Building homes in Armenia a summer tradition for Florida’s Charlie Takesian

Building homes in Armenia a summer tradition for Florida’s Charlie Takesian

Now 82, Charlie Takesian of Ocala, Florida, recently returned from his 12th mission trip to build homes — the last 10 of those trips have been to the country of his forefathers, Armenia. In an interview with the Ocala Star-Banner, Takesian talks about why he serves every summer with The Fuller Center for Housing’s Global Builders program and whether he has any plans to slow down. Spoiler alert: After helping build 26 homes, he has no intention of slowing down.

ocala star-banner story

VIDEO: Anush takes you on a tour of her family’s new home in Armenia

VIDEO: Anush takes you on a tour of her family’s new home in Armenia

 

After spending virtually her entire life in a shipping container that was supposed to be only a “temporary” shelter after a massive earthquake struck Armenia in 1988, Anush is thrilled to have a beautiful new home for her family in the Lori region’s Darpas village. Speaking in English, Anush takes us on a tour of her family’s new home and expresses her gratitude.

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Armenian family to get new home after three decades in shipping container

Armenian family to get new home after three decades in shipping container

After a devastating earthquake rocked the historic land of Armenia in 1988, thousands of families were provided temporary shelter by the Soviet Union in the form of empty metal shipping containers known as domiks. Unfortunately, many of those shelters were far from temporary and thousands still live in them following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the families with whom The Fuller Center works in Armenia are domik dwellers — including the Bejanyan family living the village of Koti. Living about a mile from the border with Azerbaijan, with whom Armenia has a history of armed conflict. Not only has the Bejanyan family had to endure living in a container for more than 30 years, but it is riddled with bullet holes fired from across the border. At last, the Bejanyans will have a safe, new home, thanks to the Fuller Center of Armenia’s partnership with VivaCell-MTS. You can read their story below:

panorama armenia story

David Snell: Armenia’s 10th anniversary celebration truly a special occasion

David Snell: Armenia’s 10th anniversary celebration truly a special occasion

(Photo: From left: Sheilla Snell, Abie Alexander and David Snell)

Fuller Center President David Snell recently returned from Armenia, where he joined with Fuller Center supporters from the United States and in-country leadership to mark the 10-year anniversary of the covenant partner joining the ranks of The Fuller Center for Housing — a period that has seen more than 650 Armenian families helped into simple, decent homes. Below, President Snell chats with Director of Communications Chris Johnson about the celebration. Later, check out a galley of photos from the event provided by Fuller Center Armenia, and be sure to read this account of the celebration from Panorama>>AM.

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U.S. Embassy’s Helping Hands in Armenia continue decade-long tradition

U.S. Embassy’s Helping Hands in Armenia continue decade-long tradition

The Fuller Center for Housing of Armenia is celebrating its 10th year of operation in 2018 — a decade that has seen it complete more than 630 homes in a land rich with history and beauty but also plagued by housing and economic problems.

One of the organizations that annually supports The Fuller Center’s work in Armenia is the U.S. Embassy’s Helping Hands organization. This year the group helped the Gabrielyan family in the  Gegharkunik region’s Zovaber village.

Click here for the complete story, and be sure to check out a slideshow from the build below:

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

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

(This is the latest installment of our “Faith in Action” series. If you have a story of how involvement with The Fuller Center has impacted your faith, please let us know at this link.)

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