WATERTOWN, Mass.—During the last two years, the pages of the Armenian press have been filled with news about the many fundraising events and functions organized by regional and local entities of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), to finance the rebuilding of the ARS Soseh Kindergarten in Stepanakert, Artsakh.
This important project has been undertaken by the ARS Central Executive Board (CEB), which is chaired by Caroline Chamavonian. She assumed the duties of Chairperson immediately following the adjournment of the 71st ARS International Convention in Oct. 2015 in Yerevan. Chamavonian had served as Treasurer on the previous Executive Board for four years and currently holds a managerial position in a global financial services company.
Below is the Armenian Weekly’s recent interview with Chamavonian about the history of the Soseh Kindergartens and the upcoming opening of the Stepanakert location.
The Armenian Weekly: How did the idea of ARS Soseh Kindergarten come about?
Caroline Chamavonian: As a result of the Artsakh liberation war, many children lost their fathers and their mothers needed to provide for their families. The children needed a place where they could be physically and psychologically nourished along with their peers. The concept of an ARS nursery/kindergarten was formulated based on these realities and in spring of 1998, the first kindergarten in Artsakh was established in Stepanakert. The kindergartens were named “Soseh” after the legendary heroine Soseh Mairik. In fact, the mothers of these children were themselves, true heroines of courage and strength. Teachers and care-givers nurtured the spirit of patriotism in the hearts of the children. In each kindergarten, along with Soseh Mairik’s portraits there are the portraits of the martyred freedom fighters.
Ungerouhi Nelly Ghoulian, the widow of the martyred hero, Ashot “Bekor” Ghoulian, was the first— and still is the current—principal of the Stepanakert Kindergarten. Kindergarten buildings were given to the ARS by the government of Artsakh. After renovation, each kindergarten opened their doors to the children.
A.W.: How did the reconstruction of the Kindergarten building start?
C.C.: During my first term on the Central Executive Board (CEB), the Artsakh authorities informed the ARS that the old building did not live up to their new standards. Our Board decision was to rebuild and not to re-renovate. By Aug. 2015, the old building was demolished and a fundraising committee was appointed which consisted of representatives from all ARS regions under the co-chairmanship of ungerouhis Angele Manougian of Florida and Houri Najarian of Toronto. When the new CEB took over, the same committee was re-appointed. The blessing of the new building foundation took place immediately following the adjournment of the 71st ARS International Convention. ARS delegates, pupils and their parents, as well as many guests were present.
A.W.: What is the current status of the rebuilding effort?
C.C.: I am pleased to announce that we have already raised one million U.S. dollars through the united efforts of the Committee members and all ARS regional entities to cover the construction cost and implementation of the project expenses. The building is on the verge of completion. It was designed by architect Manoushag Titanyan. It covers approximately 6,000 square feet and will accommodate 130 children aged between 3 and 6, in four groups.
The building has all the amenities of a modern kindergarten including playrooms, classrooms, a kitchen, bathrooms, a nurses’ quarters, a hall, a stage, a teachers’ room, heating, a water reservoir, as well as video connected internet network. There is a multipurpose hall on the third floor, which will be used by the ARS Artsakh chapter for its various programs, while accommodating a variety of extracurricular activities. The significance of the cellar as a shelter reemerged as more essential after the 2016 April War.
A.W.: Will the other Soseh Kindergartens across Artsakh still operate?
C.C.: Of course, ARS continues to implement its humanitarian programs, providing the cultural and physical needs of our communities, whenever and wherever the necessity arises. Currently, we have eight functioning kindergartens, one in each of the following locations: Stepanakert, Shushi, Togh, Metz Tagher, Ashan, Akanaberd, Qaregah, and Khndzristan. They provide employment for 72 individuals.
Last year, following the April War, ARS was the first to rush to help—and continues to help—the war casualties’ families and those of the wounded. The HOMuhis of Armenia and Artsakh proved that we have heroic women living and confronting present day conflicts at the risk of personal peril, struggling to provide assistance where it is needed, while their husbands, brothers and sons are at the frontlines. On the other hand, our entities and supporters in the diaspora, continue to stand by the homeland and raised around $350,000 U.S. dollars for Artsakh and Armenia through in-person and online fundraising.
A.W.: What details can you provide about the upcoming opening?
C.C.: The opening ceremony will start at 11 a.m. on Sept. 6. In the same evening we will celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ARS Artsakh chapter. We are expecting over 400 ARS members and donors to be present. On this happy occasion, our regional entities have organized tours. Official guests from Artsakh, Armenia, and as far away as France will be attending. On behalf of the ARS Central Executive Board, I wish to express my gratitude to all donors, whose names will appear in a special commemorative booklet. I am ecstatic, that our donors believed in the ARS mission, and provided vital support for the success of this project.
Our entire membership is excited with these activities, and soon they will witness the success of their efforts. This is an opportunity to realize the true meaning of the ARS motto, “With the people, for the people”.