Home Movies: NGO videos lead to good fortune for Gyumri needy

Home Movies: NGO videos lead to good fortune for Gyumri needy


Just a few months ago Arpenik Ghazaryan of Gyumri thought she and her children were doomed to live indefinitely in the garage that has been their home. Now, she believes in miracles.

Last year, a video made by a Non Governmental Organization of Ghazaryan, 40, and her 15-year old and 18-month old daughters was seen on the internet by a man who bought the family a one-bedroom apartment. (The good Samaritan did not want his name publicized.)

Tumasyan, head of NGO, visits Ghazaryan at her new appartment

“I have always dreamed that one day my children would live in better conditions,” Ghazaryan says. She and her daughters moved to the new apartment in late December.

Ghazaryan, who is divorced, lived in the garage for five years. She bought it with money received from her mother, who got the money selling an apartment which she had previously bought by a purchase voucher (a small printed piece of paper that entitles the holder to a discount or that may be exchanged for goods).
Ghazaryan does not work, she says that she takes care of her little child, and they are living off of social benefits.

Vahan Tumasyan, head of Shirak Center NGO in Gyumri, who has made the video material, told ArmeniaNow that they had started shooting documentaries about homeless and extremely poor families since last September. The videos are posted on the NGO’s website, on social networks, on YouTube, as well as on websites of different online mass media. As of now seven apartments (total cost is $100,000) are bought by people who have responded to their video materials. Tumasyan says that their NGO deals with monitoring of housing distribution, and consultation for the homeless, but they have decided to voice the conditions of the homeless in Gyumri through these video materials.

“We did not intend that the philanthropists would buy apartments for those people. Simply the problem of homeless people has been frozen for years, and those people were suffering in their cottage districts isolated [from other people]. We have decided to show the real situation,” Tumasyan says.

According to him, philanthropists are mainly from abroad, but local benefactors have also emerged. Two apartments were given by “Gyumri” beer factory, which belongs to the family of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia Samvel Balasanyan. Besides apartments, the homeless families were provided with substantial amount of clothes, as well as food, firewood; children get social benefits, etc..

More than 23 years after the devastating earthquake in 1988, there are about 7,000 families in Shirak province (one of the poorest provinces in Armenia), which are homeless. About 3,300 of those 7,000 families are not included on the waiting list of those who need apartment, because they have not lost their apartments as a result of the earthquake (their families enlarged, the newly-created families kept on living in new cottages, some of them received purchase vouchers, however, aiming to earn money, they sold those purchase vouchers). In fact, about 25,000 people (about 20 percent) of Gyumri’s 140,000-people population do not own homes.

Tumasyan said that the videos were not appreciated by Gyumri authorities, who expressed their discontent to the representative of Gyumri Center NGO and told him that the NGO gets so many grants that they can buy apartments by their own funds, and wondered why they asked money from Armenians living abroad.

“Now we do not have a grant. As soon as we get a grant, I have promised that I will call a psychiatrist for them [urban authorities], because they have responded very emotionally,” Tumasyan says sarcastically. “There is no criticism about the authorities in our video materials; and as for donors, they do not give grants for such projects. Grants are mainly given for organizing trainings. What training should I organize for the homeless – how to be defended from water leaks from the ceiling or how to get warm doing physical exercises in winter?”