Children of Armenia Fund

Children of Armenia Charitable Fund (COAF) (Armenian: "Հայաստանի մանուկներ" բարեգործական հիմնադրամ (ՔՈԱՖ)) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that aims to empower rural Armenians through child-centered community development programs. Working mainly with children and youth, COAF implements education,[1] health,[2] child and family services, and economic development programs to comprehensively address rural poverty.[3] It has also undertaken the improvement of more than 170 infrastructures in villages, including renovation of schools, health clinics, kindergartens, community centers, school cafeterias, creativity labs, roads, and irrigation systems.[4]

Children of Armenia Charitable Fund (COAF)
"Հայաստանի մանուկներ" բարեգործական հիմնադրամ (ՔՈԱՖ)
Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) - Logo (Transparent).png
Lori Education Hub.jpg
AbbreviationCOAF
MottoEmpowering Generations
Founded2004
TypeCharity
Non-profit
Non-governmental Inc. is a 501(c)(3)
PurposeRural development
HeadquartersNew York City
Yerevan, Armenia
Location
Area served
64 rural communities
MethodsCommunity development, capacity building, advocacy, youth empowerment
Key people
Garo H. Armen (founder)
Korioun Khatchadourian (director)
Budget
Up to 50 million USD invested
Employees
120 (2020)
Websitecoaf.am

Founded in 2004 in the village of Karakert, Armavir region,[5] COAF has expanded to 64 villages in Armavir, Aragatsotn, Lori, Gegharkunik, Shirak and Tavush regions, serving over 107,000 beneficiaries.[6]

In 2014, COAF began developing a new strategy to address systemic gaps in rural Armenia- the COAF SMART Initiative.[7] COAF SMART aims at further advancing rural communities by increasing accessibility to comprehensive programs, technology, and opportunities in a state-of-the-art hub. The first COAF SMART Center is located in Lori Province, Armenia. It is open to the surrounding rural populations, with a SMART Curriculum beginning at age three. COAF envisions the SMART Center as a model for rural development and the beginning of a mindset change for a whole generation. Since opening their first campus in Lori, COAF aims to launch a SMART Center in each region of Armenia.[8][9]

HistoryEdit

After the Soviet Union collapse Armenia faces the reality of 47.5% rural population living below the poverty line.[10][11]

Dr. Garo H. Armen began supporting Armenia through various projects in 2000, such as financial support to schools and orphanages, as well as through a de-mining project in Artsakh.[12] In 2003, traveling through Armenia with a group of diaspora Armenians, Dr. Armen visited one of the poorest villages in the Armavir region, Karakert. While asking for a glass of water from an old man sitting in front of his house,[13] Dr. Armen learned that the villagers had to buy drinking water from the nearest city.[14] This shock, and the long conversation that followed, determined Karakert as the location for the Children of Armenia Fund to begin their work.

Dr. Garo Armen founded COAF in 2004 to create opportunities and lasting change in rural communities. COAF began addressing the lack of water, heating, and toilets by making the necessary infrastructure improvements for the community. In 2004, with the organization's first donations, COAF began the renovation of the Karakert school.[15]

COAF's small team in Armenia continued to identify further infrastructure discrepancies in education and healthcare, as well as pertinent social issues needing to be addressed.[16] COAF began to implement community-based approaches to address rural poverty with programs prioritizing education, healthcare, economic and social development as well as infrastructure improvements.[17] In 2005, COAF completed renovations of the Karakert kindergarten, medical post, and community center.

The drastic changes in Karakert inspired nearby villages in Armavir to join COAF programs.[18] COAF started to work in a cluster approach, grouping nearby villages for infrastructure improvements and programs.[19] In 2006, COAF grew to 18 villages in Armavir, implementing the organization's style of community engagement programs, expanding to include healthy lifestyle curriculum in schools, after-school clubs, psychological support, and youth empowerment, as well as professional training courses and supervision by COAF experts.[20]

In 2014, in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of COAF,[21] the organization announced the inclusion of more villages in COAF's network, starting with several villages in Tumanyan sub-region in Lori region. In 2016, COAF grew with the participation of Shirak and Tavush region villages.[22][23]

After the 4-day clashes in Artsakh, COAF launched a humanitarian mission in Artsakh, conducting first aid programs and psychological support, as well as summer camps.[24]

In July 2015, COAF held the groundbreaking ceremony for their innovative initiative – the COAF SMART Center, a technologically advanced hub that redesigns the organization's traditional cluster approach.[25] This approach enables COAF to connect more villagers to programs and opportunities offered by COAF, and connecting different regions through hosting organization-wide events.[26] The first COAF SMART Center in Lori opened its doors in May 2018.[27] It offers comprehensive resources for children and their families, with state-of-the-art classrooms and labs, and helps provide access through transportation to and from villages. The COAF SMART Curriculum emphasizes collaborative education, including project-based and action-based learning in cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains.[28]

