Ruzanna Mkrtchyan, 58, exudes excitement each time she enters FAR’s Gyumri Atinizian Senior Center, also known as the Gyumri Soup Kitchen, for her daily meal. “I always come here with sweet childhood memories. We used to attend Christmas parties here when I was a child,” recollected Ruzanna, referring to the times when her dad used to work in the very same building when it was a factory for computer parts.

Gyumri Atinizian Senior Center has become a warm and safe place for the majority of its beneficiaries, nearly all of whom are still suffering in some way from the impact of the 1988 earthquake, and who often don’t have enough money to afford sufficient food and other basics.

Ruzanna is one of them. She has lived a tough life. She lost her parents at very young age and experienced extreme poverty after the earthquake, yet she has always been tough as nails and that’s one thing she says likes about herself.

A mother of five, Ruzanna pushed herself to provide for her family by at one point working in a textile factory and welding metal equipment used in home appliances. “I like what are traditionally considered to be ‘men’s jobs’. Since I was young, I’ve always preferred doing tough jobs,” Ruzanna said.

More recently, she has been doing seasonal work in the fields around Gyumri, accompanied by her youngest daughter, Anush, 21, who has been helping her mom since she was in second grade, both at home or in the fields. Ruzanna’s other children, Arshak, 38, Karine, 37, Edgar, 36, and Armen, 34, live far away.

Anush, the baby of the family, was always a joy for her parents. “Her father would kiss her cheek every time she brought home an A from school,” Ruzanna said, referring to her husband Vladimir.

Anush is as tough as her mother. She has a violet belt in karate and is proud of her ability to compete with boys because of her strong fighting tactics, strength, and agility. “Besides,” she said with a smile. “I don’t want to hurt the girls.”

It’s been two years since Ruzanna and Vladimir started attending FAR’s soup kitchen. Anush often accompanied them until one day when she learned about a job opportunity. She pursued it immediately and has been cooking and serving vulnerable seniors their meals since February.

“I worked in the fields with mom from a very young age. When you are old enough to realize that your family needs your help, you simply try to find more ways to help them,” explained Anush, who added that her job at the soup kitchen is not only beneficial to her parents, but also very cool. “I like everyone here. We do have some elders who complain sometimes, but in general they are all kind and lovely,” she smiled. She especially loves how each day when she sees them, they greet her in unison with an enthusiastic, “Good morning, Anushik!”

FAR’s Gyumri Atinizian Senior Center serves meals five days a week to 160 elderly.