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The Activities of the VIVA Charity Foundation: Volunteering as a Starting Point for Repatriation
The Activities of the VIVA Charity Foundation: Volunteering as a Starting Point for Repatriation

Starting Point

It seems that the time has come when the financial and material support of Diaspora compatriots alone is not enough to solve the problems Armenia is facing today, the solution of which may mean a leap forward, while the failure to solve them may mean a decline into a vast abyss. It's time to invest our time and knowledge in Armenia.

Perhaps the brightest example of this kind of investment in Armenia is the activity of the VIVA Foundation (Doctors and Volunteers for Armenia). It began during the April 2016 war when a group of concerned doctors and others decided to respond to the call for help from Artsakh's doctors.

"In April 2016, colleagues from Artsakh sent us a list of necessary medicines and equipment. Our family, friends, colleagues, mostly doctors from Russia and the Diaspora, united and already in early May sent the first ambulance, and the cargo itself began to be sent from April 6. In June-July we went to Artsakh from Moscow ourselves: the concept was clarified and it became clear that only sending aid is not possible, it is necessary to understand what exactly to send, we need specialists who follow it", - says Tatiana Oganesyan, candidate of medical sciences, co-founder and head of the VIVA Foundation.

At the beginning of the foundation's activity, there were about 500 people, and at the moment, there are more than 5,000 people in the volunteer part. There are more than 500 doctors actively working among them: some of them do not live in Armenia (Russia, USA, Spain, Greece, Belgium) and provide remote consultations. They are Armenians and foreigners sympathizing with Armenia and willing to help.

Areas of activity of the foundation

Now VIVA is a registered Armenian foundation with a wide range of activities: medicine, education and social programs. The foundation is engaged in training not only medics, but also instructors and schoolchildren (first aid).

"We have international instructors who, in the last month and a half, have trained more than 1500 schoolchildren in the Gegharkunik region; priority is given to border areas. Our goal is to teach every schoolchild. Many young people died because they did not know how to provide assistance to themselves or their comrades. Therefore, we need to develop a first aid program. Will everything be fine? There will be trained civilian personnel," notes Tatiana.

The foundation collaborates with the Ministries of Health, Defense, and Social Development. Cooperation with the Ministry of Defense is developing in the direction of training doctors and equipping hospitals with medicines and equipment. During the 2020 war, VIVA Foundation's volunteer doctors were present in all hospitals in Artsakh and Armenia, engaged in the rehabilitation of the wounded, and those who could not be treated in Armenia were directed to colleagues abroad.

Already later, after very frequent visits here and the work of the foundation from Russia to Armenia, Tatiana and her family decided to move to Armenia.

"In 2021, I spent a total of six months in Armenia, and in 2022, in February, we moved here. We were already here most of the time, it was clear long ago that we can do more work here, and our volunteer staff has expanded, many people, coming to Armenia to support the activities of the Foundation, decided to move to Armenia," says Tatiana Hovhannisyan.

Another volunteer of the foundation, Tatiana's husband, Viktor Mikhailov, PhD in Law, joins the conversation. "In 2016, when we spontaneously decided to engage in this activity, we realized that without institutional support, we couldn't provide charitable assistance. What was important? Deep integration into the life of Armenia allowed us to understand the problems and find ways to solve them. You become part of this country, political, civil, and domestic ties with Armenia allow you to live its life. You realize that you're needed here, that you can do less from a distance than here. And we started to take our work more seriously while being here."

It is no secret that charity occupies a significant place in Armenia's activities, and the legislative framework should be as comfortable as possible for its implementation. However, as Viktor notes, the state does not provide any benefits for individuals or legal entities that donate financial and material resources to its various projects.

"In all developed countries, charity is encouraged, I really hope and, as a specialist, I am ready to make all my efforts to adopt the necessary legislative changes. Abroad, for example, there is a tax deduction for donations to charitable organizations," says Viktor Mikhailov.

It should be noted that Victor, who provides all legal support to the foundation, does it on a voluntary basis. As he notes, he is a perpetual volunteer of the foundation.

