YEREVAN — Maro Bedrosian, currently residing in Houston, Texas, is the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) chairman of the Board of Administrators, as well as the treasurer of TCA Board of Directors. I sat with her to inquire about the purpose of her visit, in general, and in particular about the Sponsor a Teacher project that has been tremendously successful since its inception in 2001. Through this project, financial assistance is provided annually to the teachers and other staff members of four schools in Armenia and one school in Karabagh.
Bedrosian had first visited Armenia in 1980, and now, 29 years later, she has come again on a visit with an important mission. Of course, she no longer recognized Yerevan; filled with enthusiasm, she remarked that the city has made a lot of progress and was impressed by the beautiful Armenian girls everywhere. In her opinion, the city of Yerevan does not give the impression that it is the capital of a poor country, despite the fact that Armenia is referred to in America as being a Third-World country. As for Karabagh, it was their first trip to this land, and she and her nine-member group, from Chicago, Paris, Detroit, Houston and Montreal, were overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Nagorno Karabagh, had fallen in love with Gandzasar; they were impressed by the Museum of History of Artsakh in Stepanakert, by the guide Gayane, who had given them the tour of the museum and the history of Artsakh in fluent English. She spoke about the Tekeyan secondary school in the village of Berdzor, in the Lachin corridor, where 200 pupils, nestled high up in the mountains, were learning their mother language, their history, art, music, sciences, foreign languages, and had presented them a wonderful cultural program highlighting the man, the political activist, the “Prince of the Poets,” Vahan Tekeyan.
Bedrosian had also been invited to participate in the ADL-Armenagan convention. Bedrosian said, “Prior to the opening of the convention, together with fellow party members having arrived from the diaspora, I met with the members of the ADL-Armenagan Executive Committee. I was very glad to see, and I was favorably impressed, that not only highly-educated and knowledgeable but also young forces have been assembled, which inspires confidence that this time, the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party in Armenia will invariably be successful. The spirit, the ideals of the convention, which is the unification of all ADL circles, was very encouraging. That will have a very important role and significance in all subsequent activities.”
Nine years ago, in view of massive emigration of the Armenians to Russia, Europe, and USA, the Board of Directors of TCA in the USA and Canada spearheaded a project to help teachers stay in Armenia and continue educating the children. The 13 members of the Board of Administrators were given the task of raising funds for the teachers and other staff members working in then three TCA-sponsored schools in Armenia. Over the years, the number of the schools sponsored have increased to five, four of them in Armenia: Yerevan with 600 students; Garpi with 892 students; Gumri with 800 students where classes are held in two sessions; Stepanavan with 250 students, and one school in the village of Berdzor, Karabagh with 200 students. The contribution to each teacher has gone up from $120 annually to each teacher and $20 to each school employee, to $130 per teacher and $30 per school worker. Every year, members of the TCA Board of Administrators, members of the TCA Board of Directors and sometimes, other guests, together with TCA Yerevan office Chairman, Rouben Mirzakhanian, and TCA Secretary Gayane Mouradian, visit all the schools and distribute the funds.
Throughout these years, the project has been supervised with care and the sense of responsibility both towards the sponsors and the recipients. The names of the sponsors are published in ADL media every year and letters of thanks are sent to donors, giving the names of the teachers they have sponsored. Visits to schools are recorded and photographed and the lists of the teachers are documented. Articles about the fundraising, as well as the dispersement of the funds appear in Azg newspaper in Yerevan as well as in Abaka in Montreal, Canada, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator in Boston and Nor Or in Los Angeles.
When asked how the group raises fund each year, she replied: “Working in America isn’t easy. The streets of America are not covered with dollars, as some people living outside the country might think. People work hard in America to earn money. But, regardless of all considerations, the Armenian people living in the diaspora are truly patriotic. Regardless of the difficulties they face, they place great value on the idea of helping the homeland. They appreciate the important work being done by the teachers, and with this awareness, they contribute to this program.”
Bedrosian shared her impressions of the schools which they had visited. “We have one more school to visit, the TCA school in Stepanavan, but so far, we have had a great time in Khalatian, principal of the TCA school in Yerevan; Mr. Arsen Ohanian, principal of the TCA School in Garpi and Mr. Hovhannes Bedrosian, principal of the TCA school in Gumri. We had the honor of meeting with Mr. Baghdassarian, the head of the Board of Education of Karabagh, who had come to the Berdzor school with his wife to meet with us. We also had the honor of meeting with the mayor of Garpi village, Ardak Aprahamian,who had come to meet with us at the school. We were amazed to see the care, the eagerness on the part of the teachers to teach the children the best, the very best that they could.
“We fell in love with the neat looking, smart students who welcomed us, interacted with us in their classrooms and entertained us in each and every school that we visited. We were stunned by the hospitality of the schools. We were touched by the appreciation and gratitude expressed by the teaching faculty for the generosity of our Armenian brothers and sisters in the US and Canada, for their care and sensitivity towards our needs.
“Marietta, each one of us, and at times we were over 20 people visiting a school, will remember all of this for a long time to come, all that we saw, and we will leave Armenia with great satisfaction with what is being done for the benefit of the children attending these schools. We will leave Armenia prouder than ever for who we are as Armenians — a nation that is determined to live — and we could see that in the eyes of those children that we met.”
Bedrosian concluded: “Despite the existence of tens of Armenian day schools, Saturday schools, Sunday schools, it is getting increasingly difficult to preserve the Armenian language and identity in the diaspora. This is a concern to all of us living in the diaspora. We at Tekeyan Cultural Association look to the homeland with confidence where our language, history, culture flourishes, where the Armenian identity is preserved, and this gives us the necessary moral strength to carry on the work that we have started some 62 years ago, preserving the Armenian heritage and promoting the Armenian language and culture in the diaspora, and also helping develop close and warm relationship between the diaspora and Armenia for the benefit of our nation.”