Children of Armenia Fund

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Children of Armenia Charitable Fund (COAF)
«Հայաստանի մանուկներ» բարեգործական հիմնադրամ (ՔՈԱՖ)
Logo COAF-BLACK.png
Lori Education Hub.jpg
AbbreviationCOAF
MottoEmpowering Generations
Founded2004
TypeCharity
Non-profit
Non-governmental Inc. is a 501(c)(3)
PurposeRural development
HeadquartersNew York City, New York
Yerevan, Armenia
Location
Area served
44 rural communities
MethodsCommunity development, capacity building, advocacy, youth empowerment
Key people
Garo H. Armen (founder)
Korioun Khatchadourian (director)
Budget
Up to 4 million USD
Employees
45 (2019)
Websitecoafkids.org

Children of Armenia Charitable Fund (COAF) (Armenian: «Հայաստանի մանուկներ» բարեգործական հիմնադրամ (ՔՈԱՖ)) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that aims to empower rural Armenians through child-centered community development programs. Working mainly with children and youth, COAF implements education,[1] health,[2] social and economic development programs to comprehensively address rural poverty.[3] It has also undertaken the improvement of more than 100 infrastructures in villages, including renovation of schools, health clinics, kindergartens, community centers, school cafeterias, creativity labs, roads and irrigation systems.[4]

Founded in 2004 in the village of Karakert, Armavir region,[5] COAF has expanded to 44 villages in Armavir, Aragatsotn, Lori, Gegharkunik, Shirak and Tavush regions, serving over 75,000 beneficiaries.[6]

In 2014, COAF began developing a new strategy to address systemic gaps in rural Armenia - the COAF SMART Initiative[7]․ COAF SMART aims at further advancing rural communities by increasing accessibility to comprehensive programs, technology and opportunities in a state-of-the-art hub. The first COAF SMART Center is located in Lori province, Armenia. It is open for rural population, starting from the age of 3. The Center provides education in communication, technology, arts, agriculture and entrepreneurship[8]․ COAF envisions the SMART Center as a role model for rural development and mindset changes for a whole generation. COAF aims at launching a SMART Center in each region of Armenia.[9][10]

History[edit]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Armenia's GDP fell by 42% and has slowly begun to rebound.[11] Armenia continues to face the challenge of rural poverty with 47.5 percent of the rural population living below the poverty line.[12][13]

Dr. Garo H. Armen founded COAF in 2004 to create opportunities and lasting change in rural communities. Dr. Armen began supporting Armenia through various projects in 2000, such as financial support to schools and orphanages, as well as through a demining project in Artsakh.[14] In 2003, Dr. Armen traveled to Armenia to begin laying the groundwork for what would become COAF. [15] [16]

Travelling through Armenia with a group of diaspora Armenians, Dr. Armen visited one of the poorest villages in the Armavir region, Karakert. While asking for a glass of water from an old man sitting in front of his house,[17] Dr. Armen learned that the villagers had to buy drinking water from the nearest city.[18] This shock and the long conversation that followed determined Karakert as the location for Children of Armenia Fund to begin the work, starting by addressing the lack of water, heating, toilets and other infrastructure improvements necessary for communities and schools. In 2004, with the organization's first donations, COAF began the renovation of the Karakert school.[19]

COAF's small team in Armenia continued to identify further infrastructure discrepancies in education and healthcare, as well as pertinent social issues needing to be addressed.[20] COAF began to implement community-based approaches to address rural poverty with programs prioritizing education, healthcare, economic and social development as well as infrastructure improvements.[21] In 2005, COAF completed renovations of the Karakert kindergarten, medical post and community center.

