Rehabilitation and Income Generation Training for Syrian-Armenian Refugees

Esther is the heroine in an ancient story that could have been penned yesterday - a diasporic tale of escape and exile; of transformation weak to strong; of endurance and empowerment; of courage and compassion transcendent.

GHNI’s House of Esther, then, is aptly named and soon, upon completion of its renovation, will become a light-in-the-window refuge at the end of a desperate road for Armenian women, children and families fleeing unspeakable torture and annihilation in Syria’s civil conflict.

"Syrian Armenians are arriving every week," says Firdus Zakarian, chief of staff at the Diaspora Ministry's commission for Syrian-Armenian issues. "It is hard for Armenia. We do not have the strongest economy, but we are trying to do everything we can so they don't feel more pain." 

It is a circular journey of dark irony for these refugees: Nearly a century ago their ancestors fled Armenia to escape genocide, finding safety in Syria, settling there, birthing generations of babies and businesses there. According to the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, the estimated number of Armenians in Syria before the current crisis was 130,000. Now descendants suffer a similarly terrifying reality in that adopted land and so undertake a frantic return to the motherland.

It is a 500-mile trudge with crowds of strangers, with women and children often subjected to gruesome abuse, including rape and human trafficking.

But nestled near the slopes of the Lalvar and Chatin mountains in Spitak, Armenia, is a beacon of Hope - the House of Esther. Once a family residence, it has for nearly 30 years served as a refuge for people with shattered lives. After the earthquake of 1988 that left more than a half-million homeless, it was offered as a shelter. Later it became a summer camp. Now it is a recent donation to GHNI by its owner, a man whose heart pondered the plight of dazed and devastated refugees he saw arrive in Northern Armenia’s Lori Province. They had staggered through one crisis after another and somehow survived. They needed a bridge over heartbreak that led to relief and possibility and a new beginning.

Now, strongly supported by Spitak’s mayor, the House of Esther has taken on a new mission as a rehabilitation center for dire-life women, children, and families.

Hence, this has been a summer of hard Phase One work by GHNI workers  and waiting residents, as they prepared an apartment in the main house for its first occupants - a family who will be the homestead’s day-to-day caretakers and welcomers of newcomers to the home.

And it was a summer of eagerness.

Rehabilitating the House of Esther

After escaping the lightless landscape at their backs, sweat equity was welcomed relief for arriving refugees: They wanted to work. And they did - helping to install doors and windows, to ready more living space for the refugee families and abused women yet to come.

“The contractor finalized drawings for the … renovation, and we hired a few workers to trim the trees, clean out the weeds, and plant additional trees,” says Vince, a GHNI project manager whose April and May were heavy-toil months at the House of Esther as he and a small, indefatigable team removed old plumbing, installed new pipes, connected the water line, replaced the heating grid and ran new electrical wiring.  

“We have three rooms completed with toilets, the kitchen has been remodelled, and the outside and patio area have been cleaned,” he says.

With the last hammer strike in this phase, the main dwelling will house eight families in separate accommodations - the kitchen is a shared space and the table an opportunity for a circle of hopeful new friends to break bread.

Awaiting Phase Two transformation is another on-site building, and with the generous hands-on help of volunteers, it too will become living quarters.

Lastly, Phase Three will be a remodeling of an existing cluster of ten mobile homes that will accommodate 20 to 30 people. The long-range dream goal of GHNI is that the House of Esther community will some day be home to 150 souls living a season of relief, recharge and regeneration of their deeply wounded lives.

Rehabilitating the Refugees

The rehabilitation paradigm at the House of Esther is a holistic one and because of the generous hearts of a partnering physician and an organization committed to helping the suffering victims, the refugees will be provided the psychological counseling and medical care necessary to prepare them to reengage with life.

With such milestones comes Transformational Community Development (TCD) training, including animal husbandry - think goats, chickens, and cows - and agriculture that will transform the property’s 15 acres of fallow fields into a productive source of self-sustainability and provide small business opportunities.

And when they are ready, the residents will move on from the House of Esther equipped with leadership skills to teach the TCD paradigm in the villages that will become home: There will be no sweeter moment than when hopefulness and possibility are recognized by their broken hearts and the darkness of despair from so many yesterdays is vanquished by the light of renewal for all their tomorrows.

Will you join us in providing a pathway back to Life for these innocent victims? Please help us honor their endurance and courage by supporting the GHNI House of Esther community.

Community: ”A way of relating to other persons ... who share a common origin, a common dignity, and a common destiny.”