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(SAN DIEGO) – The Knights of Vartan, Gomidas Tahlij #43 of San Diego has donated a commissioned painting of St. Vartan and Ghevont Yeretz for the side altar of St. Sarkis Armenian Church, San Diego.

The painting by Armenian artist Tigran Hovumyan was dedicated and blessed by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, and parish priest Very Rev. Father Pakrad Dz. V Berjekian, on Sunday, February 5, 2023, as part of St. Sarkis’ First Anniversary Celebration.

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Rebirth of Nanulik Kindergarten in Gyumri

By NS Nishan Dulgerian

Few things could be more pleasing than giving new life to a dilapidated school serving a community in need. Rebirth of the Nanulik Kindergarten in Gyumri, the second largest city of Armenia, in Shirak Marz, is one of those rare instances when right things happened to a deserving community in a timely manner. Constructed after the 1988 earthquake which devastated Gyumri, Nanulik barely managed to exist for years in temporary wooden cottages and domiks. Educational needs of the growing population of kindergarten-age children in the area were underserved. Insufficient setting of the buildings was aggravated by lack of heating system to survive Gyumri’s severe winter conditions and lack of functioning water and sewage system servicing the school.


Nanulik Kindergarten building

When construction of a new building for Nanulik Kindergarten was presented to Knights of Vartan’s Armenian Schools Support Project as micro-project TSH-11 by World Bank’s Armenian Territorial Development Fund (ATDF), Vahan Lodge of Orange County was genuinely interested in undertaking this challenge. Spearheading the building of a school envisioned by the city planners as a two-storied building featuring all the necessary functional areas, including a much-desirable playground on the existing land was so fitting Vahan Lodge’s charitable endeavors. When it was revealed that the community raised nearly 2% of the construction funds, Vahan Lodge obliged to raise the remaining 2% to realize this exceptional opportunity classified as an ATDF 96/04 Program, i.e., World Bank subsidizing 96% of the construction cost and the Knights 4%. How did Vahan Lodge, the smallest ‘Tahlij’ in our fraternal order with its very small budget for charitable endeavors, meet such an obligation and managed to raise its share of the funds? The story is worth retelling!

Children washing their hands

It happened that Vahan Lodge’s then Sbarabed John Poochigian had been in dialogue with two Armenian attorneys in Orange County, both functionaries in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Western Region (ARF-Western), about effecting joint projects and a community-wide fundraiser to realize a school construction project in Armenia. By sheer coincidence, ARF-Western was pursuing such a project in Gyumri but was unclear if anticipated benefactor gifts from Orange County’s small Armenian community would suffice.

So in early February of last year three Asbeds representing Vahan Lodge, our then Sbarabed John Poochigian and Ter-Sbarabed Anton Markarian, and myself as an advisor, had a consultative meeting with our attorney friends and explained to them how The Knights of Vartan was one of only five “Key Development Partners” of a World Bank assisted program which gave us access to projects that fitted our mission, including renovation and improvement of physical facilities of select public schools in Armenia. With the approval of Vahan Lodge membership, a proposition was made to ARF-Western to split Vahan Lodge’s 2% contributory funding of Nanulik Kindergarten project. Like a “marriage made in heaven,” the two Armenian organizations of Orange County embarked upon this joint venture resulting in the construction and opening in early December of 2018 of a brand-new school building on Gyumri’s Koshtayan Street. City’s mayor and members of his administrative staff, parents and many children attended the opening ceremony with music provided by city’s brass band and ‘shurch-bars’ performed by happy Nanulik students.

Nanulik’s principal Ms. Meri Soghoyan said the school started with 3 groups instead of 4 as originally planned. First a nursery group for 2-3 year-olds, second a juniors’ group for 3-4 year-olds, and third, a seniors’ group for 4-6 year-olds. As of February 2019, the initial group of 35 kids had grown to 75, school’s maximum capacity. Current teaching staff consists of a principal and a vice principal, 6 teachers, 3 assistant teachers, an accountant, a nurse, a cook and an assistant cook, a musician, a guard, and an upkeep and maintenance tech. A short list of kindergarten’s dedicated spaces includes an all-purpose room, an indoor/outdoor space for various physical activities and a playground. Essential space like offices for principal and vice principal, 3 bedrooms and 3 playrooms with eating places dedicated to specific age groups has been provided. Washroom for children has small sinks to accommodate them. School kitchen is large and features a storage room and a changing room for the employees.

Nanulik is in the middle of a community of domiks. Most children walk to school and others are driven. Parents regard Nanulik a prime facility and don’t mind walking the distance with their children. I inquired about how the school’s financial needs were being met. The answer was tough indeed. The municipality pays the wages and initially paid for one month of heating. Per month fee for a child is 7,000 AMD (about $16) of which 5,000 goes to feed the child and 2,000 goes to cover the utilities. Still needed items include basic and educational toys, pots and pans for the kitchen and new blankets for the children. Parents have been bringing new linens and blankets for their children to replace the old ones.

Nanulik is on its way to become a fully functional community school. Its rebirth is grounded on the cooperative financing accomplished by two Armenian organizations of Orange County, Vahan Lodge and ARF-Western, demonstrating what we can do by pooling our resources. Thanks to The World Bank Armenia Partnership Program, we can steer our donations in the right direction, and we get to see real results. Just see the attached pictures. Donations to the Knights and Daughters of Vartan are multiplied over 30 times, exponentially increasing our positive impact on the lives of fellow Armenians.