The drastic changes in Karakert inspired nearby villages in Armavir to join COAF programs.[22] COAF started to work in a cluster approach, grouping nearby villages for infrastructure improvements and programs.[23] In 2006, COAF grew to 18 villages in Armavir, implementing the organization's style of community engaged programs, growing to include healthy lifestyle curriculum in schools, after-school clubs, psychological support, youth empowerment, as well as professional training courses and supervision by COAF experts.[24]

In 2014, in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of COAF,[25] the founders announced the inclusion of more villages in COAF's network, starting with the Lori region, specifically 10 villages in Tumanyan sub-region. In 2016, COAF also celebrated its engagement in 7 Shirak villages and 6 communities in Tavush region.[26][27]

After the 4-day clashes in Artsakh, COAF launched a humanitarian mission in Artsakh, conducting first aid programs, psychological support, as well as summer camps.[28]

In July 2015, COAF held the groundbreaking ceremony for an innovative initiative - the COAF SMART Center, a technologically advanced hub that redesigns the organization's traditional cluster approach.[29] This innovative approach enables COAF to connect more villagers to programs and opportunities offered by COAF.[30] The first COAF SMART Center in Lori opened its doors in May 2018.[31] It offers comprehensive resources for children and their families, with state-of-the-art classrooms and labs. COAF SMART classes emphasize innovative methods of education, including project-based and action-based learning in communications, technology, arts, economics, and agriculture, all enabled by digital communication technologies.[32]

Currently COAF operates in 6 regions in Armenia and has invested $50 million dollars in development projects in Armenia since 2004.[33]

Programs[edit]

COAF has adopted a community-based, holistic approach to its work. Along with infrastructure renovations, COAF implements education, health, social and economic development programs in to empower rural communities.[34][35]

Education[edit]

Reading books in the village library

Education is the most comprehensive COAF program. It contains subprograms related to English language enhancement and teacher capacity building[36], IT literacy, after-school clubs, summer camps, active citizenship[37] and professional orientation.[38]

COAF partners with the US Embassy to create opportunities for rural Armenian youth to learn English, practice their speaking skills and learn more on U.S. culture․[39] The US Embassy and COAF provide online English courses for language learners in remote regions of Armenia, where resources for learning English language are either limited or non-existent. [40]

COAF's partnership with British Council offers professional training courses to rural teachers, providing them with new teaching tools and methods to be more efficient in the classroom․[41]

After-school clubs supported by COAF are free and focus on arts, crafts, sports, ethnography, puppet making, design and self-development․[42] COAF also holds summer schools during holidays, which provides opportunities to connect with peers from neighboring villages․[43]

COAF active citizenship subprograms empower rural youth to develop critical thinking. They offer opportunities for career orientation for rural teenagers. Children learn about existing professions, visit various businesses and education institutions to further their interests.[44] COAF also provides financial education for kids in schools in partnership with Aflatoun, with curriculum on earning and saving, community projects and classes covering children's rights․[45]

Health[edit]

COAF healthcare

Various health projects are conducted in COAF beneficiary communities. They are also accessible to surrounding villages, regardless of their correlation with COAF. Health programs provide standards of health care for rural children and adults.[46] They contain subprograms related to healthy school nutrition[47], healthy lifestyle education[48], medical staff refresher courses,[49] dental care[50], support to reproductive health.

Renovations of school cafeterias and providing healthy food to up to 2000 elementary school children in cooperation with World Food Program are major facets of COAF's Health program.[51]

COAF's Healthy Lifestyle Education seminars provide basic knowledge on general and oral hygiene, eye care, first aid, healthy nutrition, sports, non-smoking and bad habits․[52] COAF partners with Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) to empower teachers, students and parents to make school healthier place․[53]

Lack of drinking water in most of COAF-supported villages has resulted in poor dental hygiene for many of our beneficiaries. Dental care is emphasized by COAF, encouraging practicing oral hygiene starting kindergarten age. COAF implements brushodromes, stations for teeth cleaning, in schools as a solution addressing poor dental hygiene.[54] Dental care further consists of dental fluoridation for kindergarten and primary school children twice a year.

