A little background:
While volunteering for the Peace Corps at an orphanage in Armenia, Natalie saw a need for a long-term care to mentally-disabled adults that have outgrown orphanages. She knew that in a culture that hides the mentally disabled and considers them shameful, their only other option would be old soviet psychiatric hospitals. This is where Friends of Warm Hearth comes in to provide a brighter future to Armenian adults with disabilities.
We walked into the house in the suburbs of Yerevan where 11 residents live, and were immediately greeted by three smiley faces, Gayane, Davit and Roman.
Above: Roman and his infectious smile
As we toured the house with Alya, the Country Director, and Brian, a Peace Corps volunteer we witnessed the unique aspects and techniques used in the group home. Residents attend University during the day to learn vocational skills such as carpet weaving and gardening. At home, they are able to immediately practice these skills in the crafts room, the garden, or the carpet weaving room. In the evening, they engage in different fun activities from singing to dancing to puzzle making (Roman’s favorite!). And two times a week, the residents have group therapy sessions with a professional psychologist, in which they openly talk about their thoughts, feelings, and issues surrounding their respective disabilities.
Above: some of the crafts made by the residents. They are planning to sell the items online, can’t wait!
Alya spoke to us candidly about the struggles they’ve had raising awareness within the government about mental-disability. Under Armenian law, there is no distinction between physical disability and mental disability, and very little funding for either. As you can imagine they face the same struggles within the community. “We take our residents on trips around the country, they are fun and the residents really look forward to them! But they are also a great way to help promote the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the community.”
The residents were really excited to share their photo albums with us and perform some traditional Armenian songs, which was quickly turned by Agape and Davit to a great dance party!
Above: Gayane sharing a poem she learned at college
Friends of Warm Hearth is so much more than a group home. The resident receive specialized care, live in an inclusive nurturing environment, and learn important vocational skills. In the future, Alya hopes to expand “I dream of having a big home one day, with different groups of residents, living within similar levels of capabilities, and interacting with each other in a large communal place.”
We left the house with a sense of gratification, knowing that all your donations are going to a great project.
Support them here
Khinkali! .. Amazing Georgian dumplings filled with spiced beef and it’s juice .. So much slurping! So much goodness! … I’m addicted
This is Fatima, a modest woman that is impressively involved in women issues and employment in Diyarbakir and her peaceful mother Helima. They hosted us while we were in the area and overwhelmed us with their generosity and kindness.
Between my broken Turkish, her few words of English and a dictionary we learned that at day she works at the hospital’s information center educating people about the dangers of smoking. And in the afternoons she volunteers for two cooperatives, a women’s kitchen, and a silk scarves production facility. Because of her soft demeanor and modesty, you’d never guess her accomplishments. Among working, volunteering, and taking care of her elder mother, she is attending university to study sociology!
It seemed like she knew everyone in town and made sure to rally them up for our workshop! For the first few days we were in Diyarbakir she was consistently on the phone, and although we couldn’t understand most of what she was saying, we understood “GlobalGiving” “America” and “Mosafer” which means traveler.
She took care of us, cooked for us, showed us around, and introduced us to everyone that could help. And her mother, stood by the door everyday to pray for us as we left to our meetings. I will forever be grateful for their hospitality and kindness
In a country where income inequality is high and child labor is common, Zartonk-89 seems to be one of the only Armenian organizations that is trying to protect and empower child workers in the country. Zartonk-89 is a small NGO that focuses on protecting and educating Armenian child workers….
On our last weekend in Izmir, we decided to go to Ayvalik. For $10, we hopped on the “Tekno Bus” which includes a personal entertainment system and a young man in formal clothes and a red bow-tie serving you coffee, tea and soda (bolt bus has nothing on this!)
We went to Ayvalik to visit Tara, a full-of-life, worldly woman that moved to Turkey 23 years ago to start the civil society program at Sabanci University. After successfully doing so, she moved to Ayvalik to start çöp(m)adam (the Garbage Ladies), a social enterprise addressing both the environmental (waste) issue and women employment*. çöp(m)adam produces beautiful purses and accessories made by local women from individual and industrial waste.
