September 25 was a busy day for our Gyumri office staff as they welcomed 12 visitors from the U.S. who were traveling with FAR Board Member Oscar Tatosian. Each member of the group – whether a supporter or a friend – had come to Armenia to get a more intimate, in-depth look at the country through the perspective of FAR’s many projects.

The Octet Music School, the Gyumri Soup Kitchen, and Gyumri Information Technology Center (GTech) were on the list of visits for Gyumri, and they helped to better show what FAR is doing for the second largest city of Armenia. Gyumri has struggled with overwhelming poverty ever since it was devastated by the 1988 earthquake that practically demolished the city.

At the Atinizian Senior Center, FAR runs its soup kitchen, which feeds about 200 elders who would otherwise be unable to eat a daily meal, let alone a nutritious one. Guests found the soup kitchen to be a pleasant place, and they were warmly greeted by its beneficiaries and staff.

The Octet Music School was another casualty of the earthquake and for years its students were forced to learn in subpar conditions—temporary containers, or domiks, served as classrooms where the fall and winter chill was nearly impossible to ward off. In 2013, a completely redone Octet school opened its doors after an expansive fundraising campaign. Today, the students’ fees and their performing expenses are covered by FAR donors. [will add links for both]. Visitors were treated to a beautiful concert by the children.

GTech also hosted the group, giving a presentation on the Center’s various educational programs and achievements. FAR supporters found the tour of the Center to be very interesting and productive. They were especially inspired by the Center’s female-dominated staff.

“FAR gave us an opportunity to witness the huge and successful projects implemented by FAR and their impact on the day-to-day life of the Armenian society,” said Krikor Krikorian of the New York Friends of Gavar Special School group who came on the trip with his wife Florina. Friends of Gavar has raised money to make incredible changes to the Gavar Special School, which serves 50 mentally and physically disabled children. “The delightful music school in Gyumri and the brilliant GTech, which offers a future for the new generation of young Armenians, were amazing.”

“Something that I appreciated the most was that FAR does not only focus on the undergirding of the basic human means of certain people—the disadvantaged, the poor—but that FAR took on many different kinds of projects. After seeing [GTech] today I was thrilled, because you take on education, you take on road and home building construction, you take on small businesses, you take on the needs for the elders, the needs for impoverished, the needs for the children, and you also look to the future and say ‘how can we build an even deeper-rooted foundation to further advance the economy here?’” said David Derk, one of FAR’s guests. “This is something that I loved the most.”

Derk decided to visit Armenia as all the Armenians he knows in the United States have had an experience with FAR. “Every day there were surprises, but certainly the day we visited Gyumri was the ‘new surprise’ as I realized how advanced and how current the technology companies are with GTech and Gyumri Technologies Center [where GTech is also located].”

The group spent nearly two weeks in Armenia visiting various FAR project sites around the country before returning home to the U.S. More about their journey will be detailed in future posts.