COAF currently operates in six regions of Armenia and has invested over $70 million in development projects since 2004.[29]

ProgramsEdit

COAF utilizes a community-based, holistic approach to its work. Along with infrastructure renovations, COAF implements education, health, social, and economic development programs to empower rural communities.[30][31]

EducationEdit

 
Reading books in the village library

Working closely with village schools, COAF Education program creates an environment where students have opportunities to utilize their creativity, critical thinking, talents and potential both at school and after. The organization works also with school teachers and management to have high-quality management & teachers, self-reliant student councils, as well as progressive and innovative physical environment.[32]

Education programs are implemented as after school clubs, such as drawing, engineering, judo and basketball for 3-5 grades.

Civic Education includes debate clubs and “Aflatoun” social-financial education for 6-10 grades.

COAF has a longstanding partnership with the U.S. Embassy to create opportunities for rural Armenian youth to learn English, practice their speaking skills, and learn about United States culture․[33] The U.S. Embassy and COAF provide online English courses for language learners in remote regions of Armenia, where resources for learning new languages are either limited or non-existent.[34]

Capacity building is another mission of COAF education. Mentorship for Student Councils, Methodology training series for teachers, Education management training series for school administration are being held systematically as internal and external activities․[24]

Career development for students starts with Professional orientation for 7-12 grades, as well as Scholarships, Mentorship & Internship, Employability skills training series for COAF alumni.

HealthEdit

 
COAF healthcare

Health programs enhance the quality of primary health services in villages through programs that promote the well being of the entire community. The focus is on disease prevention through promotion of healthy behavior starting from primary school age and early detection. Hands-on education of local health providers and revitalization of the health facilities ensure high-quality implementation of primary health services. [35]

Health capacity building includes Health management hands-on training for the administration, capacity building hands-on training for health providers, revitalization of the health facilities. As for medical services, it includes early detection of breast, thyroid and prostate cancer through:

Dental Treatment comes to somehow overcome the image in rural villages. The lack of drinking water in many COAF-supported villages has resulted in poor dental hygiene for many residents. Dental care is emphasized by COAF, encouraging practicing oral hygiene starting at kindergarten age. COAF implements brushodromes, stations for teeth cleaning, in schools as a solution to address poor dental hygiene.[36] Dental care further consists of dental fluoridation for kindergarten and primary school children twice a year.

International Missions are cooperation with a partner, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO), who visits Armenia every year to provide medical assistance for free in the villages.[37] These trips include doctors’ trainings to provide new methods and tools to local doctors and nurses.

In cooperation with World Food Program, COAF has completed renovations of school cafeterias and provided healthy food to nearly 2,500 elementary school children throughout the five regions.[38]


Child and Family ServicesEdit

The Child and Family Services are relatively new and are part of COAF's most recent expansion. COAF provides social support through speech therapy,[39] psychological assistance, child development,[40] and socialization support for kids with learning difficulties.[41]

COAF's Social worker support is a new institute established in COAF villages. Due to lack of local professionals, COAF hires specialists to train and work within communities. These social workers provide individual and group support to families and children in rural communities. They also identify issues such as bullying, domestic violence, interpersonal relations, and barriers for people with disabilities as they work both one-on-one and with the whole community.[42]

COAF's psychological assistance program works with kindergartens, schools, families and villagers in various capacities. Professional education in this field is not common in the rural communities, so COAF identifies possible specialists, trains them, and provides guidance, knowledge and professional supervision during the contract period. As a tool of community mindset change, COAF implemented a new art therapy program called Psychological Theater,[43] that helps kids to open up and express themselves in a creative and constructive way, and includes people with disabilities.

Another component of the Child and Family Services program is the creation of Child Development Centers, or Sunny Corners.[44] These renovated rooms provide a supportive environment to foster early childhood development. They feature both learning and recreational areas for children, and are equipped with toys and activities that provide an outlet for self expression.[45]

Community work also includes providing assistance to children with learning difficulties who may struggle with being active in the classroom and understanding their schoolwork. Specialized assistance is provided to children with learning difficulties as well as to parents to assist them in effectively working with their children. This support consists of homework preparation, personal and collective education, and motivational support to improve their academic performance. Sometimes speech therapists are also involved, working to identify the issue and assist both the child and their parents to overcome psychological, speech, and integration difficulties.[46]

Economic DevelopmentEdit

 
Adults and kids in a village

One of COAF's goals is to achieve economic vitality within Armenia, demonstrating the potential for opportunity and growth within villages to adults and young people.[47]

Some areas of economic development provided by COAF include interest-free loans for local businesses, entrepreneurship training for high school students, and installation of irrigation water pipelines.[48] These programs provide residents with the tools needed to succeed and generate income, fostering a deeper connection between citizens and their communities.

