A first of its kind in Armenia, the COAF SMART educational center opened today in Debed, a rural community in the country’s Lori Province.
The Center will provide residents of Armenia’s rural communities an opportunity to obtain a non-formal education and skills development, offering free training in information technology, art, communication, ecology, healthy lifestyle, business and civic skills.
The construction and operation of the center has been financed by American-Armenian entrepreneur Garo Armen, founder of the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF).
Armen, born in Turkey, has lived and worked in the United States, where he was awarded the Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016. He’s also a Doctor of Physical Chemistry, with a degree from New York University.
The SMART structure consists of two parts - the SMART center (2230 square meters) and the SMART town (20 hectares), with rooms for guests.
According to the Children of Armenia Foundation, SMART can serve up to 250 people a day.
In an interview with Hetq, Garo Armen spoke about his frequent conversations with his grandmother about the hardships that Armenians have faced. Many years later, when Armen visited Armenia and toured the villages, he met with the youth and saw great untapped potential in rural communities.
"I realized that if these talented young people were provided with resources, they would be able to create a better future and a stronger community," says Garo Armen.
COAF has been working in rural communities of Armenia for 14 years, implementing health, education and social programs for children.Garo Armen says that SMART is not one of the Foundation's usual projects. It has more ambitious and progressive goals.
Children and young people from rural communities will learn programming, robotics, creative expression, innovative arts, about renewable energy, social responsibility, career development and more in the center. At the same time, parents and grandparents of these children will be able to acquire skills in agriculture, garbage processing, food, preventive care and other areas.
Garo Armen has his own vision of a strong and developed rural community, but he thinks that he should not intervene in the thinking of young people living in the villages. He says it’s better to provide the youth with necessary resources to fulfill their own vision instead.
Armen says the situation in communities will change along with changes in the world in the next 5-10 years. By investing and creating diverse educational opportunities, human potential will be used more efficiently, which, as Armen believes, will become the key to the development and strengthening of Armenian communities.
"The future, I think, should be a dream. Now, if you ask me if I can describe that dream clearly, I will say no. That dream should be accomplished through the people living in the villages, since their lifestyle is different from ours. Unless I move to the village and start living there, I do not have the right to tell them how to live, " says Armen.