Sunday, December 31, 2006

Hand-To-Hand will have bigger impact than expected

Yesterday was a very long day, starting with my waking before sunrise to ready for a trip to Southern Kashatagh (Lachin), which we departed Martuni at 8 a.m.

Our 130 kilometer drive, which took us all within 2 kilometers the Iranian boarder finally ended 4 hours later in the village of Haykazyan, a village that wrote about on September 4, 2006 (see: Nine Years with No Electricity)

When we pulled up to the village, which is right off a very well made asphalt road (was built by the Azerbaijani government before the war and has not been maintained in anyway), we came across some people who were receiving a delivery of food goods. We asked where we could find Pasha (a man featured in the hetq story)? Pasha had left for Yerevan that morning to attend the 40th day of his father’s death and was not due back until he 6th of January. The man tell us all this was the elected Mayor of Haykazyan. He invited us into his home.

We entered the home of Armen Chumoyan, and engineer by education, a freedom fighter by choice and someone who participated in liberating the village during the war, loosing his best friend at the bridge only a kilometer away from where he lives.

The village did not fall under the “resettlement” program the NKR government had in the 1990’s and of the 60 families who had relocated there, many had liberated the land themselves and what “house” they have, they built with their own resources. Today of the 16 remaining families registered in the village, only 9 families physically stay in the village, the other 7 have temporarily relocated to a neighboring village where there is electricity.

Haykazyan village has been waiting for electricity for 9 years. The government keeps promising they will have it by New Years, but until now 8 New Years have passed and the electricity is 6 kilometers away. There are 5 villages in the area who need electricity and though there with work is foreseen to be done and supposedly the funds have been alocatd, as of right now there is no crew working on finishing the 15 kilometers of poles and wire to electrify the 5 villages.

We sat down to a cup of tea with the Mayor and asked about the how many children and families there are in his village and the neighboring village of Hale (anther village mentioned in the hetq story). As his wife prepared a list of the children, which totaled 26 who are under the age of 16 years old, Armen gave me the history of the village.

I asked Armen what the village needed from the Diaspora and the first thing he said was that they didn’t need for them to give money to the villagers as that would only last a few days. He said what they need is business partners in projects that will give them the ability to sustain themselves. The village had already with their collective resources built a lake to raise fish, they have a very strong stream that could generate electricity and the soil is very strong and whatever you plant grows. He told of his 40 kilo (88 pound) squash that he took to a farming fair a couple of years back. He also mentioned the tobacco they had grown a number of years back for an Armenian tobacco company, but it was not successful as when they were drying the leaves, which he said were the size of the table we were sitting at, they didn’t have a drying house and bad weather destroyed most of the crop. They just broke even on that venture.

I told Armen of our Hand-To-Hand project and how it was intended to wake up the native population of Artsakh as to what is going on in Kashatagh, more than to really “help” the people in his village. He understood and agreed with our methodology and also agreed for us to give money to the people.

Armen then asked me if I could tell him how much we intend to give to each family? When I told him $130 each, he asked if I could consider a suggestion? He said that if we give $130, it will buy the villagers a few sacks of flour and once that is gone, then what? He said that what the villagers all want and need is electricity. He said that in Yerevan there are gasoline powered generators that sell for about $100. He said that instead of giving each family $130, give each one a generator, wire, light bulbs and gasoline. He told me to consider this.

I told Armen that our plan is to return to Haykazyan on January 6th with Santa and 16 helpers to deliver presents to the children and also bring aid to each family, but before we announce our intentions, I want to visit with a few of the families and get them to tell their story on video unrehearsed and so people can’t say they were paid to say what we want them to say. Armen agreed and took me on a tour of the village while I had the video camera running.

Armen first showed me their lake, which not only has fish, but wild Ducks and Beavers living in it.

We walked over to a random house and found the family of 5 just finishing up their laundry. The woman of the house spoke honestly and didn’t hold back the truth of what is going on in their village. She said that right now what they need most is electricity, the rest they will create for themselves.

