On the 19th of December, 2018, Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable NGO (Aleppo-NGO) held the solemn closing ceremony of the “Refugee Women as Change Initiators” Syrian refugee women empowering project.
“The project aimed to create long-lasting change by empowering refugee women to become independent leaders and active social participants in their own right. Participants were twenty-four women from Syria, who had actively been engaged in charitable, cultural, educational, and ecclesiastical activities. Founding a shelter in Armenia as a result of the Syrian conflict, these women had not been able to actively participate in civic life; they found themselves without a social network, without links to civil society, and without knowledge of local norms, laws or rights. The “Refugee Women as Change Initiators” program sought to bridge these gaps” said Hayasa Tahmazyan, Vice-President and the Project Manager at Aleppo-NGO.
The “Refugee Women as Change Initiators” project is funded by the US Embassy in Armenia within the framework of the “US Alumni Fund.”
The U.S. Embassy in Armenia has been able to support the project through the “US Alumni Fund.” Each year US Embassy provides an opportunity to many students and professionals to participate in various exchange programs in the United States. The program does not end in the United States or when the exchange participants come back to Armenia. It has been shown that US Alumni return to Armenia having new ideas and the motivation to do something good for their communities. This is exactly what happened with Hayasa Tahmazyan. “We are happy that we have been able to support the program,” noted Robert Anderson, U.S. Embassy Yerevan Public Affairs Officer.
Levon Antonyan, the Head of the Department of the Armenian Communities of the Near East and Middle East at the Republic of Armenia (RA) Ministry of Diaspora in his welcoming speech mentioned, “It is very encouraging to see how the Syrian women gain new skills in Armenia and how enthusiastically they desire to bring their investment in the process of the development of Armenia.”
Anna-Carin Öst, the Head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Armenia also greeted the participants of the project and in her inspiring speech mentioned, “I have only been in Armenia for four months, but I have worked with the UNHCR for twenty-three years. One of the things that had been increasingly clear to me is that it is the women, among displaced people, that initiate the change and initiate the integration into the new country. I congratulate the Aleppo-NGO for initiating the project and all supporters for giving their input for the implementation of the project. I heard from the tutors and participants that this project inspired the people and showed them new things. The participants have been very eager to learn. They showed innovation and involved themselves in human rights issues and community outreach. Such kinds of projects do not only have an influence on one person, but they tend to have an impact on the family members and community.”
“Integration into civil society raises us above the question of our internal value preservations and makes us think about equality. During the project, it was so interesting to see how Syrian refugee women reveal the deep and important issues, which have been somehow ignored by society. Discovering such issues and finding the solutions for them have been the main goal of our activities,” said Gayane Mkrtchyan, the Program Director at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation, as well one of the trainers of the “Refugee Women as Change Initiators” project.
During her congratulatory speech, Anahit Hayrapetyan, UNHCR External Relations Associate, as well the mentor of the project, mentioned, “The interaction of the participants made us learn how to overcome the faced issued without any complains. By our end, as mentors, we are ready to pave a way for them to their personal development.”
The participants of the project shared their experience and impressions during the closing ceremony.
“This project helped me to understand that volunteerism is not only about serving the community, but it is also work. When you are doing what you like the most, you never have much time for overthinking. These kinds of projects are the ones which guide and help us understand what our mission is and how important we can be for the society. The project allowed us, the refugee women, to realize that we want to explore a new world, where the experience gained from voluntary work can be harmonized with theoretical knowledge. Thanks to the project, I have decided to continue my education in Armenia and gain qualifications in the social field to help people solve social issues facing them.” said the project participant Shooshanik Karapetian.
“In my field of work I always dream, but I am afraid of making dreams a reality. It seems that this project initiated in the exact moment and served as perfect guidance for me. With the help of training sessions and provided mentorship, I learnt to take the right steps for making my dreams come true. Now I am cooperating with a big company. I am grateful to use the knowledge gained from the project for reaching my goals,” said the participant Azadouhi Balabanian.
“Refugee Women as Change Initiators” project served as a new path for the twenty-four Syrian women by providing vital knowledge and skills for ensuring their active participation in Armenian civic life and enabling them to make changes for the development of the society.
We believe the education, skills, experience, and awareness provided to Syrian women through the project will remain with them as they grow, move ahead, and take on more responsibilities. All these will serve for a lifetime and encourage their and other refugee women’s participation in shaping active citizenship, sustainable development, and building a better democratic future for them and their generations,” said Ani Balkhian, the founding President Aleppo-NGO.
All participants of the Syrian women empowerment project received certificates. All the trainers and mentors were also awarded certificates for their job well done. Trainers and mentors helped participants to build familiarity with Armenian civil society organizations and emphasized the importance of women’s active engagement in public processes. Through the training sessions, participants were able to unlock their capabilities and separate themselves from theirself-identification of displaced women.