By Daphne Abeel
HOUSTON, Texas — “We started this program because of our belief that teachers prepare tomorrow’s leaders. That is the source of our inspiration and our mission,” said Maro Bedrosian, speaking of the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s (TCA) program “Sponsor a Teacher” in Armenia. Bedrosian, chair of TCA’s Board of Administrators and treasurer of TCA’s Central Board of Directors, has been involved with the program which has contributed to Armenian teachers’ salaries since its founding.
“We adopted the program at our convention in Los Angeles. It was Rita Balian who was then the representative on our board who dealt with schools, and Edmond Azadian, another board member, who persuaded us that such an effort was necessary,” said Bedrosian.
At the time, reports from Armenia indicated that teachers were in a terrible situation. Thousands were immigrating to Russia, the US, Europe and Canada, because they could not make ends meet in Armenia.
“We knew we had to do something,” said Bedrosian, “therefore in 2000, the TCA Board of Administrators was formed, and simultaneously, we adopted the program for teachers.”
Today, TCA assists teachers in Yerevan, Garpi, Gumri and Stepanavan schools and as of 2008, a school located in the Lachin Corridor, Karabagh was added.
The schools were chosen with the assistance of the TCA branch in Yerevan and on the basis of the recommendation of the chapter chairman there.
At the time of the program’s inception, teachers’ salaries were extremely low — only $120 per year.
“When we began raising funds in 2001, we reached our goal of having enough money to give each teacher $120. Effective in 2006, we began to donate $130,” said Bedrosian.
At first, the funds went only to the teachers, but it soon became clear that other needs had to be met.
“Now, we also donate to the support staff of the school, other workers such as the librarians, the secretaries and the janitors — anyone involved in working at the schools. We give them each $30,” said Bedrosian.
While the Board of Administrators’ program supports only teachers and school workers, the TCA Central Board provides money for school supplies and repairs.
At present, “Sponsor a Teacher” supports 300 teachers and 75 workers. Since its inception, the program has aided 2,344 teachers and raised over $300,000.
To raise funds, TCA runs “Sponsor a Teacher” advertisements in Armenian newspapers and also sends out mailings. As well, TCA chapters in the US and Canada organize special events.
“Although there are other Tekeyan schools, the Dickranian school in California and one in Beirut, the funds we raise in this way go only to the teachers and schools in Armenia,” said Bedrosian.
The delivery of the funds to the individual teachers is carefully planned and supervised. Once a year, usually in September, one or two members of the TCA’s Board of Administrators travel to the TCA office in Yerevan. The office there prepares individual envelopes with the money for each teacher.
“Then the board members, Ruben Mirzakhanian, who is the TCA local chairman in Yerevan, and the local secretary, visit each school. Each visit is a celebration and the students give performances. At the principal’s office, each teacher presents him or herself and an ID card. The secretary has the list of teachers and each one receives an envelope and signs for it,” said Bedrosian. “If that signed list does not come to me, then we do not send the funds. I send a thank-you letter to each donor and I explain the system to them.”
The program has garnered an appreciative response from the schools. Antranik Piloyan, principal of the Vahan Tekeyan School in Gumri, wrote to TCA, “You have helped us during our most difficult moments, and we feel that far across the ocean that separates us, we have brothers and sisters who are helping us in order for us to conquer the difficulties surrounding us.
Emma Alexanian, who teaches history at the school in Garpi, wrote, “Words are inadequate to describe my gratitude to you…. I thank you for your mission, your caring and your warm sentiments.”
The teamwork of TCA chapters is absolutely essential to the success of the project. The Board of Administrator’s 13 chapters include Bedrosian (Texas); Antoine Bazarbashian (Philadelphia); Lora Kuyumjian (Los Angeles); Kevork Keushkerian (Pasadena/Gl endal e ) ; Haroutiun Diratzouian (New York/New Jersey); Hratch Torikian (Montreal); Vahan Voskian (Los Angeles); Vartan Djerahian (Montreal); Seta Kantarjian (New York/New Jersey); Dr. Levon Keleshian (Pasadena/ Glendale); Barkev Nazaretian (Montreal); Siran Oknayan (Pasadena/Glendale) and Kevork Tutundjian (Toronto). Kevork Marashlian coordinates from Boston.
“We work very hard together,” said Bedrosian. “We meet as a board once a month and discuss new ways to fundraise. We also work on strengthening ties between the chapters, and the chapters sponsor cultural events and book promotions. Each event tours to all the chapters. For example, recently, the author Kemal Yalçin toured to promote the English translation of his book, You Rejoice My Heart. We’ve also had Nora Armani present her dramatization ‘On the Couch.’”
In 2002, Hagop Hachikian toured to promote his book, A Summer without Dawn. In 2003, TCA sponsored a cultural program titled “The Armenian Spirit,” in honor of the 1,000th anniversary of the St. Krikor Naregatsi. The program, which included music, song and recitation, also celebrated the 125th anniversary of poet Vahan tekeyan and the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Aram Khachaturian. In 2004, Kemal Yalçin toured with the Armenian version of his book. In 2005, Mayda Saris, an Armenian author and art historian from Istanbul, presented her book, Armenian Paintings from the Beginning to the Present. In 2006, Edmond Azadian toured with his book, Observations and Commentaries.
“We do a great deal of work with the chapters to make sure that the tours reach all of them in the US and Canada. They go to Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, the New York- New Jersey area and Boston,” said Bedrosian.
According to Bedrosian, 90 percent of the original sponsors still participate in the program.
“And we add people every year,” she said. “We have a fundraising goal every year and we are looking forward to further expansion. In 2009-2010, we hope to add another school in Karabagh. So far, we have done very well. We’ve never taken money from the Central Board and the entire effort is a voluntary one. No one gets paid, but we are united in our purpose to support the teachers — the ones who ensure the future of Armenia,” concluded Bedrosian.
To contribute to Sponsor a Teacher in Armenia and Karabagh, donations may be directed to TCA Sponsor a Teacher, 5326 Val Verde St., Houston, TX 77056. All donations are tax deductible.