ARF Bureau’s “Verelk” program continues to support youth empowerment in Armenia

(Photo: Vahagn Khachatrian)

YEREVAN—In a bid to aid the youth of Artsakh and address their evolving needs post-displacement, the ARF Bureau’s youth office has launched the “Verelk” program for the third consecutive time. The initiative, aimed at fostering education and development among young individuals facing challenging circumstances, saw notable success in previous iterations.

Originating in Artsakh following the 44-day war of 2020, the program extended its reach to Syunik in 2021, with the latest installment now underway in Yerevan. Each iteration is committed to nurturing a stable future for the youth, emphasizing education and skill development.

The latest phase is supported by sponsorship from the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) and management by consulting firm Optimize Consulting, led by founder and executive director Hrayr Barsoumian. Speaking with the Weekly, Barsoumian provided insight into the program’s evolution and objectives.

“In light of the displacement crisis in Artsakh, the Verelk program has been instrumental in providing support to Armenian youth,” Barsoumian remarked. “Its adaptability to changing circumstances remains a key measure of its success.”

Regarding the shift in program management to Optimize Consulting, Barsoumian explained, “The program’s focus has evolved to address the pressing needs of Artsakh Armenian youth now residing in Armenia. Our aim is to equip them with the skills necessary for sustainable livelihoods and to foster hope for the future.”

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With over 200 applicants, the program has attracted significant interest, primarily from Yerevan. Barsoumian expressed optimism for extending the program to other regions in the future, acknowledging the enthusiasm among participants to embark on entrepreneurial ventures.

The curriculum encompasses a range of subjects, from business ethics to marketing, tailored to equip participants with practical skills relevant to the Armenian job market. “Our goal is to empower youth to secure employment opportunities and contribute to the local economy,” Barsoumian said.

Upon completion of the courses, participants will engage in group presentations evaluated by a jury. Winners will have the opportunity to connect with potential employers, with part of their salaries covered by project sponsor ARS for one year. The AYF-YOARF Eastern Region of the U.S. has also made a significant donation of $11,000 to fund this round of the Verelk program.

Reflecting on the program’s continuity, Barsoumian noted the return of past participants from the Verelk Artsakh program, illustrating a sense of community and resilience among beneficiaries. “Our commitment to professional implementation remains unwavering,” he concluded. “The rise of our youth will persist, undeterred by adversity.”

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Additionally, the management planned an icebreaker event at Bardak, a renowned pub in Stepanakert owned by local entrepreneurs who recently expanded their presence to Yerevan. This initiative served as a remarkable team-building exercise while raising awareness about the program.

The icebreaker event not only fostered camaraderie among the participants but also facilitated networking opportunities. Through interactions with the trainers, attendees forged valuable connections within the business sphere. Particularly noteworthy is the assistance provided to participants with entrepreneurial aspirations, as the program acted as a conduit for linking them with relevant contacts and resources.

To date, the cohort, comprising 100 participants, has completed seven training modules as part of their inaugural phase. These sessions have covered a spectrum of essential topics including business ethics, soft skills development, taxation laws, employee rights and responsibilities, various leadership methodologies, crafting compelling resumes, mastering interview techniques, as well as fundamental principles of marketing and fundraising.

This marks the halfway point of Phase One in their program. Expected to conclude in mid-May, this phase will culminate with participants undergoing a comprehensive assessment to gauge their comprehension and retention of the materials covered so far.

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Additionally, at the conclusion of Phase One, participants will engage in a group project. This project will not only serve as a practical application of the knowledge and skills acquired during the training sessions but will also form a crucial component of their overall performance evaluation within the program.

Elina Gasparyan, a participant hailing from the Kherkhan village of Martuni, Artsakh, and a distinguished alumna of the inaugural program in the region, shed light on her innovative project, Eli’s Bus.

“Eli’s Bus was conceptualized with a singular focus: to offer developmental training to the children across various regions of Artsakh,” Gasparyan told the Weekly. “Our approach involved leveraging the unique botanical diversity of Artsakh by selling tea crafted from indigenous plants, thereby intertwining economic empowerment with educational initiatives.”

“In addition to the tea, we curated a selection of coffee and literature onboard, aiming to foster a culture of reading among the youth. Through this multifaceted approach, Eli’s Bus aimed to instill not just knowledge but a sense of curiosity and exploration among the young minds of Artsakh,” she continued.

“While this rendition of Verelk presents distinct characteristics from its inaugural edition, its significance and allure remain palpable,” she said. “It underscores the imperative for Artsakhtsis to unite as a cohesive community, fostering collaboration and mutual support.”

Araik Musayelyan, a participant hailing from Stepanakert, also shared his enthusiasm for the program. “I can’t help but express my profound admiration for the program to everyone I encounter, including my colleagues at work,” he enthused.

“What truly captivates me is the diversity of topics covered in each training session. I find myself absorbing at least three new insights during every session, which is immensely gratifying,” he continued.

Highlighting the sense of community fostered by the program, Musayelyan remarked, “Having my wife as a fellow participant enhances our experience, as we both feel a profound sense of belonging within this community.”

Moreover, Musayelyan expressed his appreciation for the motivational quizzes conducted at the conclusion of each training session. “The inclusion of these quizzes not only reinforces our learning but also offers an exciting incentive. Winning a book through these quizzes serves as a delightful motivation,” he said.

Hoory Minoyan

Hoory Minoyan

Hoory Minoyan was an active member of the Armenian community in Los Angeles until she moved to Armenia prior to the 44-day war. She graduated with a master's in International Affairs from Boston University, where she was also the recipient of the William R. Keylor Travel Grant. The research and interviews she conducted while in Armenia later became the foundation of her Master’s thesis, “Shaping Identity Through Conflict: The Armenian Experience.” Hoory continues to follow her passion for research and writing by contributing to the Armenian Weekly.

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