- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 8, 2003 

Hope and Housing: Project gives shelter, encouragement to vulnerable families

The Settlement of Hope cottages bear little resemblance to most Yerevan housing.

Recently 21 needy families enjoyed a house warming in the newly constructed Settlement of Hope district on the outskirts of Yerevan.

Eleven two-storey cottages have been built on a stretch of deserted land in the Davitashen area off Yerevan-Ashtarak highway. Each cottage was settled with two families who previously lived in unsanitary, wet, emergency shelters.

Among the new settlers is the Khachatryan family that includes 10 children. Their new cottage is more than a dream.

"We didn't even dream about a cottage like this," says hostess of the new house, 40 year old Anahit, mother of nine boys and one girl (the eldest is 19; the youngest is 18 months). "During the last year we had been waiting for this moment living in an apartment of an emergency building that has collapsed this winter. Fortunately it happened in our absence and we moved to another emergency building."

Since June 17 the family settled in the newly built district.

In 2001 Diaconia Charitable Fund founded by German-Armenian Paruir Jambazian decided to create such a district in Yerevan for improving housing conditions of 200 insecure and large families. The Yerevan municipality donated 16 hectares of land, without any term limits.

The project is expected to be finished in 2008, at a cost of about $10 million. Completed, Settlement of Hope will have four districts, five main streets, 100 two-storey cottages, a park, a church, a school, a college, small gardens and a trade center.

It will be a district differing from all other districts of Yerevan not only by its purpose, but also in the number of children. Already there are 130 children representing the 21 first-resident families.

According to Jambazian, the district got its name as a reminder that life in Armenian is improving.

"Hope is very important," the 32-year old benefactor says. "When you lose your hope, life becomes senseless and you see everything in black."

Until their move, hope was about all the Khachatryans had. The father, 40-year-old Manvel, makes shoes, but only on order. So the family exists primarily on government assistance and by help from relatives. Anahit says the family has many every day problems, but housing was the biggest challenge.

From their existence in a building that was quite literally collapsing, the family now lives in a four-bedroom, two bathroom apartment. There is also a 400 square meter plot of land next door for cultivation.

It's still a small house for a big family, but . . .

On July 28, another Khachatryan family of the district that has been there for one month celebrated the birth of their 10th child. They named him Paruir in honor of the president of the Fund.

"Our son is the first newborn of this new district and he will be growing together with the prosperity of the district," says his father, 45 year old Vachagan, who is unemployed.

Before moving to Settlement of Hope Vachagan's family shared an apartment with rats.

"The children had been going to bed with horror for six years," Vachagan says. "They were afraid a rat would bite them. All of us had impatiently waited for a new apartment and we couldn't imagine that such things could happen."

Now, their newborn sleeps calmly in his parents' bright bedroom.

Construction of the district is financed by European countries, mainly by Switzerland, Germany and Holland, where the Diaconia Fund is functioning as well.

"It is a project that requires big financial expenses and we really want this project to serve its purpose," says president of the Fund Jambazian. "We want to change the mentality of these families."

Potential residents are chosen by a special commission which includes representatives of the municipality, the district's head office, the Ministry of Social Security and Diaconia. The Fund has the right of the last word and makes the final decision.

"All families that reside today in the Settlement of Hope had been in the worst conditions until resettlement," says Jambazian.

He says he was amazed to see smiling children, even in the worst living conditions possible, during the selection process.

"Today they live in good conditions. We see how they are tenderly playing with each other," says Jambazian. "Our goal is to teach them that they must work and live and not just sit and wait for aid from someone."

The most important task in the district is creation of jobs.

"It is calculated that by the end of the project approximately 200 jobs will have been created in the administrative buildings of the district and we want those jobs to be taken by the residents of this district," says Jambazian.

. . . the Hope house is a long way from the Khachatryan's former home.

Each family signs a contract with the Fund after moving to the new apartment. According to the contract, the residents must cover all communal expenses themselves. They have no rights to sell or modify an apartment as it is a property of the Fund. In addition, residents will be offered jobs. If he or she refuses work three times, the Fund has a right to cancel the contract.

"We have no thoughts of resettling someone from here but it is not right if they will always be waiting for help," Jambazian says. "We want to cure them of that bad mentality. They also must do something to change their life."

Currently, five more cottages are being constructed.

"By the time the children of the district create their families and start supporting themselves all alone, then it will mean that the project had really come to our expectations and we really helped these people," Jambazian says.

Thirteen year old Karine Muradyan is one of the district's first residents. Upon her family's move into their new cottage, she wrote a poem:

You are Settlement of Light, you are Settlement of Hope,
You were full of stones surrounded with wonderful mountains
And now you are constructed as a palace decorated with beautiful constructions
You became marvelous like a blossoming rose at dawn that amazes everyone.
You have been a dream for people for a long time
And there are good people in the world who make people's wishes come true.
And the door is open here and an old dream of poor people comes true here.

According to Agnes
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