United Methodist Committee on Relief

In Armenia, a New Beginning

UMCOR Armenia has evolved into an independent, national nonprofit organization called UMCOR Armenia Foundation

By Gohar Grigoryan and Linda Unger*

Armenia, 1994: Cease fire in regional armed conflict; homeless refugees and earthquake survivors; shortages of food and electricity; collapsed economy and an army of unemployed; collapsed Soviet Union; Armenians living in metal containers; despair …    

That was the panorama when the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) established an office in Armenia to bring hope and encourage Armenians to believe in the future of their newly independent nation. Now UMCOR has evolved that office into an independent, self-sustaining, national nonprofit organization called UMCOR Armenia Foundation.

The evolution was part of UMCOR’s long-term strategy in Armenia to assist the country in socioeconomic development and the eradication of poverty during a period of national transition to a healthy and prosperous civil society.

There were many challenges, and UMCOR started with the most pressing one: health. From there, it developed a whole spectrum of humanitarian and development programs. Agriculture, food security, microfinance, education, disaster preparedness, confronting human trafficking, and bolstering civil society are some of the areas where UMCOR brought positive changes to the lives of thousands of people in dozens of communities over the course of more than 20 years. 

“All the programs we have run historically in Armenia have been very effective,” said Roland Fernandes, treasurer for the General Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is part.

He highlighted the change in recent years to the management of the office by a completely national staff after a long run of successful expatriate leadership. “This was a very significant step that took us in a more relevant and practical direction,” Fernandes said, “acknowledging, of course, the huge contributions of earlier expat leadership.”


Sustainability became the cornerstone for all UMCOR programs in Armenia.

An early and ongoing success in this model was the for-profit AREGAK micro-lending program. UMCOR started it with the goal to empower Armenian women to resolve their daily needs for income, family nutrition, and the education of their children. Interest accrued by the Armenian-government-regulated financial institution was reinvested in UMCOR’s programs targeting more vulnerable populations.

In 2006, AREGAK became an independent universal credit organization, AREGAK UCO. Highly successful, it continues to this day to provide accessible and sustainable financial services to low-income families and small and medium entrepreneurs.

AREGAK UCO’s partnership with UMCOR’s Armenia office also continues, and is one of the factors that allowed the office, in the fall of 2015, to transition into the independent UMCOR Armenia Foundation. Now as a national nongovernmental organization (NGO), the foundation will continue to implement vital programs for the most vulnerable Armenians well into the future.

The new entity embodies the process of transformational development. With new impetus, it balances humanitarian and development programs in response to ongoing needs. Though young, it has inherited a rich legacy from UMCOR, and adheres to its mission, expertise, and values.

“My question now is, is there something new we can do,” said Fernandes, who chairs the UMCOR Armenia Foundation board of directors. “There continues to be significant poverty in the country. Are we reaching all the vulnerable sectors, are we spread in too many sectors, or are there other areas we can get to?”

These will be guiding questions over the next few years, he said, as the foundation extends or develops its own programs

As the apostle Paul noted: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13). In the tradition and spirit of its predecessor, UMCOR Armenia, the UMCOR Armenia Foundation will continue to extend a helping hand to thousands of people in need.

Your gift to Armenia Development, Advance #250225, will support the UMCOR Armenia Foundation as it begins a new chapter of service with vulnerable Armenians.

*Gohar Grigoryan is the director of the UMCOR Armenia Foundation. She previously served as head of mission for UMCOR Armenia. Linda Unger is senior writer for the General Board of Global Ministries.

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Your gift to Armenia Development, Advance #250225, will support the UMCOR Armenia Foundation as it begins a new chapter of service with vulnerable Armenians.