Between a rock and a charred place.

Nane and her mother Knarik are tiny and perfect. They remind me of dolls who  dance on the top of music boxes, except they wear jeans and leather jackets.  Not the type for tutus, they wouldn’t thank you for satin and tulle.

Here we are on the front deck of Nane’s house, last New Year, with Nane’s Grandfather.


This is what that same deck looks like now.


The Baghdasaryan’s house in  the village of Khatsakh on the border with Nagorno-Karabakh was one of four burned down last week. It was arson, and the police have someone in custody.

The house –built by Nane’s grandfather’s father–was completely gutted. The family are safe but everything–hairbrushes, underwear, clothes, shoes, birth certificates, tools and Nane’s school computer –has gone.  Insurance is not a thing in Armenia. They have lost everything.

The family is staying at the home of Nane’s other grandfather. He died last year, and the house has been lying empty since. They have the basics, but it is not what you’d call home–especially not if you are a 16-year-old girl.

Neighbors and friends have done their best to help by donating clothes and shoes but it is hard to be grateful for other people’s cast-offs, especially when they don’t really fit. The family needs cash–and that’s what their neighbors don’t have to spare.

As soon as I posted news of the fire, friends of mine from the US and UK immediately offered to send money. They don’t know the Baghdasaryans the way I do, but they could instantly imagine the horrors the family are facing. Unfortunately, it is not easy to send money to Armenia. Bank transfer fees would eat up most of the donation–and at this point I don’t know a swift code or iban number for Nane’s father’s bank account. These things can be hard to explain when the family’s teenager is the only one who speaks any English.

A friend in France has offered to send a laptop. A petite friend in Italy will parcel up some clothes. But would they ever arrive by mail? Could we get them through customs? Many less valuable parcels have failed to make it to me before…

“Ah,” you say, “but this is where Just Giving or Go Fund Me can be invaluable…”

Tragically, it is not that simple. Those crowdfunding sites don’t accept page requests from Armenia, and don’t transfer money to Armenian banks. It’s an unfortunate legacy of decades of corruption here.

A campaign has to be set up with a US or UK bank account and the person whose name is on the account then has to be responsible for transferring the money collected to the family. If you gave money to support Emilia Simonian–who, by the way, is off to Cambridge next week–thank-you–you’ll know that the Go Fund Me page was in her Grandmother’s name. Rosa lives in LA. The Baghdasaryans have no relatives anywhere but Armenia.

“I know,” I hear you cry. “YOU have a US bank account. Why don’t YOU set up a campaign and then use your ATM card to draw out the funds raised and pass them to the family?” It makes perfect sense–except that Peace Corps rules forbid me to accept money on behalf of anyone else. There are very good reasons for this: it could open impoverished volunteers to temptation; it could cause volunteers to be accused of fraud or skimming; and it moves the focus of Peace Corps service from capacity-building to fund-raising.  I am not allowed to do it.

Each offer of help that appears on my Facebook page breaks my heart. I so appreciate the generosity of friends who get that Nane’s dad –a teacher–needs a jacket to wear before he can go back to school. That Nane’s mum needs make-up to feel like herself again. That Nane needs trainers that aren’t in the shape of someone else’s feet. I hate that I don’t know how to match their willingness to help with the family’s desperate need.

Any ideas out there? For now, your ingenuity may be more valuable than your offer of cash.

Below: The House now–and in happier times, last Nor Tari.

About Liz Barron

Returned US Peace Corps Volunteer (Armenia 17-19). Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger, cook, painter, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveller.
This entry was posted in Advice, Armenia, Arson, clothes, Corruption, Cross-cultural understanding, family, fashion, Go Fund Me, kindness, Peace Corps, Peace Corps Armenia, shopping, Things that make a difference, Village life. Bookmark the permalink.

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