On a Mission
Having seen many children begging on the streets of Armenia, suffering from the lack of infrastructure during the infancy of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, including no electricity or running water, Armine Hovannisian and her husband Raffi Hovannisian established an organization in 2000 to lend a helping hand. Orran, meaning “haven” in Armenian, began with a single center with 16 children, but within six months, it grew to embrace more than 26 at-risk elderly and 40 socially vulnerable children, some of whom were orphans.
Orran built clean and comfortable facilities for the children to feel welcome. The mission was to provide a daily hot meal, academic assistance, medical and psychological assistance, social services, vocational training, and cultural enrichment. Orran’s goal was to divert vulnerable children from the streets and engage them in academic, cultural, and extra-curricular activities. Various trades were taught to develop vulnerable children’s interests and talents toward a working career, including, theater, drama, woodshop, and pottery. Orran not only helped families in crisis, but also fought the concept of beggar children as the principal breadwinners of their families. The lonely and needy elderly were also cared for to prevent the spread of destitution and begging among Armenia’s children and elderly. Orran’s small project had grown from 16 children in 2000 to supporting approximately 400 people in Vanadzor and Yerevan before the current war.
On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, started an outright attack on Artsakh. Days after the initial attack it became clear that this attack was different from the region’s conflict of the early 1990’s. This time Azerbaijan is directly targeting cities and civilian homes with sophisticated weapons provided by Turkey, forcing the strong people of Artsakh to flee abruptly, with no belongings or documentation, from the constant bombardment of their homes and head to Yerevan for safety. At the time of this interview, a rough estimate of approximately 60,000 displaced people had been accounted for. Mothers with their children were arriving to the city, giving rise to a very urgent need to supply food, clothing and shelter.
Orran knew its mission must expand to provide nutritious meals and snacks for the displaced children as well as continuing to assist the local at risk children of Yerevan. After Orran made an announcement for families, hundreds of children arrived at the centers. In the first week of the war, Orran provided 200 meals to children, with approximately 400 meals anticipated in the upcoming week. Hundreds of food meal packages became needed to provide daily assistance to the displaced families.
Armine notes, a displaced young mother who had been given a vacant apartment to use as temporary shelter, had resorted to taking off the drapes to wrap her babies in for warmth through the night as there had been no blankets in the empty apartment. It became clear that it was of utmost urgency that Orran’s next project was to provide warm winter clothing, shoes, and blankets to the families as the cold winter season nears.
Many who fled their homes, not only left their belongings behind, but also left their fathers, husbands, and brothers fighting on the frontlines. They arrived in Yerevan in a state of fear and anxiety. A commonplace sight is worried women who cannot stop crying to speak full coherent sentences to Orran’s staff and children who are so traumatized by the bombing of their homes that they cannot sleep with the sound of thunderstorms, thinking they are bombs. Psychological assistance has been also requested to assist the women and children in dealing with this trauma.
The future of these families is uncertain. They do not know what will happen, if and when they will be able to go back to their homes or whether they even have homes to go back to. The families of Artsakh are strong willed and hopeful, stating that the minute a ceasefire is reached, they will be returning home as soon as possible. The unfortunate reality, however, is that even when a ceasefire is achieved, there are unexploded bombs all over Artsakh, a further obstacle in the way of families returning back home immediately.
Orran is currently a haven for thousands of the most vulnerable people. The needs of people are growing and Orran’s original mission is expanding. In order to remain a refuge for the families, Orran is currently seeking donations to be able to extend the support, provide more food, more shelter, clothing and provide assistance in the upcoming cold winter. With increased funding Orran will be able to provide 800 meals and necessities to the families in need. Those interested in becoming donors may make monetary donations online by going to the website or by sending a check to Orran, each of whom will receive a personal letter of gratitude from Armine herself. Furthermore, subscribing to the Orran mailing list ensures being updated with reports and photographs of the humanitarian projects underway.
Armine Hovannisian – ORRAN
“What is happening in Armenia now is very much reflective of genocidal stories. We grew up hearing of and reading stories of the genocide. We always wondered how the world stayed quiet. Now, in this contemporary and modern world it is unbelievable what is happening. I am glad that we, as a community, are coming together and putting forth strong efforts to help, but we can do more. More than ever this is the time to do it.”
Armine Hovannisian’s Story:
Armine Hovannisian was born in Armenia, and moved with her family to the United States as a young child. She holds a B.A. in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College, and a Juris Doctorate degree from University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. She was a practicing civil litigator in Los Angeles prior to moving to Armenia with her husband and their children. Before assuming her current post as Executive Director of Junior Achievement of Armenia, Mrs. Hovannisian was the Director of Project Hope. Armine and her husband Raffi Hovannisian are the parents of five children. Mrs. Hovannisian currently serves as the Chairman of the Orran Board of Directors and looks over the daily operations at the centers.
How to contribute to Orran:
Established in 2000 in Los Angeles, California, is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, youth service organization. Visit http://www.orran.am/ for more information.