In addition to their stop at the FAR Children’s Center, the visiting group from St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, MN, visited three of FAR’s project sites located in Gyumri—the Gyumri Information Technology Center (GTech), the Nishan and Margrit Atinizian Senior Center, and the Octet Music School.

Upon arrival at GTech its Executive Director Amalya Yeghoyan guided the visitors through the Center’s academic and operations spaces, also pointing out the murals on the walls where visitors from France, Italy and some other countries have added their own flags as a token.

“It was 10 years ago, in 2005, when Fund for Armenian Relief together with a few IT companies saw a potential among Gyumresti youth to grow and reveal their talent in advanced technologies and programming. FAR was one of the organizations to believe in the idea and invest in education,” said Yeghoyan, adding that a majority of the students find employment upon graduation. Some of the recent print technologies grabbed the attention of the participants who were particularly surprised to see such advanced innovations in a developing town like Gyumri.

“It’s amazing. I feel like I’m in my own city. Here it looks like a company or school in my city, clean and nice. I was surprised they have a 3D printing here. They are new and in most places and schools the resources for this are about one or two years old,” said St. Sahag visitor Jim Foley.

The group’s next stop was Octet, where students had prepared a nice concert. The school was recently rebuilt after attending classes for 25 years in temporary containers following the school’s destruction in the 1988 earthquake. The new school was built in 2013 as part of a joint project between Rock Aid Armenia/Armenia Grateful 2 Rock, and was implemented by FAR, Medimax and the Australian organization Do Something, with help from the British rock legends Ian Gillan from Deep Purple and Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.

FAR’s Nishan and Margrit Atinizian Senior Center was a touching experience for the whole group as well. Annie Bulbulian Wells came to Armenia with a mission to get to know her motherland and to serve its people. She was thrilled to approach the elders and greeted them gently. “The first thing I saw at the soup kitchen was that it was really quiet and really beautiful, and it really seemed like a nice and comfortable place where people felt welcomed and appreciative. People thanked me even though I didn’t do anything; I just approached them and said hello,” said Annie. As a social worker with nearly 14 years of experience, Annie said she noticed that the elders of Gyumri were much more disciplined and organized than the families she worked with in Minnesota.

“Yes, I absolutely agree with Annie,” Robert J. Werner chimed in. A geography professor at the University of St. Thomas, MN, he traveled to Armenia with the “pilgrims” from St. Sahag to discover Armenia from spiritual and cultural angles, and to explore some of FAR’s projects. “The elderly people were wonderfully warm and welcoming. When I got out of the bus I was drawn to one old grizzled guy with one arm. I explained in my extremely limited Armenian that we were Americans. He grasped my hand warmly. Inside, we were quite the stars. The old folks were hugging us outside the center when we were about to leave. The one-armed guy especially looked for me. We kissed on the cheeks as men do here. I was grateful to feel his unshaved beard press against my face. It’s the real Armenia.”