Following the overwhelming support we received from our July trip helping children and schools, EyeSupport was able to continue our work by bringing necessities directly to displaced families from Artsakh and the soldiers protecting our new borders.
It was a heavy and emotional two months. We tried to bring some happiness to children by singing, dancing and playing games, but even through their smiles, it was clear that they were longing for something that won’t be returned – their home in Artsakh. We can still feel their big hugs and hear them asking, “You’ll come back to visit us, right?”
We left each family tearfully looking out the car window, waving goodbye until we could no longer see each other in the distance.
Each family had a story to tell. They were all proud and patriotic Armenians, and all of them stayed in Artsakh until they were forced out. All of the fathers volunteered to protect their lands in the war, but were dismissed because they had large families.
Their new, unfinished homes lacked insulation and intact roofs. Their rooms were infested with mice, and they did not have kitchens. The children did not have enough beds to sleep on. In one home, we walked in to find a child hiding under the sheets of the table to stay warm.
Most families burned their homes in Artsakh so they wouldn’t fall into the hands of Azeris, and those who didn’t wished that they had. One family of eight children was given three days to move to another village in Artsakh during the war. When they moved to their new home, they were told they had 10 days to leave Artsakh completely. They packed their bags, not knowing where to go and migrated to the bordering villages in Sisian in southern Armenia. For another family, Azeri aggression was a reality across multiple generations. The mother of this family of six escaped the Baku pogrom in 1990. Twenty years later, her children faced the same nightmare. These are just a few of the heartbreaking stories we heard.
Prior to our visit, we made contact with the families to learn about their needs. Families requested toaster ovens, tea kettles and stove tops. The most essential and common necessity among all the families was chopped wood to burn for heat this winter. We also purchased new winter coats for each child. When the parents saw their kids’ new coats, their teary eyes looked into ours to say thank you because their kids have never had new winter jackets before. We also treated the kids with new toys. Who knows, maybe one of the children who received our gifted soccer ball will become the next Henrikh Mkhitaryan!
Finding work is challenging for all parents with more than one child. Many were struggling to put food on the table. Both the mother and father of these families were hardworking individuals prior to being forced out of Artsakh, but cannot find jobs in their new home. The economy is solely driven by livestock in these villages, but these families don’t have the means to purchase these animals. One mother told us that she wished they had chickens to lay eggs so the kids can have breakfast in the mornings. We remembered her request, and two weeks later, we returned to the same villages with more than 50 fully grown chickens and roosters. We revisited each family from our previous trip and brought aid to new families, too. The chickens started to lay eggs two days after arriving at their new homes.
These families have become EyeSupport families, and we will continue to fundraise to help make a difference in their lives.
Our second project in Armenia was focused on our frontline soldiers who have turned into our brothers. We had the unique experience of visiting our soldiers’ posts on Armenia’s new border with Azerbaijan.
On our first trip to Syunik at an eatery, we met soldiers who were heading home for their one week break. We gave them some boxes of sweets and exchanged contact information. A few days later, they greeted us with flowers at a café in Yerevan. We laughed and cried, and from our very first conversation, it felt like we had known each other for years.
These servicemen had fought during the Four Day War in 2016 and the 2020 Artsakh War. They were emotional, but patriotic when talking about their experiences on the frontlines. “We didn’t lose this war,” they told us, “We were fighting alone against NATO’s second largest army, ISIS and Israel. We are still standing. We showed the world who Armenians are.” They said they would never live anywhere besides Armenia because these are their lands and the lands they’ve been protecting for years. That’s the spirit of an Armenian soldier.
They were initially passive to our questions about necessities and said they are equipped with everything they need. But they eventually opened up and started to share their needs for basic military supplies, like binoculars, walkie talkies, solar panels, rain jackets and flashlights. Using donations made to EyeSupport, we were able to purchase all of these supplies for them.
After they returned to their posts, they arranged another visit with us and their chief commander. A military jeep which saved hundreds of lives during the war picked us up from the city center and drove two hours up the mountain to the three posts we visited. It was important for us to hand deliver the supplies to ensure they made it into the soldiers’ hands. Seeing the emotion and excitement on their faces when they opened their bags made us feel like we had a purpose meeting them at the eatery a few weeks back. Their teary eyes looked into ours as they said, “Thank you. We really needed these.”
It was an emotional rollercoaster seeing new Azeri posts within walking distance of us…on our land. But seeing the pride of our soldiers in their Armenian uniform was an indescribable experience. They said their happiness that day was not only from the supplies, but from the fact that they have Armenians around the world thinking about them. That’s the purpose of EyeSupport.
We want to thank everyone for your continued trust and support in our ongoing humanitarian work.