The UMCOR Nutrition department was founded at 1999. All programs of the Nutrition department have the same goal: to combat hunger and support and empower vulnerable/disadvantaged people living in state institutions (special/boarding schools for handicapped and socially vulnerable children, retirement centers, orphanages, mental hospitals, and kindergartens for socially vulnerable children) and in targeted rural communities.
In1999 the Nutrition department started its programs with “Free cheese distribution programs” that still exists today. Over ten years this US State Department funded program distributes cheese to special institutions to improve diets of beneficiaries living in the institutions and to promote the market for local cheese producers.
Later (2000-2003, the Nutrition department implemented “Social Transition Program”, which aimed to improve diets of schoolchildren and university students by providing seasonal food assistance. 6,000 schoolchildren were supported with daily lunches.
In 2011 the Nutrition department started to work on the community level. Foods Resource Bank made it possible to work not only in special institutions, but also at Semyonovka, Anipemza and Ahnidzor communities of Armenia. The project addresses the vulnerability of families and the lack of self-sufficiency in food procurement of state-run institutions for their residents through provision of agricultural inputs and technical assistance.
As a short-term result, UMCOR envisions that the communities and institutions supported through the project will achieve food security through increased food accessibility and availability and utilization of more nutritious products for consumption. As a long-term result, families will obtain valuable knowledge and afford better healthcare for their dependents through generated incomes while institution staff will continue to provide nutritious diet to future residents. In the process, beneficiaries will develop self-confidence and fewer people will seek labor opportunities away from their homes.
“From a consumer to a partner”
In December, Vanadzor Elderly Home kindly hosted the Head of Semyonovka village and the Director of Stepanavan Health Evaluation Center, where the representatives summed up the accomplishments of the program, its benefits to their communities, and the short and long-term impacts.
The Head of Semyonovka community and the Directors of two institutions expressed gratitude for improved nutrition and livelihoods, improving the lives of beneficiaries in state institutions and mitigating the financial burden of families in Semyonovka village.
“Due to the program intervention and its components we have three extended families, more children in the community and one newly established family among targeted families. The farm will be a strong base securing food for children inspiring hope for tomorrow,” David Mnatsakanyan, Head of Semyonovka village happily stated, recollecting the first days of early partnership with UMCOR.
For the institutions and some of the families, beekeeping was a new business. The management of beekeeping farms was both learning and practicing experience due to regular visits of UMCOR’s Consultant and their technical assistance.
“Sometimes accumulation of daily challenges impairs creative and positive thinking. The major success of the FRB-funded farm is its sustainability. I envision having more beehives and expanding the apiary all over the hill. Elderly residents will have more honey all year around. It is so inspiring watching the bee family and its hard work as a social community itself. It was my long standing dream of establishing a farm at the institution. Lacks of funds were the main obstacles. Now we overcame this obstacle and became a partner to UMCOR from just being a consumer,” stated Tigran Kocharyan, Head of Vanadzor Elderly Home.
“We would have never been able to include honey in children meals. The 40 kg of harvested honey were so encouraging. Children are having it every day. The staff of the institution works hard to properly manage the farm following each advice of UMCOR’s Consultant,” added Naira Sakanyan, Head of Stepanavan Health Evaluation center.
UMCOR planned a second event at Vanadzor Elderly Home. The elderly had a nice surprise. The children of Zangakatun NGO center, where UMCOR implements its other program, visited the elderly home and on the eve of New Year performed for 55 lone elderly. Some of the elderly were rejuvenated dancing with the children. These children are from vulnerable families themselves, which was not an obstacle for passing joy and love to elderly people.
By the end of December, UMCOR made its last monitoring visit to the farms and observed positive changes. Despite cold and snow there was hope in people’s eyes and they had new vision for their futures. Besides agricultural inputs, seeds of love and kindness were transferred by American farmers to remote Armenia, instilling hope and giving a hand of support to vulnerable populations.
UMCOR’s last visit was both sad and also rewarding due to the program’s results and accomplishments. Heaps of hay stood under a cover of snow, and smoke was coming from chimneys of little houses. UMCOR left assured that the established farms, allocated inputs, and knowledge obtained through the program will help to overcome challenges and food deficits of long winter days and the coming years.