I immediately fell in love with the small colorful houses, stone roads, and old feel of the city. In the past, Ayvalik was mainly occupied by Ottoman Greeks that were forced to leave during the exchange of population in 1923, leaving behind abandoned houses, beautiful churches and a unique culture. Many of the churches in the area have been converted to mosques, but still surprisingly have the unique features of a church, like cross-shaped windows! We stopped to chat with an elder lady outside one of the mosques, and although we couldn’t understand most of what she was saying, we could feel that she is speaking fondly of the old days, and of what this place used to be.
One of the main highlights of our day and a half trip is that I went scuba-diving for the first time! It was an amazing experience. And although I couldn’t see the famous red corals (too deep for a beginner) I still loved every second of it.
The streets of Ayvalik
We attended a circumcision party … um, yeah!
* Three out of four women in Turkey are unemployed! And many have never earned income in their lifetime.
After 23 hours of traveling between a bus, 2 minibuses, and 5 taxis we made it to Tbilisi, Georgia! .. Back pain galore! But the beauty of the road and our amazing Georgian taxi driver made it all worth it!
At the Georgian border, the officers kept looking at my passport, looking at me, and chatting in their language! We didn’t understand what the fuss was about but the party grew from two officers to four to five! again flipping through my passport, smiling at me, passing it to the next. After what felt like 10 minutes, they finally gave me back my passport and one officer said “I no see Saudi citizen woman before!” lol
Isabel with our awesome driver
Amazing find from Meg - ITF Cameroon
I love this… the original French caption for International Women’s Day actually translated as “Women are an indispensable part of development,” but the fabric maker had other ideas.
I apologize for the lack of posting lately. Traveling between Istanbul, Izmir, and Diyarbakir has left little time for this blog, but don’t worry there are many posts to come … here is a quick recap of our trip so far
Three weeks ago, Isabel and I landed in the charming city of Istanbul. We arrived with a packed schedule of meetings and were excited to jump right into work. We met with amazing CS leaders, foundations, and associations and the amount of enthusiasm and youth involvement was truly inspiring. We held a workshop (read about it here). To be honest, starting from nothing in Istanbul was daunting at first, but my faith in how connected we all are was reaffirmed by the end of our stay there. One person referred us to another, and we were able to reach many more people than we expected.
On the fun side, because we had to travel to different parts of the city for our meetings, we quickly learned how to navigate the metro system (with a few mistakes of course!). It was really exciting to discover the city from a non-touristy side. We ventured into little streets, discovered amazing local boutiques, and the best view of the Bosphorus.
10 days later, we left fast-paced Istanbul behind to head to Izmir, a laid back coastal city. We were greeted by our amazing host, Pinar, who showed us around and made sure we had the best food Izmir had to offer! Our visits included three organizations doing impressive work in their diverse sectors, EGE Derengi an environmental and cultural NGO, TEGV an organization providing supplemental education to children, and TURGOK a library/publishing house for the blind (click on the links if you’d like to learn more about them). After finishing all our meetings, we decided to take the weekend off to visit Ayvalik, a three hour bus ride from Izmir (which will require its own post, so stay tuned!)
Three days ago we arrived to 43 Celsius Diyarbakir, nicknamed “Paris of the Middle East” probably because of the historical significance of the area. The city is beautiful, but I’m melting from the heat. Everyone says you are from Saudi Arabia, you are used to this! … Not Really! We live in an air conditioned bubble in Saudi, whereas here nobody uses AC! I’m not sure if it’s the hot weather or the proximity to the Arab world, but the city reminds me a lot of Damascus. We are holding our workshop here today so more to come soon …
So much for a “quick” update :) … Until next time, Gule Gule
Sile, about an hour drive from Istanbul
Isabel and I with Dreams Academy after the Istanbul workshop
I felt right at home with this lamb dish in Izmir
My travel partner (Isabel), just posted about our first workshop in Turkey. Read below
Shahd and I just finished our first workshop about online fundraising in Turkey! We held it at the beautiful new Beyoglu Youth Center in the Sishane District (pronounced Shishanay), Istanbul. After meeting all of these wonderful representatives from Turkish organizations, we are so inspired by all…