When summer is in full swing, it’s a sign that it’s time for a well-established tradition: apricot harvest in one of the most gorgeous communities of Armenia.

This summer marks the third year of FAR’s collaboration with the Yervandashat village cooperative to realize the apricot harvest. In 2015, FAR Board Member Gregory Toufayan and his family supported the construction of a warehouse, sun driers, fumigation facilities, as well as the purchase of electric driers and packaging equipment — enabling Yervandashat farmers to make a profit from the entirety of the apricot harvest each year. In return for the work, the Yervandashat cooperative has been providing dried fruit to beneficiaries of FAR soup kitchens, the Vanadzor Old Age Home and the FAR Children’s Center.

On a hot afternoon, we drive to the Turkish border to visit residence of the Yervanduni Dynasty, the rulers of the Urartu Kingdom back in the Iron Age. At first sight, you would never imagine that the dry and curvy mountain roads may lead you to the green paradise of Yervandashat village. A paradise where the trees arch out on both sides, creating a green canopy, and the apricot trees are so loaded with sweet and colorful fruit that the branches stretch to the ground as they barely hold the abundance. Yes, this is all about Yervandashat – a place where a number of recipientsof FAR scholarship programs [Mathevosian, Nishanian, Gulamerian, Armine and Garabed Zambag, Mardigian, Esther Ajemian, and Berberian Scholarship Programs] are summoned to harvest the apricots and to support FAR’s numerous projects.

The students spent about two weeks harvesting the apricots. During this time, they not only enjoyed the gorgeous nature, but also developed new friendships, played games, and received hands-on experience in harvesting.

“I was shortlisted for a job in a bank and was about to start the training when I learned about the harvest. I cancelled the course and headed here for the idea. I’m happy to have my little investment in caring for the elders and the children [FAR’s beneficiaries]. Besides, I have encountered many new people and have made friends with them,” remarks 21-year-old International Relations student Ani Hovhannisyan. She is a recipient of the Mathevosian Scholarship and studies at the Yerevan State University. As she embraces her new friend and fellow volunteer Rayisa, she giggles,“Yes, Rayisa is my little chicken. She is so little and so cute. Ani [Tigranyan] is the reserved one and I’m the jumper, hahaha. I jump from one tree to the other to pick the apricot I want. I like big and half matured apricots and I call them “totols,” (plump apricots).” She thinks that the biggest challenge in Yervandashat is the overbearing sun and the mosquitos. Although the two Anis and Rayisa are new to fruit harvesting, just like most of the student volunteers, the three have become very close friends during the apricot harvest.

Hovsep, 21, is a promising young student from the cross-border village of Chinchin in the Berd Region. He eloquently describes how the Mardigian Scholarship influenced his educational experience at the National Polytechnic University of Armenia. He finds it rewarding and important to give back and to make a difference in the lives of others. “I know how it feels when someone extends their hand for help. I value everything I do here, since I know that residents of both the Vanadzor Old Age Home* and the Children’s Center* will benefit from it,” remarks Hovsep, stating that the way he delivers his thanks makes him feel appreciative.

*The FAR Children’s Center is sponsored by the Edward and Helen Mardigian Foundation, the Friends of the FAR Children’s Center (U.S.), and the Children’s Center Circle of Friends (Armenia).

*The Vanadzor Old Age Home (VOAH) is a FAR project sponsored by the Kevork and Sirvart Karamanuk Foundation and supported by the Women’s Guild Central Council of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).