Maximizing Resources for a Better Life
By Judith Santiago*
Karina Mikaelyan, 46, lives in the mountainous region of Semyonovka, Armenia. She is the primary caretaker for her four daughters and a son, two grandchildren, and her husband, who is unable to walk because of injuries he sustained during the war. Karina's school-age son supports the family during summer vacation by helping a village herdsman. He works to pay for his father's medicine. Together, this large family survives mostly on chickens supplied by Foods Resource Bank, a partner of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
"Our family faces a lot of challenges. There are days when even bread is not affordable for my family," says Mikaelyan, who looks much older than her age due to poor health and daily struggles. "Right now, I see no prospects for employment because my daughter's health is poor. But, sometimes, my daughter is able to earn some money by milking our neighbor's cows."
Most of the families that live in Semyonovka depend on cows, sheep, beehives, or chickens as their only means of income. The rest of the population depends on small orchards for their livelihood. While the region is ideal for growing barley, potatoes, cabbage, and strawberries, no one can afford the heavy machinery, quality seeds or other farm inputs required to plant and harvest such crops. In addition, with only one public water point for the entire village, Karina and her daughters have to walk several kilometers four times a day to get their daily supply of fresh water.
UMCOR Armenia, through Foods Resource Bank, provides agricultural inputs such as livestock and beehives as well as the necessary training, so that people like Karina learn to produce basic necessities like milk, honey, cheese and wool. The training enables them to become self-sustaining and improve their nutrition and quality of life.
"The program has inspired hope. I am grateful for the chickens that are sustaining my family," says Mikaelyan.
UMCOR Gifts Bring Hope
Kudrat Aloyan, 48, who lives with her 80 year-old mother, says she is making a dowry for her daughter by selling blankets made of sheep's wool. She relayed to UMCOR in a recent visit that her livestock doubled in about six months. Kudrat also expressed her gratitude to UMCOR for sewing kits she received. Prior to receiving assistance from UMCOR, Kudrat used to borrow food from her neighbors. Today, she is better able to support herself by milking sheep, making cheese and yogurt, and selling a portion of the products to meet basic nutritional needs. She also was able to sell several pillow cases and blankets made from the wool of ewes.
Emma Manukyan, 55, who is in poor health, cares her daughter Maro, 27, and two grandchildren ages three and five years old. The Manukyans are among the most vulnerable families in Semyonovka. When Emma's daughter Maro had the opportunity to participate in an UMCOR-supported beekeeping training, she was terrified of the bees at first.
Through the training, though, Maro bravely pushed through her fears and learned how to approach the bees safely and harvest their honey. She showed UMCOR her bee-stung knuckles, and made light of her initial fears. The family expressed their delight and gratitude to be a part of the UMCOR program. Today, Maro maintains three beehives and sells the honey to help with household expenses.
UMCOR Helps Village Head Steer Implementing Success
The head of Semyonovka's municipality, David Mnatsakanyan, paid close attention to the social issues and challenges faced by families like the Mikaelyans. After being appointed as village head in 2009, he brought significant change to the lives of most of the 66 families which reside there. With the help of UMCOR Armenia, community assessments brought to light several needs such as water access, food, sustainable income, school furniture and supplies, agriculture training and inputs, and more.
UMCOR Armenia connected Mnatsakanyan to funding organizations like World Food Program, Counterpart International, and International Relief and Development, to which he applied for grant funding or supplies to help meet the community's needs. His own fundraising abilities helped drive support for the community.
Soon, families were securing potable water through an installed water pipeline, and donated school furniture and relief supply kits filled the classrooms of a nearby kindergarten. In addition, 24 beehives, 128 chickens and 24 sheep were provided earlier this year to pre-selected families in greatest need of assistance. The provision of livestock was accompanied by business planning strategies, inventory, and sustainable agriculture techniques, with special farm-management training offered to young adults, who now have increased capacity to make their own food.
"We receive school kits, bedding, and layette kits on a regular basis now," says Mnatsakanyan. I am pleased that this village is not neglected. Thanks to organizations like UMCOR, the community has regained hope in their hearts."
Your faithful giving supports programs like these that are supplying the resources and training families need to survive every day. You can learn more here about UMCOR partner Foods Resource Bank, an ecumenical organization which helps vulnerable people feed themselves and their families. Give to Armenia Emergency, UMCOR Advance #250225.
*Santiago is the Media Communications Associate for UMCOR.