FAITH IN ACTION: Building with Armenian families strengthens ties to homeland

FAITH IN ACTION: Building with Armenian families strengthens ties to homeland

As an Armenian-American, Barbara Hovsepian has always felt a strong connection to her family’s homeland. Eleven trips to Armenia to help build decent homes for families in need have strengthened those ties even more.

She returned to Fuller Center Global Builders team leadership last year and is planning to lead another team in July. Leading home builds in Armenia is becoming an annual tradition once again after missing seven years in a battle with breast cancer. It’s a refreshing return to action for the 74-year-old whose first build trip to Armenia was in 2002.

“Every evening when I say my prayers, I thank God for the multitude of blessings He has given me — including a secure home for all my 74 years,” she said. “When I can help provide that for a family in Armenia I feel I am paying it forward. I chose Armenia because I am Armenian-American and grew up in the Armenian Church. I have faith in God, love of my heritage, and charity through The Fuller Center.”

That heritage truly came alive in 1971, when she joined her father and grandmother on a trip to then-Soviet Armenia to visit her grandmother’s brother.

“My father and I walked across a bridge over the river there, and he pointed and said, ‘I used to play down there,'” she recalled. Later, when she made her first service trip to Armenia with her daughter in 2002, they walked across that same bridge. “I pointed it out to my daughter and said, ‘Your grandfather used to play right there.’ I have that strong attachment.”

In the years to come, she has seen many parents share bonding experiences with their children during build weeks in Armenia.

“They love the parent-child experience,” she said. “They love showing their children who have been raised in the comfort of this country what their homeland is experiencing. They can see away from the big city of Yerevan how people live in the villages and how, with so little, they have as happy and loving a home life as we have here. It’s our similarities, not our disparities, that draw us to each other.”

Mostly, though, it is the Armenian people who keep Hovsepian coming back to serve.

“I like the idea of working directly with the people you’re helping,” she said. “So many times, especially in the Armenian community, people are very doubtful whether their donations go where they are supposed to go. I knew that I would be seeing the people that my money was helping. You work alongside the people who are benefiting from this, and it’s very rewarding. It’s always been a happy experience. We all come away feeling that it was a good day’s work. You come home exhausted but exhilarated.”

It’s not just the Armenian homeowners that keep Hovsepian coming back. It’s also The Fuller Center of Armenia’s leadership team, led by President Ashot Yeghiazaryan.

“The Fuller Center staff are the same basic group of people that I know, love and thoroughly trust,” she said. “They make it so easy for me to be a team leader. They really go out of their way to help me. My daughter has said, ‘Why don’t we try a different country this year?’ But I just can’t abandon Fuller Center in Armenia.”

Barbara Hovsepian is raising money
to build another home in Armenia.
Click here if you would like to donate to her fundraiser!


FAITH IN ACTION: Manuelians’ work in Armenia comes full-circle with a big surprise

FAITH IN ACTION: Manuelians’ work in Armenia comes full-circle with a big surprise

(This is part of The Fuller Center’s new “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story to share for the series, please let us know at this link.)

Was it a case of providential confluence, divine intervention or pure coincidence? Leo Manuelian doesn’t know the answer to the question, but he is grateful for the surprise experience he had while leading a Fuller Center Global Builders project in Armenia this past summer — an event that revived memories of his first Armenian build.

Leo and his wife, Sona (pictured above), have been helping families have simple, decent places to live in Armenia since 2003. It has become a summer tradition for the couple, although Sona was unable to make the trip in 2017.

The Manuelians’ first experience in 2003 was helping a man whose family lived in a domik — a large metal shipping container in which the Soviet Union had intended as temporary housing for families affected by the massive 1988 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people. The Soviet Union soon collapsed, though, and Armenia was on its own. Three decades later, many families still live in those domiks.

The patriarch of the family was hopeful that the new house would encourage one of his sons who had fled to The Netherlands to come home. He also wanted his younger son to have a decent home into which he could bring a bride. It is Armenian tradition for the youngest son to stay in the family home to raise his own family and take care of his parents as they age. They then inherit the home. But that tradition is difficult to maintain when the family lives in a domik.