COAF also works with mothers to improve health by providing prenatal vitamins, happy motherhood activities, exercises, education and child development tools. This work is also done by their partner, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO), who visits Armenia every year to provide medical assistance for free in the villages.[55] These trips include doctors’ training in order to provide new methods and tools to local doctors and nurses.

Child and Family Support[edit]

The Child and Family Support program is relatively new and is part of COAF's most recent expansion. COAF provides social support through speech therapy[56], psychological assistance, child development[57], support kids with learning difficulties and socialization.[58]

COAF's social worker support is a new institute established in COAF villages. Due to lack of professionals, COAF find specialists to train and contract to them to work in the villages. These social workers provide individual and group support to families and children in rural communities. Social workers also identify issues such as bulling, domestic violence, interpersonal relations, lack of access for people with disabilities as they work both one-on-one and with the whole community[59].

COAF psychological assistance embraces both kindergartens, schools, families and villagers personally. Professional education in this field is not common in the rural communities, so COAF firstly identify the possible specialists, train them, provide guidance and necessary knowledge and professional supervision during the whole period. As a tool of community mindset change, COAF designs a new project on Art Therapy - Psychological inclusive theater[60] that helps kids to open up and express themselves as well as include people with disabilities.

Starting to work with kids from early childhood, Children of Armenia Fund provides community with special rooms, called Child Development Center or Sunny rooms, securing a renovated room with all the necessary environment and development toys, as well as new interactive methods to teachers to work with kids[61].

Community work includes also children with learning difficulties who are not very active at school and does not digest all the knowledge provided at school. Specialized assistance is provided to children with learning difficulties as well as to parents to effectively work with their children. This support consists of homework preparation, personal and collective education as well as motivation to improve their academic performance. Sometimes it comes also to speech therapists who identify the issue and start working both with the kid and parents to overcome psychological, speech and integration difficulties.[62]

Economic Development[edit]

Adults and kids in a village

The economic program is an empowerment tool to adults and young people to make them love their village and see the possibilities to create and have income just in their communities[63]. It started with short-term program of interest-free loans to local businesses, business trainings for youth and farmers, business development summer schools[64].

SMART Initiative[edit]

Aiming to work with all the villages in Armenia, Children of Armenia Fund comes up with a new approach - COAF SMART Initiative[65]. This is a new model to develop rural communities, providing the villagers from age of 3 state-of-the-art environment, tools, knowledge and motivation to be a 21st century citizen.

Children and their families will benefit from COAF SMART concept as it’s a new way to improve their lives, rethink their resources and possibilities ahead[66]. COAF SMART aims to prevent the emigration from villages to big cities or other countries, showing them new opportunities and providing tools to be successful in their communities. COAF also cooperates with villagers, local government, international organizations and sturt-ups to bring the best practice to rural Armenia[67].

COAF SMART Center[edit]

SMART Initiative is implemented through SMART campus[68] that is an education hub for children and adults to gain new skills, ideas, create and find new path in their lives.

The first SMART Campus[69] is located in Lori region in Armenia, near the village of Debet. It consists of COAF SMART Center and guest house. COAF works on expanding the area, building also a dorm, green house and sports ground. It is 63 acres land that can serve to 150 000 population in Lori in the future.

Opened on May 27, 2018[70], COAF SMART Center in Lori is a technologically advanced and innovative education center where kids learn languages, computer, robotics, media literacy, design, painting, dances, music, agriculture and much more. Education at SMART is for free, COAF also secures kids transportation from villages to SMART Center and back after the classes are over[71].

This center provides after school classes and activities, where kids come after their regular school classes. They not only have chance to attend their regular classes but also be part of festivals, master classes, concerts and guest speakers’ trainings.

Lori COAF SMART Center was designed by Lebanese-Armenian architect Paul Kaloustian. The building is not high and is in harmony with nature.


