Seventeen-year-old Alisa Arshamyan puts a tip into the donation box generously deposited by some people who just had lunch at Byurokrat Café, poses for a picture, and giggles. “It makes me happy to see the café visitors donating to Berd kids,” she said.

Her friend Eliza Arakelyan, also 17, hurries over with a check. She can hardly contain herself. “We just got a 20,000 dram [$42] tip for our project – hurrah!”

The teenage volunteers were summoned to raise funds at some of Yerevan’s local cafés like Green Bean Cafe, Byurokrat, and Ingredient, as servers to promote Ayo!’s recently launched project Backpacks for Berd.

“I am a staunch volunteer for Ayo! I know that FAR programs aim to support the vulnerable, children in particular, so I’m here to be a part of it,” said Eliza with excitement before she continued. “Yesterday, I encountered a nice elderly couple who were enjoying their lunch at Green Bean Café and when I approached them and asked what they wanted, they looked at my t-shirt with Ayo!’s logo and expressed curiosity. I was thrilled to talk about Backpacks for Berd. At the end, they donated about 10,000 dram [$21]. I was so happy.”

Eliza is one of Ayo!’s most enthusiastic and energetic volunteers. A Yerevan native, she studies at Russian-Armenian Slavonic University. Her first experience at Ayo! was through the Hippotherapy project , which she joined after seeing a call for volunteers on Facebook. Next was the Chocolate Bank, which was her favorite project. She even organized a rock concert and collected 50 kg of chocolate by “charging” an entrance fee of either chocolate or a monetary donation that was used to later buy chocolate. Since 2016, she has also been actively involved in a number of Ayo!’s events. Backpacks for Berd is the fourth project for which she has volunteered. “What got me to join Ayo! was the fact that I liked its impactful projects which are aimed at changing the lives of children in particular through education, poverty reduction, etc.,” she said. “Almost all of Ayo!’s projects have succeeded and I’m happy for that.”

Alisa, also from Yerevan, joined Ayo! in 2015 for the Gifts to Schoolchildren project designed for Karabakh kids . “Children will be happy when they see the new backpacks. They won’t feel any discrimination as they will have similar backpacks and school supplies to all the other kids at school,” she said. She initially volunteered to help Ayo! because she wanted a certificate of community service that she could use in her college application. She liked Ayo!’s projects so much, however, that after getting a certificate she remained a member and has since volunteered for some other projects as well, including hippotherapy, the chocolate bank and Ayo!’s Breathe Freely.

Backpacks for Berd officially kicked off on June 1st. The project is dedicated to providing those in need of school supplies with the tools necessary to be successful in the classroom. Today, many families in Berd live in poverty and have difficulty obtaining even the most basic school supplies for their children. This lack of supplies can influence a kid’s ability to succeed in the classroom. Berd is located in Tavush Province, which is one of Armenia’s poorest. Whereas by some estimates the average Armenian parent spends about $15 on school supplies annually, this amount can be prohibitive for the poor families who already struggle to make a living. Thus, Backpacks for Berd provides a huge help to such families.

Backpacks filled with essential supplies for the start of the school year will be distributed for free to all 328 first graders from the Berd Region and its 16 surrounding villages. Outfitting all of the first graders will cost just $5,120. To reach that goal, Ayo! has been organizing fundraising events at local cafes and restaurants where teenagers like Alisa and Eliza are volunteering to serve visitors during lunchtime and donate their tips to the project. So far, Ayo! has raised over $2,290 for Backpacks for Berd.

Durable backpacks will include notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers, erasers, colored paper, drawing pads, and watercolors with brushes. All of these important items are sure to be well used in the upcoming year, further allowing students to study more diligently and deepen their love for learning, and thus opening a pathway to a greater future.

Help make Backpacks for Berd a reality. Say Ayo! and support this project today!