“His younger son was not going to get married because they lived in a steel container, and where’s he going to bring a wife to?” Manuelian recalled a day after shoveling heavy snow at his home in River Vale, New Jersey. “A steel container and take care of his parents from a steel container? If it wasn’t for that, he wouldn’t have had any grandchildren from that son, and there wouldn’t have been a family unit there. The work that we do there, it goes forth for generations. It truly does.”

This past summer, he saw that work go forth in a way he never expected. Late in the build week, volunteer coordinator Gohar Vardanyan told him that the young mother of three whose family was the homeowner partners this trip also worked on that first home in 2003. That home was for her uncle, and she was a 12-year-old girl who worked as hard as anyone on that site to help her extended family.

“It was just an incredibly gratifying moment,” Manuelian said. “We were eating lunch, and Gohar said ‘I have some good news for you.’ My face lit up. I couldn’t believe it — to help two generations of one family, that I’d been going there that long and that she remembered me from the age of 12. It was just an incredible feeling.”

It was no premeditated plan by The Fuller Center’s local team in Armenia to link the Manuelians’ first and most recent build experiences.

“The houses are selected by the Fuller people after they go through the vetting process, and it wasn’t until the third or fourth day that I was there that Gohar came to me and told me,” he said. “She didn’t know to begin with. So it wasn’t planned that way. It could have been coincidence or it could have been divine intervention — I have no idea.”

Manuelian was thrilled to see the mother of three have a decent home, just like her uncle, especially now that she has a fourth on the way. But he had to be coaxed into revisiting the home of her uncle, even after she invited him to visit Manuelian on the final day of her home build.

“He wanted to show me how happy he was in his home, but I didn’t want to go back,” he said. “I didn’t want him to remember what it was like before. I wanted him basically to forget about me.”

He relented, though, when Fuller Center Armenia President Ashot Yeghiazaryan pressed him.

“I sensed that I was putting Ashot in an awkward position because he had this weird look on his face when I said that I didn’t want to go back,” Manuelian said. “So I said OK.”

And he’s glad he did. He even saw the old steel container that had once been the family’s home. They sold it to a neighbor and could still see it from their Fuller Center home. Their neighbor uses it to store winter hay. Unfortunately, the son who left for The Netherlands never returned.

“We had a nice talk,” Manuelian said. “His children had married. He had five grandchildren around him and brought a couple with his wife to the dinner that the Fuller people prepared. We sat down, had a few drinks and reminisced. We’re both getting old. But it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Leo and Sona Manuelian will continue their annual tradition of helping Armenian families build homes June 11-18 of this year when they lead yet another Fuller Center Global Builders trip. If you’d like to join them, there are still slots available. Visit our Upcoming Global Builders Trips page to learn more.

Hear from Leo Manuelian and volunteers on the 2017 trip and see the family they helped in this video from Fuller Center Armenia:


Gallery featuring Leo and Sona Manuelian’s work in Armenia:

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Professor uses Global Builders trips to broaden students’ perspective

Professor uses Global Builders trips to broaden students’ perspective

For Associate Professor of Business and Economics Henrique Cezar, Fuller Center Global Builders trips are more than just a chance for his students from Vermont’s Johnson State College to practice civic engagement and do some good in the world. They also are an opportunity to expose the students to diversity and cultural differences.

After leading students on Fuller Center Global Builders trips to Thailand, Nicaragua and, last year, Armenia, Cezar will take his team to work with The Fuller Center’s covenant partner in Trivandrum, India, this coming May.

Johnson State College’s student newspaper, Basement Medicine, has an outstanding piece about this service trip, featuring interviews with Cezar and students who will be making the trip.

Click here to read the complete article

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia attends blessing for home he and others helped build

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia attends blessing for home he and others helped build

In September, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills Jr. and volunteers from the U.S. Embassy’s Helping Hands volunteer organization helped the Petrosyan family of Aghavnatun village in Armenia’s Armavir region build a new home. Last week, Ambassador Mills and volunteers were on hand at a blessing ceremony for the Petrosyan family’s new home.