COAF SMART Rooms[edit]

Before COAF SMART Center opening there were already SMART rooms[72] in the villages. These education rooms have all the equipment and internet connection to provide local people with new possibilities. It helps connect communities with each other and the world. SMART rooms provide education in self-development, medicine, social services, computer literacy, media literacy.

These rooms enable people to learn also during winter months, when travelling in Lori region is difficult. SMART rooms are accessible not only for rural youth, but also neighboring students and community members.

This kind of rooms are available in Lori and Tavush regions. Tavush SMART rooms[73] are called Safe that can serve as shelter in case of potential weapon use in border villages (Koti and Aygehovit). SMART Safe rooms is a safe space for 200 people per village with water, food and additional electric generator.

Founder[edit]

Doctor Garo H. Armen is an US Armenian businessman and scientist. Born in Istanbul, Turkey in the Armenian family, Garo Armen has been beaten at his school for talking about Armenian Genocide of 1915. At the age of 17 he had to leave for the US to save his life.

Dr. Garo Armen at SMART Center

With no knowledge of English, he was hosted by an Armenian family that helped him to learn English and attend college[74]. Firstly, working as a messenger boy, gas station employee and kitchen pot cleaner. Simultaneously Garo Armen studied chemistry, gained his PhD and started to work as a scientist.

Later he became interested in financial markets and became very successful there. Gas prices were raising, and Garo Armen came up with an idea to upgrade gas stations, making them not 2 digits but more.

After losing his Mother because of cancer[75], Dr. Armen was looking for methods to treat the cancer. He founded and currently is the CEO of a drug company, called Agenus. He also has an organic farm in Maine.

Starting 2000 Garo Armen was very actively involved in the financial support to Armenia. In 2004 he founded Children of Armenia Charitable Fund to support rural communities to advance.

In 2002  Ernst & Young recognized him as the NYC Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year[76]. Garo Armen is a  recipient of Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his humanitarian efforts in Armenia[77]. His is the owner of Mkhitar Heratsi Medal by President of Armenia. He keeps the Golden medal by Armavir region governor for his investments in the region. He was awarded the Honorary Medal by the Prime Minister of Armenia.

Andrea Martin is the host of the event

Fundraising[edit]

Every year COAF holds a fundraising Gala event in New York in December, a charity dinner where all the friends and philanthropists to celebrate the success of the previous year, see the results, hear kids that come from Armenian villages and tell their stories[78]. COAF Gala consists of a dinner, concert, live auction and silent auction.

Every year COAF gathers up to 4 million dollars to implement its programs for the next year[79].

COAF GALA event host is a famous actress Andrea Martin[80]. Tony Shafrazi, renowned art dealer, is the Honorary Chair of the event.
To finance some of the successful projects, COAF also partners with different companies and institutions, such us Armenian and the US government, international organizations, banks, local companies that have sustainable CSR[81].

Corporate structure[edit]

Children of Armenia Fund has two headquarters – one in New York, US and one in Yerevan, Armenia[82]. New York office mainly works on fundraising, donor relations and COAF annual Gala event.

Board of directors is settled in New York. The head is COAF Founder, Doctor Garo Armen. The members are: Michael Aram, Peter Balakian, Khalil Barrage, Gregory Ekizian, Larry Feinberg, Diron Jebejian, JoAnn Luehring, Shaké Nahapetian, Vahé Nahapetian, Debbie Ohanian, Mary Pendergast, Alice Saraydarian, John Saraydarian. The honorary board consists of Honorary Chair Tony Shafrazian, Artist & Curator; Patricia Field, Visionary Fashion Icon; Andrea Martin, Emmy & Tony Award-Winning Actress and Lauren Taschen, International Art Consultant[83].

Yerevan office is responsible for the field work, programs implementation, new initiatives, impact monitoring, community advancement guidance, government relations, partner cooperation, specialists’ trainings and kids empowerment[84].