Assistance to Artsakh residents

"Now and recently, most of the VIVA Foundation's programs are aimed at helping the Artsakh people. "When Artsakh was blockaded, we knew that sooner or later either we would go there or they would come out of there, blockades don't just happen. Tatiana, as the head of the foundation, made the decision to prepare in advance, and in the city closest to Artsakh, she accumulated everything necessary much earlier. We met 70,000 Artsakh residents there, provided them with first aid, consulted those we could, and helped as much as we could. All this is thanks to the strategic planning of the foundation's activities. We see problems much earlier and prepare for them," notes Viktor.

Turning to the programs of assistance to those evicted from Artsakh, Tatiana says that within the framework of the medical direction, a team of doctors travels to the border villages (where they also provide assistance to local residents), consults, gives medications, if additional research is needed, often accompanies their arrival in Yerevan. Within the framework of social programs, the foundation helps Artsakh women who became pregnant in September and the first week of October of last year. About 1000 women will receive (500 + have already received) the first necessities for the mother and child for the initial period (the so-called "dowry"). In addition to social assistance, these women are monitored by VIVA doctors, and the babies are monitored by pediatricians. The cost for each baby is approximately $415, and the foundation is currently seeking funding for this project.
From September 1 to December 31, the foundation spent over $500,000 on providing assistance to Artsakh residents.

Volunteering as the Beginning of the Repatriation Journey

Continuing the topic of helping the Artsakh people and volunteering, VIVA Foundation Head Tatiana Hovhannisyan invites Armine Ghazaryan, a volunteer of the Foundation and already a repatriate, to join the conversation. Armine is an endocrinologist, born in Yerevan, although at that time her parents had already lived in Moscow for a long time. She believes that her place of birth was a reference point for her move to Yerevan. But the main beginning on the path of repatriation was volunteering with VIVA.

"My acquaintance with the foundation happened in 2020 during the war. I followed their activities, and in 2021, I learned about the opportunity to go to Artsakh during my vacation as a volunteer. The foundation provided only accommodation and transportation. I spent 3 weeks in Artsakh as an endocrinologist. There were many patients, they were not prepared for such care. It was a very important stage in my personal development. Then I went back to Moscow, worked there for another year. And then something happened, and I moved to my homeland in September 2022. Here, I found support in myself without relying on the help of the older generation, although, it seems funny enough in Armenia," Armine smiles and continues, "Every Armenian should recognize Armenia within themselves, love it, and invest their time in it."

Armine's father is from the village of Aygedzor in the Tavush region. As part of her work and volunteer activities, she visits her father's village, consulting and treating the residents.

When I asked Armine if she had thoughts of leaving and about her reflections, Tatiana answers with a smile, "No thoughts of leaving, girls, we have plenty to do here."

You are the one Armenia needs

At the end of the conversation, Tatyana notes: "It is necessary to come here as much as possible, to be here as much as possible. If you are a professional, if you are established, come, teach the youth, pass on this knowledge, because by changing the youth, we can change the future trend. This is the only and one hundred percent right decision. We are often asked: was it bad for you there? No, we felt good there, but here we feel much worse. All the discomfort is overridden by what I do, what my family, colleagues, volunteers of the Foundation do for Armenia, for its people.  In 2016, I suddenly asked myself: why am I teaching the youth when I have a homeland where they don't understand the basics of something?! It's not a condemnation, it just happened that way. This guilt is on us. So come here, let it be your short vacation. Our doctors used to come here for vacation, engage in volunteering. Come to your village, where you lived, start engaging with your fellow villagers.

Everyone in their place can make a difference. If I thought that - no, there was nothing of what we have done by today with our doctors and volunteers. Do I weep, do I judge? No, I work, and I have the entire foundation with me.

Volunteering is the starting point of repatriation. Many people thought that Armenia didn't need them, the Foundation showed that it's just the opposite. Armenia needs your knowledge, your experience, your time and your love. No one will do it besides you."

Nareh Bedjanyan

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