“Our partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Armenia goes a long way,” Fuller Center for Housing Armenia President Ashot Yeghiazaryan said. “This partnership once again proves that humanity does not recognize borders. When people join forces with good will and hearts full of love, everything becomes possible. The result is the happiness of these people. We are happy to share in their joy.”

“Volunteering is a way of life for many American families, and it’s so meaningful to be able to continue this tradition in Armenia,” Ambassador Mills said.

For complete coverage of the house blessing, click here.

Slideshow from the house blessing:

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U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Helping Hands group assist family building new home

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Helping Hands group assist family building new home

Click here to view a slideshow from the workday.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills, Jr. and volunteers from the U.S. Embassy’s Helping Hands organization continued an annual tradition by joining the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia team Saturday in Aghavnatun village of Armavir region to help build a home for Petrosyan family. Within a few hours the volunteers finished concreting the floors, a huge step forward for the family.

It’s the eighth year the U.S. Embassy team has joined forces with the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia to build homes for Armenian families in need of decent housing.

The Petrosyans have lived in a metal container since 1995. They have lived in a small room with no bathroom and no kitchen — just a small bedroom without proper roofing and flooring. In 2015, they finally were able to build the walls of their own house but could not afford to finish it.

“It is so hard to live in such housing conditions,” said Mariam, the family matriarch. “My health problems don’t allow me to work harder, but my husband and I have done our best to create decent housing conditions for our son. The rats and snakes were the permanent ‘inhabitants’ of the house. Now, I am so happy that there is a hope that finally we will have a home.”

“I am honored to join you all today to meet the Petrosyan family,” Ambassador Mills said. “They have shown true hospitality to all The Fuller Center volunteers and to those of us from the U.S. Embassy as we come together in a true spirit of partnership and friendship — people helping their brothers and sisters build a better life. This build site today is an example of what we can achieve when we join hands, Americans and Armenians to achieve our common goals.”

“Housing is a basic human right that is vital in everyone’s life and I am glad that we are united in our conviction and dedication to making a difference in the lives of families in housing need,” Fuller Center for Housing Armenia President Ashot Yeghiazaryan said.

Your support makes these
projects possible! Thank you!

Slideshow from Saturday’s workday

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Fuller Center Armenia builds 600th home with help of Christian Youth Mission to Armenia

Fuller Center Armenia builds 600th home with help of Christian Youth Mission to Armenia


NOTE: The Fuller Center builds exclusively with private donations, not government funds. Therefore, your generosity makes these success stories possible. Click here to give.


For The Fuller Center for Housing of Armenia, each year seems to bring another milestone. That’s what happens when you’re the busiest Fuller Center partner in the world.

Earlier today, the Christian Youth Mission to Armenia (CYMA) helped mark the construction of the 600th Fuller Center home by working with our Armenian partners to help the Miinasyan family of Dvin Village in the Arara region build a simple, decent and safe new home.

Nearly three decades since a devastating earthquake struck the historic country, many families are still dealing with the lingering effects of that disaster and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which ruled the country at the time of the quake but soon fell apart, leaving many broken promises of rebuilding.

Until now, the Minasyan family has been living with family father Arsen’s parents and brothers with 16 members total crammed into one small house. Soon, they will be moving into this nearly complete home.

“The Fuller Center for Housing Armenia has crossed another milestone building their 600th house,” Fuller Center President David Snell said today. “This shows what can happen when a dedicated leadership team develops a phenomenal support base and gets to work! Congratulations to the Armenia staff and to all of the volunteers and donors who have made this possible.”

The Fuller Center of Armenia has a strong leadership team on the ground that has cultivated numerous partnerships to support its work. It also receives consistent support from Armenian-Americans and is a popular destination for Fuller Center Global Builders volunteer experiences.

