UMCOR nutrition/food security activities

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.

"The Testimony of Love towards Children"

Terchunyan Tun orphanage is one of three orphanages functioning in Gyumri, Shirak marz. It opened its doors in 2003, considering the needs of the community living in the periphery of Gyumri.  During Soviet times, the city was the second biggest after Yerevan but now hardly recovering with its many challenges, bearing the impact of 1988 devastating earthquake. 

The building where the orphanage is located was heavily damaged during earthquake and in 2003 was renovated through generous funding of Vahan Terchunyan.  The orphanage is not supported by the government of Armenia. The limited funding comes from the Terchunyan Children Home Orphanage Foundation that raises money among Armenians living in Detroit, for supporting the orphans.

The orphanage operates as a school for 126 children from the nearby community and as an orphanage for 74 children out of 126.  Behind the walls of an old black building, one can find love and a cozy environment for children. When one visits this institution, there is a feeling as if it is a big family, rather than an orphanage.  Flowers in the pots and children paintings are all over the orphanage, the testimony of love towards children.

“Parents are unable to take children home even on Christmas Eve. With our budget we try to make proper meals for children with no family and no place to live. Funding comes from Diaspora, namely Armenians of Detroit. The management had applied to the Armenian government for subsidies but so far there has been no response because of the challenges Armenian government faces itself,” said Sonya Simonyan, Director of the orphanage since the first days of its operation.  

The Director mentioned with sadness about the family-related problems of her beneficiaries.  She especially drew our attention to the case of four children from one family staying in the orphanage. Their mother had passed away and the father’s only solution to the problem was bringing children to the orphanage. 

Despite the intention of the government to decrease the number of children and return them to families, the number of children is increasing due to social challenges.

“Allocation of cheese is a huge support in making meals. Otherwise allocated funds are not enough to buy it.  God bless the American government and people for their generosity,” concluded Ms. Simonyan.