Following a recent two-week trip to Armenia, Dr. Sam Mikaelian, an award-winning American educator and a former consultant for a national recruitment company in Illinois, enthusiastically declared that the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) is the “tree of life for Armenia” and “truly one of the pathways to the future for Armenia.”
Before venturing on this trip with other FAR supporters, he said he had “limited” expectations: “I had heard about FAR, read about FAR, and contributed to FAR, but I was anxious to see the services and programs first-hand and to witness the program directors’ relations with those they supervise, as well as their relationships with program participants, and their working relationships with one another.”
After visiting and observing the various programs with the FAR staff and personally engaging with them about the depth of their work, “I became a firm believer. Seeing is believing,” he declared.
“For me, there were three objectives—competency, commitment, and compassion. FAR has transparency, and very low operating costs, which amount to less than seven percent, while others range from 20 to 25 percent. And the FAR staff is passionate about their work,” he emphasized.
On his previous two trips to Armenia, Mikaelian had seen evidence of the 60 percent poverty level. “Now, the efforts to combat this degree can be seen in many places. And tourists from 50,000 to one million yearly are coming to Armenia. Hotels are being built everywhere. Armenia is safer,” he noted.
Among the many projects he visited was the Gavar School for Special Needs children—52 handicapped children from the Gavar district who are taught and cared for by 35 teachers, social workers, doctors, and nurses. There, the youngsters learn sewing, clay work, and other handiwork to prepare them for various trades in the future.
Warm, Dedicated Environment
“It is such a warm environment, with compassion and concern by the staff and directors. I saw the directors getting down on their knees, touching the children who hugged them in return. There was such dedication,” Mikaelian noted.
FAR supporters from New Jersey, as well as local donors who own a brandy company, support the school, which recently received a complete renovation and a sparkling new coat of paint, as well as vans, elevators, wheelchairs, and sewing machines.
Friends of Gavar include a group of dedicated senior donors from New York who sponsor periodic yardsales and birthday raffles to contribute to the upkeep of the school.
Afraid to show his emotion to those on his visit to the school at the time, Mikaelian said he experienced “great joy and happiness” after he saw how far the school had advanced in its services for the children.
Another emotional stop was the Vanadzor Old Age Home, housing 60 elderly men and women, with 20 caretakers. The donors to this project include the Diocesan Women’s Guild. Recently, Mikaelian was part of a group that sponsored the acclaimed concert pianist Sahan Arzruni to perform in Chicago. Proceeds from the concert were donated for the upkeep of this institution.
“And who cannot be emotional after visiting the Children’s Center in Yerevan, where shockingly abused and homeless children receive one to one care, love, attention, and instruction around the clock,” he exclaimed. The devotion by the director and staff to these youngsters, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, “would bring even the stone-hearted to tears,” Mikaelian said emotionally.
He also visited the village of Zangakatun (formerly Chanakhchi), from where famed poet Paruyr Sevak hails, and where the Harry Toufayan family has constructed a modern kindergarten and a massive refrigerator to preserve their precious gems: the most delicious apples in Armenia. And in a factory near the Haghartzin Church taht has been underwritten by Greg Toufayan, berries from the nearby forest are gathered, made into mouth-watering jam, and sold countrywide.
Also on the trip were the soup kitchen north of Yerevan where a delicious hot lunch is provided daily to 120 indigent people, and the medical library named for the late Dr. Edgar Housepian, one of the founders of FAR, and a FAR Board of Trustees member.
Eye-opening and “very impressive” was the Gyumri Information Technological Center (GITC), where hundreds of young students are learning all the latest tech devices. FAR is the major source for instructing them in programming and other mechanisms and innovations.
Dr. Sam Mikaelian, who has a PhD from Northwestern University and a Master’s from Columbia University, has managed searches for executive positions throughout the U.S. and also served as executive director for the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) for several years.
But it is his work in the educational field that he is most proud of. For his many decades as an educator and administrator in the Illinois school system, he has received multiple honors; he is particularly proud of the Mikaelian Education Center, an administration building officially renamed by the Board of Education “in recognition of [Mikaelian’s] visionary educational leadership, commitment to excellence and tireless devotion to the children of District 39 from 1967 to 1998.” He also inspired the creation of the Sam Mikaelian Fine Arts Endowment Fund to bring leading performers into the community.
“My family always talked about education. My father was very bright but had no money. When he came to this country, he worked days, and my mother worked nights to take care of their children. We were taught to work hard and to seek the best education we could afford,” Mikaelian says.
Dr. Mikaelian, who has been to Armenia three times, stated that he would enjoy returning to Armenia to assist with education programs, staff-development seminars, and workshops for various staff. “I would love to go back to Armenia and direct the educational system,” he said. He would be there today if it weren’t for pressing family responsibilities.
“Armenia’s good things must be improved. We have to help our countrymen and women, and keep the momentum going forward,” he noted. His deep desire is to go back to Armenia with FAR: “It is Armenia’s lifeline!”