FAR Launches New Project to Support Syrian-Armenian Entrepreneurs
YEREVAN—Sevag Aroyan and Maria Maronian’s inspiring success is due to a lot of hard work. It was only a year ago when on March 7, 2016, they held their very first class at ETC-English and Exam Training Center that they had just opened in the heart of Yerevan. They started their business with a loan and by using the good reputation they had acquired during their short stay in Armenia.
Just three years earlier, in March 2013, they had risked everything to leave the war in Aleppo.
“We came with nothing, traveling alongside many other people in different minibuses. The possibility that we would reach our destination was 50/50. Our one-year-old son was with us,” Maria recalled.
A few days after they arrived they both found jobs as English teachers. They started working at one of Yerevan’s foreign language training centers. “We started at the lowest pay scale. So, I had to find another job,” Sevag said.
He started alternating his work days between the language center and a second job as a waiter. Although his salary at the café was above average, the 19-hour work days he endured took a real toll on his health.
After two years, Sevag became a lead teacher. Yet while their salaries rose, the money was only just enough to pay the babysitter and to cover rent and other expenses.
Sevag began considering starting his own business in the field when he heard about an organization aiding Syrian Armenians wanting to start their own businesses. He took some classes at the Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development National Center with the hope of also receiving one of the center’s low-interest loans.
When it turned out that the promised funding was postponed for a year, the couple had already quit their jobs and rented space for the new business. Sevag applied for a loan at a local bank and the couple started their business with that money. One year later, they are happy they took the risk.
“We don’t have time for a social life; we usually work from early morning to late in the evening. Our businesses requires it. Since we offer the most competitive pricing in the field, the Center has been successful. We even managed to increase the number of our classrooms from 2 to 11,” Sevag said.
Currently, they have 11 teachers, 2 administrators, and about 150 students. ETC-English and Exam Training Center provides a broad range of services, including general English, TOEFL and IELTS certification, Business English, and English for young learners.
In January, Sevag and Maria were awarded a FAR (Fund for Armenian Relief) business grant and a zero-interest loan to further develop their center. They were among nine other Syrian-Armenian business owners selected as the first recipients of FAR’s latest Small Business Assistance Pro-gram (SBA) that specifically helps Syrian-Armenian entrepreneurs to economically integrate in Armenia. SBA enables them to either further develop or start their own businesses in Armenia.
Selected businesses focus on the areas of jewelry, metal work, food production, antique furniture repair, and language teaching, among others. The new project, which is supported by Armenian-American philanthropist Howard Atesian, kicked off in early 2017.
With their award, Sevag and Maria stocked the ETC-English and Ex-am Training Center with some resources for advanced materials and extra furniture to make the classes more comfortable.
Since their business has expanded, the couple now feels more and more comfortable in Armenia and they continue to make bigger plans.
“We aren’t looking for options outside of Armenia. Honestly, we never really knew what this place would be like, but when we moved here I really fell in love with it. The feeling of safety and of belonging here is really something,” Sevag said.
His wife feels the same. “I love the city very much. My son speaks Eastern Armenian and even some Russian words that we don’t understand. Our babysitter is local. We are here to stay,” said Maria.