SMART InitiativeEdit

Aiming to expand their work to all of the Villages in Armenia, Children of Armenia Fund developed an innovative approach – the COAF SMART Initiative.[49] This is a new model to develop rural communities, providing villagers with a state-of-the-art environment featuring the tools, knowledge, and motivation necessary to be a 21st-century citizen.

The COAF SMART concept provides children and their families with resources to improve their lives and explore future possibilities.[50] COAF SMART aims to prevent the emigration from villages to big cities or other countries by showing local citizens new opportunities and providing tools to be successful within their communities. COAF also cooperates with villagers, local government, international organizations, and start-ups to bring best practices to rural Armenia.[51]

COAF SMART CenterEdit

The SMART Initiative is implemented through the COAF SMART campus,[52] an education hub for children and adults to explore their intellectual curiosities and push the boundaries of the fields of study that compel them.

The first SMART Campus[53] is located in the Lori region in Armenia, near the village of Debet. It consists of the COAF SMART Center and a guest house. COAF is working on expanding the campus by constructing a dormitory, greenhouse, and sports ground. It is located on 50 acres of land and is accessible to over 250,000 villagers from across the region.

Opened on 27 May 2018,[54] the SMART Center in Lori is a technologically advanced and innovative education center where kids learn languages, computer skills, robotics, media literacy, design, music, agriculture, and more. Education at SMART is provided at no cost and COAF also provides transportation between the villages and the SMART Center.[55]

The center provides after-school classes and activities to local youth. They not only have the chance to attend their regular classes, but also are able to participate in festivals, master classes, concerts, and guest speakers’ trainings.

The Lori COAF SMART Center was designed by Lebanese-Armenian architect Paul Kaloustian. The building was designed to embrace the landscape and exist in harmony with its natural surroundings.

COAF SMART RoomsEdit

Prior to the COAF SMART Center's opening, SMART rooms[56] existed within the villages. These education rooms have all the necessary equipment and internet connection to provide local people with new possibilities. It helps connect communities with each other and the world. SMART rooms provide education in self-development, medicine, social services, computer literacy, and media literacy.

These rooms enable people to continue their education during winter months, when traveling in the Lori region is difficult. SMART rooms are accessible not only for rural youth, but also neighboring students and community members.

These kind of rooms are present in the Lori and Tavush regions. Tavush SMART rooms[57] also provide shelter in case of potential weapon use in border villages (Koti and Aygehovit) due to ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan. SMART Safe rooms are a secure space for 200 people per village with water, food, and additional electric generators.

FounderEdit

Doctor Garo H. Armen is a US Armenian businessman and scientist. Born in Istanbul, Turkey to an Armenian family, Garo Armen had been beaten at his school for talking about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. At the age of 17, he had to leave for the US to save his life.

 
Dr. Garo Armen at SMART Center

With no knowledge of English, he was hosted by an Armenian family that helped him learn the language and attend college.[58] He worked as a messenger boy, gas station attendant, and dishwasher. Simultaneously, Garo Armen studied chemistry, eventually gaining his PhD before beginning to work as a scientist.

Later he became interested in Financial markets and became very successful there. During the energy crisis, Armen stopped at a gas station and noticed that gas pumps only displayed two digits for the price of gas. "Realizing that continued rising prices would force the pumps to be replaced in the near future, I borrowed $5,000 to invest in gas pumps."[59] Armen's prediction soon proved correct and nearly every gas station pump in America had been replaced.

After losing his mother because of cancer,[60] Dr. Armen was inspired to find new methods of cancer treatment. He founded and currently is the CEO of Agenus, a biotechnology company focused on immunotherapy. He also has an organic farm in Maine

Beginning in 2000, Garo Armen became actively involved in the financial support of Armenia. In 2004, he founded Children of Armenia Charitable Fund to support economic advancement of rural communities.

In 2002, Ernst & Young recognized him as the NYC Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year.[61] Garo Armen is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his humanitarian efforts in Armenia.[62] He has been awarded the Mkhitar Heratsi Medal by the President of Armenia. He is also the recipient of the Golden Medal, awarded by the Armavir provincial governor for his investments in the region. He was awarded the Honorary Medal by the Prime Minister of Armenia.

 
Andrea Martin is the host of the event

FundraisingEdit

Each December, COAF holds a fundraising gala event in New York City. Friends and philanthropists gather to celebrate the year's success, hear children from Armenian villages share their personal stories, and learn about the impact COAF has made.[63] The annual COAF Gala consists of a charity dinner, concert, live auction, and silent auction.