“Fuller Center Armenia continues to show why they’re a leader among all the Fuller Centers around the world, constantly seeking and finding ways to partner with more and more families,” said Ryan Iafigliola, Fuller Center Director of Field Operations, who joined President Snell and others in Armenia last year for the international Millard Fuller Legacy Build shortly after Armenia dedicated its 500th home. “We’re so proud of all that they have accomplished.”

A volunteer’s perspective

Jackie El Chemmas recently returned from a Global Builders trip to Armenia with a group from her church, St. John Armenian Church of Greater Detroit. Volunteer groups from the church have built 21 of those 600 homes, including the milestone 500th home last year.

“They need the help, and I’m doing my part — my itsy-bitsy part — but we’re building a home every year,” she said, adding that the Armenian Fuller Center’s leadership makes the experience productive. “They’re fantastic. The whole setup is just fantastic. If there’s ever a problem, they handle it.”

She also sees how the week of serving others in their homeland makes her church stronger and builds faith — something church groups always report from such faith-in-action service opportunities in Armenia and elsewhere with The Fuller Center.

“It makes us stronger, and it makes them have a stronger sense of identity with other Armenians, she said. “We definitely have ties to our heritage, no doubt about it. When we go, we don’t feel like we’re in a strange place. It’s ours. We take ownership of Armenia.”

And those ties do not fade. In fact, she already has made plans for next year. Moments before she spoke with The Fuller Center today, El Chemmas said she received a call from a friend wanting to know about next year’s trip.

“She said, ‘I already have 12 people who want to go, so don’t take any more people with you next year,'” El Chemmas said with a laugh. “Plus, my husband will go, and one other person is going, so I’m already booked up for next year.

“The Fuller Center really does good, and we thank you.”

And The Fuller Center, of course, thanks all of the volunteers, supporters and leaders who make these success stories possible.

If you would like to learn more about Global Builders opportunities in Armenia — two upcoming trips are now accepting volunteers — click here.

Your contributions make our work possible.
Click here to give. Thank you!

Slideshow of CYMA’s work July 27-28 in Armenia:

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Armenian Assembly of America, summer interns, help build Fuller Center home

Armenian Assembly of America, summer interns, help build Fuller Center home

(Photo: Armenian Assembly of America Regional Director Arpi Vartanian with a couple of new young friends Saturday.)

Armenian Assembly of America Regional Director Arpi Vartanian, along with interns of the Assembly’s Summer Internship Program in Armenia, joined Fuller Center for Housing of Armenia on Sunday to help the Babayans from Geghard village of Kotayk region build a simple, decent home.

“Coming to Geghard Village, meeting the Babayans, and working with them and Fuller Center for Housing-Armenia was an opportunity I promise none of us will forget,” Vartanian said. “Knowing that we contributed to the building of this lovely family’s home, ensuring a warm home in the winter and a cool home in the summer, is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Hard work and teamwork truly create miracles. I’ve known Fuller Center for Housing – Armenia for many years and am always impressed with the incredible work they do throughout the Republic Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh,”

Read the complete story at

Interested in a Global Builders trip to Armenia?

Check out these photos from Saturday’s work day:

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Advanced Rural Development Initiative boosts family businesses in Armenia

Advanced Rural Development Initiative boosts family businesses in Armenia

(Photo: With the help of the Advanced Rural Development Initiative, of which Fuller Center for Housing Armenia is an implementing partner, Amalia Evoyan was able to add a greenhouse to her family’s land and can now grow vegetables for sale nearly year-round.)

In 2013, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the Advanced Rural Development Initiative (ARDI) in Armenia, a five-year program to increase rural employment by easing constraints to economic development in three main provinces of the country — Syunik, Vayots Dzor and Lori. The program primarily focuses on supporting dairy processing, fruit processing and rural tourism.

To achieve their goals, however, they would need implementing partners who had already demonstrated success in empowering Armenian families. They found the perfect partners in Fuller Center for Housing Armenia and Heifer Project International’s Armenian branch office.

“In short, Fuller Center for Housing Armenia does hard investment, and Heifer does soft investment,” said Fuller Center Armenia’s Gohar Palyan, who serves as ARDI’s program coordinator. “Heifer is responsible for economic development and environmental, and Fuller Center Armenia is responsible for infrastructure.”

