Great partnerships make Ayo! projects happen. Thanks to the formidable efforts of the Sunday schools of the Eastern Diocese, a new heating system was installed last month in the educational wing of St. Astvatsatsin Church in Vardenis, a somewhat isolated region near Lake Sevan.

“At Ayo! we’ve tried to raise money for heating before, like with our A Gift of Warmth project, which funded a new insulation system for the day care in Mets Masrik Village. So we were definitely game to help out the people of Vardenis,” said Ayo! Program Director Laura Gevorgyan. “As it turned out, we didn’t have to.”

While Ayo! started planning its next campaign, its team simultaneously gave a heads up to the Eastern Diocese about the project idea. They very quickly went to work. In just three short weeks, the Eastern Diocese Sunday schools collaborated on their own crowdfunding effort and raised double the $6,800 Ayo! originally budgeted! (Options are still being discussed in terms of what to do with the surplus.)

Arman Martoyan, 23, is among the most enthusiastic beneficiaries of this project. He has been looking forward to this miracle since childhood, he said. “We had hard times back in my years—poor infrastructure, harsh conditions—and we also had to endure classes in frigid temperatures. But I liked my school. That’s why I am still here.”

A former St. Astvatsatsin Sunday School student who also attended its painting and singing groups, Arman now teaches woodworking five times a week to children and youth from about 15 villages in the region. As many as 20 kids participate in his classes during the summer months. Attendance drops significantly from December to March, which are the coldest, most agonizing months of the year in Vardenis. Temperatures inside the building may often hover around -10ºC (14ºF) and some of the students have even nicknamed the educational wing “Siberia.”

“How can students concentrate on their work if they feel like they’re in a freezer?” Arman said.

Many students had to bundle up in their coats, hats and gloves to do their activities, which of course made it hard to grip a paint brush, a pencil or carving tools. St. Astvatsatsin tried to use space heaters and gas stoves in the classrooms, however it was hard to keep the building warm this way. It was also a fire hazard. Eventually, there was no other choice but to close the school from November to March.

“Closing the school due to lack of heating would often consign these children to their homes, where many have nothing to do to keep them occupied,” said Deacon Vardan Maloyan, who added that the Sunday school served not only as a place for children living in a remote place to learn arts and crafts, English and computer free of charge, but also as a safe environment where they could make friends and socialize. “Currently, we have 143 students, ages 5-18, who come from disadvantaged families from Vardenis and nearby villages. The main goal of the school since its establishment in 2003 has been to help our community ease social burdens and expose children to certain trades and activities, like arts and crafts and woodworking. Bible studies are the core classes of the school, as children should know Christian values from an early age. Before, many students would get sick in the cold classrooms and miss lessons. But now that we have heating we don’t have to worry about it anymore and they can focus on learning instead.”