many have recognized COAF’s efforts in the village, which have already delivered an outsized impact in the local community since the foundation’s first programs launched in the area.
Impacting Debet Schools
Aghunik Avetikyan, head of a local elementary school, said that one of Debet’s most-attended events in recent memory was the opening of a playground that COAF helped launch in collaboration with Dufry Armenia. The playground was a big improvement for the children in the village. “We just had a couple of seesaws. And now we have this picturesque playground that children don’t want to leave,” said Avetikyan.
Zaven Khachatryan, the school’s principal, is excited about the now-colorful cafeteria and tooth-brushing stations at the school, both of which were renovated by COAF. “I have no words to describe how happy our kids are. Most children that eat free, hot meals at our cafeteria can never have such healthy food at their homes. Some of them don’t want to leave the cafeteria room long after the lunch is over. And it’s not only about the food, but the atmosphere that attracts them.”
Khachatryan also believes that COAF helps children become academically motivated and pushes them to aspire for more. “COAF brings hope and inspiration to us. New after-school activities, such as healthy lifestyle and English language, have changed children’s mindset – they have learned that sticking to textbooks is not enough… a whole world is around them. Even our laziest kids have become more hardworking. Before COAF, some of them had given up the idea of getting better education, and now they think they can achieve more. Due to the COAF professional orientation course, some of them have chosen their career paths.”
A Change for the Community
Narine Nazlukhanyan, the school health educator, celebrates COAF’s impact on the school’s academic landscape. “Before COAF, agricultural works and cattle breeding were the main activities for the rural youth. Now it has changed a lot. Debate clubs and school councils have made them more active, organized and serious. Even their vocabulary has enriched!”
Debet teachers feel that COAF has also impacted rural inhabitants’ way of life and the village’s mindset. “After the horrible earthquake in 1988, people in disaster-stricken areas became used to getting humanitarian aid. They started expecting support from everybody. COAF has changed that culture. Now many of us have experienced the joy of giving back. We often think of helping the needier people in our community.”
Building Debet’s Future
Local Debet teenagers Satenik, Mary and Lusine are involved with COAF and the U.S. Embassy’s English Access Microscholarship program. The three girls are grateful for these programs and the opportunity to improve their English language skills. Lusine even says she wants to become “an expert in English language .”
Lusine has come a long way since starting the program, and she’s already learned a lot. She shared: “Before COAF, I had zero linguistic skills.”
Mary says that after-school clubs were considered “uncool” among local boys. “COAF has changed it, too. Now English, previously referred to as a “girlie discipline” in villages, has gained popularity among boys.”
Satenik shares that she’s made several new friends thanks to COAF, which has helped connect students across various programs. “We are in touch with the Access Program students in Tumanyan community,” said Satenik.
The three girls, like many others in the community, are excited about the COAF SMART Center, which is currently under construction near their village. Lusine says: “If we have good educational and job opportunities in our community, we will never leave. We will stay and develop our village .”
That’s exactly what COAF intends to accomplish. By bringing academic tools, resources and educational programs to villages like Debet, young Armenian students will take lessons from the classroom and use them to build a future for their local communities. That change starts with baby steps: a new playground, a renovated cafeteria and a few English language classes can go a long way.