By Alin K. Gregorian
NEW YORK — The coming together of two likeminded organizations, the Near East Foundation and 100 Lives, has led to the recently announced plans for a $7 million scholarship program which will benefit 100 students from the Middle East.
Both parties are happy with the collaboration, which according to Shant Mardirossian, chairman of the Near East Foundation, is the first time that the two groups, born 100 years apart as a result of the same events — the Armenian Genocide — will collaborate.
“Our hope is to continue the collaboration with 100 Lives,” Mardirossian said.
The third party to this collaboration is United World Colleges (UWC), which has 15 schools across the world, including its latest one in Dilijan, Armenia.
The 100 students that will be selected for scholarships go through a process where the local UWC college committee, composed of a core of alumni from five countries — Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and Syria — select students from a pool of applicants. The committees will assess the financial need of the students as well as their capabilities.
The program, which will begin in 2016, will be administered by the Scholae Mundi Foundation.
UWC Dilijan College, a collaborative project of individuals and organizations, has been implemented by the educational initiatives foundation Scholae Mundi and Initiatives for Development of Armenia (IDeA) Charitable Foundation. Among the school’s Founding Patrons are the Co-Founder of RVVZ Foundation, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, who is Chairman of the Board of Founding Patrons of UWC Dilijan College, Co-Founder of RVVZ Foundation and Chair of the Board of Governors of UWC Dilijan College Veronika Zonabend, Deputy Chairman of the Executive Board at Rusnano Management Company LLC Vladimir Avetissian and his wife Anna Avetissian, President of RD Group Gagik Adibekyan, Managing Partner and CEO at Flagship Ventures Noubar Afeyan and his wife Anna Afeyan, and Director General at ISD Corporation Oleg Mkrtchan.
Armine Afeyan, daughter of 100 Lives co-founder Noubar Afeyan, said that the UWC educational program is “unparalleled.” The students who would be lucky enough to be accepted in the program will be able to have access to an education level that is exceptional, she added.
As for the UWC School in Dilijan, she said that this year the school will have its inaugural graduating class. The school, she said, is part of the “holistic effort to develop the entire region.”
“It is an interesting world class education in an area they might not have seen” on their own, she said.
Part of the education is to “mix everyone together,” meaning that if you apply, you can be sent to any country the committee feels would suit the student or give him or her the most exposure to something new.
Afeyan initially announced the scholarship program at the NEF Centennial event on October 28.
“By providing crucial access to education, we truly hope to be able to provide these children opportunities to have the successful future they deserve-much like the extraordinary work the NEF has been committed to these past hundred years,” she said at the program.
The first recipients of the scholarship will be enrolled in UWC schools in 2016.
The minor details for the collaboration are still under discussion, Mardirossian said. “The objective is for the NEF through local offices, to work with refugees and to provide candidates.”
The students selected will be ages 16 to 18, and thus attend the last two years of high school in one of the UWC schools around the world, maybe even Armenia. Thus, 10 to 12 students a year will be enrolled.
According to Mardirossian, with having two years of such an international education under their belts, the students would have a pretty good shot at getting into elite colleges of their choosing.
NEF is operating in countries where there is a dire need. On the day of the interview on November 20, an attack on Mali had just happened, a country where NEF has its largest operation, Mardirossian said.
“NEF was founded in 1915 by a group of American business, religious and civic leaders as a response to the [Armenian] Genocide,” Mardirossian said.
The organization was founded to help Armenians and during its first 15 years, while it was known as Near East Relief, it helped Armenians as well as Greeks and Assyrians during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. He noted that the organization built many orphanages to house the children left bereft of any living relatives or funds.
“Many were able to succeed in life because Near East Relief gave them the skills to read and wrote or vocational training such as carpet weaving,” Mardirossian said.
The organization changed its name to Near East Foundation when the work with the Armenians concluded in 1930. NEF now has operations in Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, West Bank, Mali, Armenia and Jordan, Sudan and Syria.
“We are continuing work in terms of developmental work within these nine countries,” Mardirossian said. In particular, he added, micro-economic development is encouraged especially for women, as well as helping vulnerable populations deal with healthcare.
About 35 percent of the funding for NEF comes from various US governmental agencies, including the State Department. “They will absolutely continue funding it so that the people in the region will stay” and receive the help.
“Our supporters have been very loyal. You now have to double down and not pull back,” he added.
“Syrian refugees are victims twice over. They are fleeing from danger and treated as if they are part of it,” he explained. “We in the Armenian community have to remember that we were accepted as Christians in Muslim countries and that our diaspora started there, through the generosity and support of these Muslim communities.”
Afeyan concurred, adding that the “community in the Middle East when we had nowhere else to go. The kids in these countries would not have a range of education opening their eyes to people with completely different experiences. It is an intellectual exchange that fits our message. It is the perfect partnership [with NEF].”
He stressed that NEF is trying to help the stricken stay in their home countries and not leave. He added that the group does not work with refugees in the US or Europe.
Afeyan is based in Armenia now, working for 100 Lives. With a bachelor’s from Yale in 2012, she worked in marketing before focusing exclusively on the Armenian Genocide commemoration this spring. She joined the IDEA Foundation and works for 100 Lives. This coming spring, the organization will host the awards ceremony for the three nominated individuals or groups. They will come to Yerevan, she said, where the final decision will be made.
“100 Lives initiative is all about giving thanks in a big way,” Armine Afeyan said.