Board of trustees is located in Armenia. The chair is Richard Bezjian, founder of Energize Global Services (EGS). The board members are Garo Armen, COAF founder; Alice Saraydarian, private practice; Serob Khachatryan, Education expert, Ovsanna Yeghoyan, Dufry; Pakrad Balabanian, Founder of KARDÉS LLC[85].

COAF Managing director is Korioun Khatchadourian[86]. COAF Armenia staff consists of 45 employees and more than 200 contractors in Armenian regions and villages[87].

Impact[edit]

COAF is working in 44 villages in 6 regions in Armenia. It impacts over 75 000 people life.

Kids in active sports

COAF does the work at the grassroots level, working directly with community leaders and local government officials to understand the issues facing their citizens, and begin developing projects and programs to address their needs.

Since 2004 COAF has undertaken over 100 infrastructure improvement projects—rebuilding schools, clinics and other vital village facilities, reconstructing kindergartens, community centers and public spaces for village youth and their families.

In rural areas of Armenia many villages are isolated by long-neglected road systems, and access to quality drinking water is an ongoing challenge. To date, COAF has provided clean water for more than 18,000 villagers through community collaboration[88].

Starting with child development, COAF also embrace their families, schools, medical workers and community in general[89].

Starting 2011 English teaching Access program already have 400 graduates, 148 more teenagers from 9 villages are currently involved in the program. COAF 50 after-school clubs embrace 973 kids in Armenia, and over 500 children participate in summer schools.

Since 2013 more than 2000 high-school kids have been taking part in the Professional Orientation program. COAF Student Council programs involve 307 children in 19 COAF-supported schools .

91 university students received full and partial Scholarships to continue their education in higher educational institutions for the past 4 years. This program is a collaboration between COAF and HSBC Bank.

17 COAF beneficiary schools are members of Schools for Health in Europe (SHE) Network. 2481 students participated in Healthy Lifestyle Clubs since 2009.

2203 primary school children receive healthy hot meals and brush their teeth in 30 renovated and supported Cafeterias and Brushodromes.

12,490 women underwent breast and thyroid screenings on early detection of cancer since 2008. Around 700 children receive free dental care annually[90].

Around 600 children have participated in Child Development Center and Child Development Corners since 2011. 87 children from 8 villages participated in Emotional IQ clubs. More than 150 children took part in Drama Therapy since 2012. Only in 2018 over 3500 children participated in group development activities.

973 children and adults (parents and teachers) received individual psychological counseling. 704 parents and 348 teachers participated in seminars conducted by psychologists.

Community social workers continuously worke with 270 families, 104 cases are already solved and closed[91].

739 children and 130 adults from neighboring 13 communities currently take part at COAF SMART Center activities.

Charity ratings[edit]

After-school club at COAF

Ratings and rankings of charitable organizations provide donors with an important information on the organization’s financial state, activities and operations. This is a kind of indicator that lets the donors see how their money is spent and what an impact they have[92].

Children of Armenia Charitable Fund receives the highest evaluation results according to Guide Star, Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.

According to Charity Navigator, COAF received the highest 4-star rating[93]. Charity Navigator rates charities on a four star-scale. A charity that receives four stars exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause. Charity Navigator rates charities by evaluating two broad areas of performance: their Financial Health and their Accountability and Transparency. Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance was developed to assist donors in making sound giving decisions and to foster public confidence in charitable organizations. Organizations that comply with these accountability standards have provided documentation that they meet basic standards in how they govern their organization, in the ways they spend their money, in the truthfulness of their representations, and in their willingness to disclose basic information to the public. COAF is among these organizations[94].

GuideStar is one of the leading sources of data on nonprofits and foundations. Aside from services for professionals, their mission is to give individuals a degree of comfort that they're giving to legitimate organizations. COAF is listed in their website as a trustable one[95].

Notable affiliated persons[edit]

Many well-known people in the world support COAF in its cause. Among COAF supporters are:

Leonardo DiCaprio supported COAF Gala

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