At the Narek Home for the Aged, where UMCOR has provided cheese to help supplement the diet of its residents, two elderly residents pose for UMCOR.
By Anahit Gasparyan*
September 26, 2013—Narek Home for the Aged was nearly as vulnerable as its 35 elderly residents. Composed of a single small building located in the economically depressed city of Abovyan, Armenia, it receives no state funding and relies, instead, on the tiny pensions of the residents and on the industry and ingenuity of the staff.
Most of the residents of Narek Home are refugees or otherwise alone; seniors who have lost their own homes and who have no relatives to care for them. They support the home with their miniscule monthly pensions, each equivalent to about US $100—not even enough to cover the cost of three meals a day.
But in 2009, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), through its Armenia field office, began providing cheese to Narek Home to supplement the diet of the residents, a program funded by the US Department of State. UMCOR Armenia then partnered with Foods Resource Bank (FRB) and provided beehives and cows to the home. That support allowed Narek to establish a small beekeeping farm and a cattle farm.
The success of these projects was already sealed by the diligence and enthusiasm of the staff. Fridon and Shoger Michaelyan, both in their 70s, run Narek Home. With no external funding, they do everything—from providing daily care for the women and men in their charge, to cleaning the facility and cooking meals. The elderly residents, who are not much older than the Michaelyans, regard the couple as a loving father and mother.
Soon, the original four beehives at Narek Home for the Aged expanded to six, providing a total of 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, of honey annually. Honey produced at the home both has improved daily meals and sweetened the lives of the seniors.
The five cows from FRB produce 50 liters, or 13 gallons, of milk daily, allowing staff and residents to make fresh dairy products. The daily menus have drastically improved. Now the seniors count on fresh and healthy food, which the home had otherwise been unable to afford.
Staff control both the quality and quantity of goods produced. Yogurt is the most popular dairy product among the elderly residents, and now they can eat it without restrictions due to availability. They can come and ask for a cup of yogurt in addition to planned meals, and the management can provide them with it with a happy smile, as they can afford it now.
Residents such as Jora Haroutunyan, 80, find great satisfaction in tending to the bees and cattle. Mr. Haroutunyan, a refugee, especially enjoys working on the farm and taking care of the cows. Whenever we visit from the UMCOR Armenia field office, it is not surprising to see him with a small bundle of hay picked from nearby fields. This farm has become a stimulus for him to live.
The beekeeping and cattle programs have done much to help improve nutrition at Narek Home for the Aged. But even more important, they have contributed to restoring the dignity of the seniors who living there. Now they feel they are a productive part of society and that they are still needed and loved.
International Day of Older Persons is celebrated on October 1. Honor the seniors in your life with a gift to Armenia Emergency, UMCOR Advance #250225, and support crucial programs like this one.
*Anahit Gasparyan is the Food Security/Nutrition Department coordinator