The second house we went to was Pasha’s house, the family of 11 children. The wife was home feeding her soon to be 1-year-old (his birthday is on January 6th as well as his sister’s who will be 9 years old). She told of her families condition and of her 6-year-old son who is not attending school because they can’t afford proper clothes for him. Her house which when I talk about houses in the village of Haykazyan, I’m not talking about the standard 2 room with a kitchen house that the government has been giving to people who settle at a cost of $3,500, I’m talking about 4 walls and a roof that these families built for themselves with their own resources. The room that all 13 family members live in is wall to wall beds and mats on the floor. It’s no bigger than the rooms each family in the village has. Pasha’s wife said that living in the dark especially in winter and already for 9 years is unbearable. She said that if they only had electricity, then life would change for the better. She said that she does not see things improving and is living in a hopeless state. Since they have moved to the village, they lost 2 of their children, meaning if there was access to proper medical services, they could have had 13 children today.

We then headed to the school, on the way we stopped off at the school directors house so he could give us a tour of the school. When we arrived unannounced, we found the director is grungy clothes doing work around their house readying for New Years. As he went to change, we spoke with his wife, who is also a teacher.

This woman of I would say is 40 something told of the hard life they have had for the last 8 years. She mentioned all the promises the government has made to them over the years, most important the promise of electricity that seems to never come. While the video camera was rolling, she mentioned the lack of access to medical help and then her eyes filled with tears as she told of her 19-year-old daughter who was in her second year of her university education who fell ill in the village and by the time they were able to get her to a medical facility over 30 kilometers away, it was too late, she had died. This happened 3 years ago. She then apologized for letting her emotions get the best of her. She said that they have been planning on purchasing a generator so they could have light at night and to power a television to see what is going on in the world, but every month, something comes up and they have to keep putting it off.

The director of the school finished changing his clothes and we took a walk to the school.

The school, which again for the most part was built by the resources of the villagers provides an education to 45 children of the neighboring villages. It has a staff of 14, which are paid for by the government (thank goodness they do at least that much). The lack books and in winter, the mini wood burning stoves (less than half the size of a small stove) don’t heat the rooms very well. The walls are infested with mold, which I’m sure is not good for the children. Nonetheless, the children are receiving an education.

We returned to the Mayor’s house, which like I said before is just a room with 4 walls and a roof, and sat for a meal of macaroni and meat. Since they were ready for New Years, they put out some of the things they would eat on New Years like sour-cream and fruit. A bottle of vodka was drank, as we toasted success to our up coming work, which will include the gift of 16 generators (since this is clearly what the village want and need now). We of course drank the 3rd toast to all of those who gave their lives for our defense and right so we could live on our land.

When I returned to Martuni, I started to recruit our “employees” to give the aid. Though a random picking of people would be ideal, for this first round, I want to get a good mix of people who will best be suited to spread the word as to what is going on in our liberated territories. Of the 5 people who I have so far “hired,” none of them knew what was going on. Three of the people have lost their husbands, children and father, the other two are war veterans, who one lost a leg and the other was engaged in battle not far from Haykazyan where he lost a close friend when their tank was hit. The other 11 people will not be difficult to find, since the work we need from them will be helping their fellow citizen and also to celebrate to birth of Christ.

Armen told me that he will have the villagers catch fish from the stream, they will slaughter a pig and with the bread, drinks and fixings we bring, we will all sit down to a great feast together when we come. It’s going to be a huge party!!!

Our next project I think will be 15 kilometers of electrical lines, that is if the government beats us to it (which I don’t have a problem with). I’m going to get a guesstimate of how much it will cost and together we are going to bring electricity to 5 villages where some very worthy people are holding down the fort for us all.

Right now I’m in the process of arranging to have 16 generators delivered from Yerevan. I have 5 days to locate them, send the money over and receive them. It’s not going to be a miracle, but will be one of those down to the last minute deals.

For those of you who wish to participate in helping out our people who are living in Lachin and are facing very unfavorable living conditions and want to get your tax-deductible contribution in before the end of the year, you still can with a credit-card securely via Paypal by clicking on the donation button below. You can send your tax-deductible investments to a brighter and more secure Armenian nation that you can write off in 2007, since we wont get it until after New Years to:

The Shahan Natalie Family Foundation, Inc.
3727 W Magnolia Blvd., Suite 215
Burbank, CA 91505

And a big thank you to someone living in Glendale, CA who via Paypal made a $10 donation. Your heart filled contribution is appreciated.

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