Every year COAF raises up to 4 million dollars to implement its programs for the next year.[64]

Andrea Martin serves as the host for this event.[65] Tony Shafrazi, renowned art dealer, is an honorary chair.

COAF maintains strong partnerships with different companies and institutions, such as the Armenian government and the United States government, International organizations, Banks, and local companies that have sustainable CSR.[66]

Corporate structureEdit

Children of Armenia Fund has two headquarters – one in New York City and one in Yerevan, Armenia.[67]

The New York office primarily focuses on fundraising, donor relations, and the annual COAF Gala event. The board of directors is also based in New York, chaired by Dr. Garo Armen, with Michael Aram, Peter Balakian, Khalil Barrage, Gregory Ekizian, Larry Feinberg, Diron Jebejian, JoAnn Luehring, Shaké Nahapetian, Vahé Nahapetian, Debbie Ohanian, Mary Pendergast, Alice Saraydarian, and John Saraydarian currently serving as board members.

The Honorary Board consists of Honorary Chair Tony Shafrazi, Patricia Field, Andrea Martin, and Lauren Taschen.[68]

The Yerevan office is responsible for the field work, programs implementation, new initiatives, impact monitoring, community advancement guidance, government relations, partner cooperation, specialists’ trainings and kids empowerment.[69]

COAF's Board of Trustees is located in Armenia. The Chair is Richard Bezjian, founder of Energize Global Services (EGS). The Board members are Garo Armen, Alice Saraydarian, Serob Khachatryan, Ovsanna Yeghoyan, Pakrad Balabanian.[70]

COAF's Managing director is Korioun Khatchadourian.[71] COAF Armenia staff consists of 45 employees and more than 200 contractors in Armenian regions and villages.[72]

ImpactEdit

COAF's programs operate in 44 villages in 6 regions in Armenia, impacting over 75,000 beneficiaries.

 
Kids in active sports

COAF works at the grassroots level, collaborating directly with community leaders and local government officials to understand the issues facing their citizens, and begin developing projects and programs to address their Needs.

Since 2004, COAF has undertaken over 100 infrastructure improvement projects—rebuilding schools, clinics, and other vital village facilities and reconstructing kindergartens, community centers, and public spaces for village youth and their families.

In rural areas of Armenia, many villages are isolated by long-neglected road systems, and access to quality drinking water is an ongoing challenge. To date, COAF has provided clean water for more than 18,000 villagers through community collaboration.[73]

Started in 2011, 400 students have graduated from the English Teaching Access program. In 2019, 148 teenagers from nine villages are currently involved in the program. COAF organizes 50 after-school clubs with 973 participants, and over 500 children participate in summer schools.

Other noteworthy highlights of COAF's programs:

  • Since 2013, more than 2,000 high-school kids have been taking part in the Professional Orientation program. COAF Student Council programs involve 307 children in nineteen COAF-supported schools.
  • 91 university students received full and partial scholarships to continue their education in higher educational institutions for the past four years. This program is a collaboration between COAF and HSBC Bank.
  • Seventeen COAF beneficiary schools are members of Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) Network. 2,481 students participated in Healthy Lifestyle Clubs since 2009.
  • 2,203 primary school children receive healthy, hot meals and brush their teeth in renovated cafeterias and COAF Brushodromes.
  • 12,490 women have undergone breast and thyroid screenings for early detection of cancer since 2008.
  • Around 700 children receive free dental care annually.[74]
  • Around 600 children have participated in Child Development Center and Child Development Corners since 2011. 87 children from 8 villages participated in Emotional IQ clubs. More than 150 children have taken part in Drama therapy since 2012. In 2018, over 3500 children participated in group development activities.
  • 973 children, parents, and teachers received individual psychological counseling. 704 parents and 348 teachers participated in seminars conducted by psychologists.
  • Community social workers continuously work with 270 families, and 104 cases have already been resolved and closed.[75]
  • 739 children and 130 adults from 13 neighboring communities currently take part in COAF SMART Center activities.

Charity ratingsEdit

 
After-school club at COAF

Children of Armenia Charitable Fund receives the highest evaluation results according to GuideStar, Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

COAF received 4-star rating on a 4-star scale from Charity Navigator[72] and is a Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance Accredited Charity, meeting all of their standards.[76]

COAF additionally received the GuideStar Seal of Transparency Platinum Level.[77]

Notable affiliated personsEdit

Many well-known people in the world support COAF in its cause. Among COAF supporters are:

 
Leonardo DiCaprio supported COAF Gala

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External linksEdit