Palyan said that the program has been an overwhelming success and that she would love to see the program extended beyond its current end date of September 2018. She said she would love for the beneficiaries to continue their success and inspire continuation of the program. She also shared a handful of success stories from the ARDI program:

Yelpin, Vayots Dzor
Cheese production

Avag Nazaryan’s family owns a small farm with 40 dairy cows. They had the know-how and experience in cheese making, but they wanted to take the business to the next level — something that would require financial investment.

An ARDI grant helped Nazaryan purchase a vacuum-packing machine that increases the shelf life of the cheese, enhancing its safety and marketability. Their cheese made its way to Yeghegnadzor groceries and restaurants — and even in the big-city Yerevan supermarkets, including Yerevan City and Titan. Sales surged in their first six months since joining the program with distribution of six tons of cheese. They have since launched new lines as expansion continues.

“My goal is not only to enhance my family business but also to increase employment in the region,” Nazaryan said. “With new jobs, we can help our families to stay in the homeland and have income.”


Areni, Vayots Dzor
Bed and breakfast

David Simonyan, 24, is a hard working entrepreneur in the village of Areni, famous for its Areni grapes and wines. In 2014 he forged connections with various Armenian tour agencies and applied his family’s unique talents. He offered visitors to the village homemade lunch prepared by his mother and homemade wine made by his father. He also offered hiking tours and then expanded lunch offerings to include agritourism activities in which visitors to engage in wine making, bread baking, honey straining and cheese making.

Thinking bigger, Simonyan participated in ARDI’s entrepreneurial training and successfully applied to the project’s Small Grants Program. With significant investment of his own and microfinancing organizations, he turned his family’s home into a thriving bed and breakfast.

He remains determined to forge new partnerships in the community. In fact, a neighbor who worked with ARDI to develop a dried fruits operation now provides those products for the guests at Simonyan’s bed and breakfast.

“I really hope tourism develops in Areni village,” he said. “The opening of more hospitality centers will enhance our competitive advantage in the tourism market.”


Yeghegnut, Lori

The Evoyan family use every inch of soil on their small patch of land where they maintain a number of plants, trees and beehives. After completing ARDI entrepreneurship training and then receiving a small grant, she was able to establish a greenhouse that will operate nearly the entire year producing tree seedlings and produce— including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, coriander and parsley.

“I am excited not only that this is a new, diversified income for my family but also that it will save time and efforts for the neighboring communities to travel far for such produce,” said Evoyan, who moved back to her ancestors’ Yeghegnut village after the 1988 earthquake destroyed the family’s Vanazdor home. “After expansion, it will enable and open new employment opportunities for neighbors.


Yeghegnadzor, Vayots Dzor
Tasting hall

Susanna and Arman Asatryan have been engaged in rural tourism since 2013, running a unique tasting hall for their local products. Services include homemade meals and appetizers, as well as sampling of local wine, vodka and dried fruits.

Though their hall was already a destination preferred by several tour operators, the Asatryans were able to expand with the help of a small seed grant from ARDI. This grant, coupled with their own hard work and investment, helped them more than double the hall’s space from 20 square meters to 45 square meters.

Now, they are able to host more and larger groups, allowing them to not only increase their income but also to hire more people and create jobs in the community.


Yeghegnadzor, Vayots Dzor
Camping retreat

Svetlana Sevlikyan and her husband established their “Crossway” camping retreat in 2013 next to the crossroads of the Yerevann-Tatev-Sevan highways. It’s a beautiful area with decorative and fruit trees, a small fishing lake, camping areas, cabins, a swimming pool and a kitchens and bathrooms for those staying in tents.

There was just one problem — they were able to operate only in summer months and relatively warm spells of spring and autumn as cold weather and high energy costs put a dent in their business.

With the support of ARDI, they were able to buy two solar water heaters that decrease costs on utility payments and enable them to entertain guests anytime, not just during the summer. In 2016, business soared 59 percent.

Learn more about the ARDI program