Gyumri Armenia

North Fresno Rotary working on new Armenian Project
By: Alexandra Chavez

Since 2005, the North Fresno Rotary has established a working relationship with the Rotary club from the city of Gyumri, Armenia. The Rotary club of Gyumri and our own have worked to enhance the Gyumri elderly facility, fund the expenses of a special needs school, and market their local artisans. It has been almost ten years since their last joint project, but the two are reuniting to work on the Berlin Medical Center.

From the Beginning

Gyumri, Armenia is a city in the Shirak Province and home to 250,000 people. In the late ‘80s, Armenia became the second country to secede from the Soviet Union and then suffered a horrific earthquake that killed some 25,000. The result of these momentous events was the collapse of their economy. Gyumri has yet to recover and faces many obstacles in social services. The poverty rate for the city is at 50%, energy costs are high, and those working in teaching and medicine have hardly a salary to live off of. About 20 years ago, after the end of the Soviet Union, the Gyumri Rotary chapter was established and it is the second of four clubs in Armenia.

The North Fresno Rotary and the club in Gyumri became acquainted in 2005 when the former NFR chair of international service, Ralph Boyajian, was asked to start a project with Armenia. Boyajian, who had visited the country before, contacted Rotary International in Chicago to learn about ways to get involved with the country. He was encouraged to reach out to Gyumri, as they were working on small projects and were seeking help from U.S. Rotarians.

Gyumri informed NFR that they had ideas of what service projects they could work on next. NFR had eight to nine members at the time with Armenian descent and the project excited them and other members to work on an international level. The group in Fresno reached out to the president in Gyumri, Alex, who became their lead contact to the group.

The first project started was to enhance an elderly home in the city. They had a two-story home that was very old and needed many supplies to enhance the quality of life for its residents. The Gyumri rotary paid an official visit and took note of all the things they would like to see contributed to the home. The NFR raised funds and helped the group apply for grants through Rotary International. The end result was a successful project and five members decided it was time to visit the country and the city.

The Rotarians became acquainted with the Gyumri rotary members and were taken on a tour of schools that were helped by other charitable groups. They saw several schools and then visited one that had not been helped that was a school for special needs students. NFR reached out to the superintendent, and let them know what needs they had. All three worked together and were able to receive another grant from Rotary International and also do a matching grant project with District 5230.
The last project worked on was supporting the art culture of the city. The NFR rotarians were introduced to the art community and were informed that the Gyumri club wanted to help market the artisans. The president of their group visited the U.S. and generously brought artwork made by their local artists. The NFR did art exhibits with other rotary clubs, churches, and even opened their own homes to showcase and sell the artwork.

Returning Again

It has been over ten years since the two groups have worked on a project together, but that will soon change. Boyajian has kept in contact with the former president and thought it was time to reunite.

Boyajian reached out to the board and supported the idea of a new project with the rotary club of Gyumri. He stated that Alex was eager to hear from him and let him know that they were looking at the Berlin Medical Center as the site for a new project.

The medical center was built by Germany as a temporary hospital, but turned into a day-to-day healthcare facility. Unfortunately, they are landlocked in the region by unfriendly countries and lack of coastal access. They suffer from high energy costs, and at an elevation at almost 5,000 feet, they endure harsh and long winters. 80% of funds raised by the government and other groups to sustain the clinic solely goes to the energy costs.

The goal of this new project is to install a multi-component solar energy system to help the facility run efficiently all year long. In a six page memo written about the project it stated:
“The photovoltaic panels and other renewable energy-powered components will reduce
the center’s annual energy costs by 80%, providing independence from rising energy
costs,reducing carbon emissions by 50%, and, most importantly, allowing the center to
operate year-round at full capacity.”

Gyumri is an excellent candidate for a solar energy source system, because at 5,000 ft elevation, they receive 300 days of sunshine a year. The project will also include a water heating system, heat pumps, and the addition of LED lights. All these new installations will insure that the facility will be able to run anytime of the year without worry of costs or weather.

In total, the cost of this endeavour is at $100,000. The fundraising has been truly successful thus far, with Boyajian stating they are about halfway to the final goal. The committee leading this project have presented to other groups, are considering online techniques to market, and have had generous donations made by rotarians. Rotary International and Rotary District 5230 are back to provide aid by matching every dollar raised with an additional $2.50. The group hopes to complete fundraising efforts by June, so that they can spend three months building the new installations in time for the winter season of 2017.

After the solar panels, new heating system, and lights are added, maintenance will be handled by local organizations in Armenia. Non-profit group The Fuer Armenian Foundation own the medical center under an agreement with the republic of Armenia and will cover the costs of ongoing maintenance. Maintenance workers will be trained in taking care of this special system.

Boyajian said that he is glad to see this project be done and will benefit a larger range of people. The rotary club of Gyumri had a second educational project they wanted to get started on, but felt that this should be the highest priority.

“I feel motivated to do this project because Armenia has had a place in history that goes back 3,000 years and has had a difficult time”, said Boyajian. “I am glad that Rotary and other charitable groups have taken interest in trying to help them.”

He continued that he sees a true rotarian spirit when doing services projects such as this. He saw it when he visited with the five other members of the club and said these projects have made him think about the purpose of service centered clubs.

“As they say in rotary: ‘Service Above Self’”, concluded Boyajian.


To support this worthy project, please make your tax-deductible check payable to The Foundation of the Rotary Club of North Fresno with the memo “Armenia Project.”
Checks can be mailed to Rotary Club of North Fresno, P.O. Box 26417, Fresno, CA 93729.
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