Small, Harsh and Inspirational

Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s tradition. Whatever it is, something special keeps them going, these villagers. In Tavush’s Gandzakar village, under nonstop sniper fire from across the border, the villagers tend their crops, the children attend school – life goes on. In Shirak’s Bavra village there is no sniper fire but it’s cold, the air is thin, and the land is barren.

Harsh. Unforgiving. Bleak.

These are some of the words that come to mind when describing this place on the Armenian-Georgian border. It’s the first place a traveler from Georgia sees if they’re coming through northwest Armenia. At 6,500 feet above sea level and a winter that lasts up to eight months, there is little that grows in land that is a stark contrast to the fertile soils of Lori and Tavush to the east.

The town’s 570 hardy residents, perhaps in purposeful spite of their living conditions, are warm and hospitable. One of the few wholly Catholic communities in Armenia, they make a living breeding cattle and through dairy farming. Indeed, they hardly seem bothered by the otherworldly environment in which they live.

It was while meeting with the town’s mayor during a needs-assessment years ago that Armenia Fund chose the community to be the beneficiary of a new community center. Sitting across from the mayor on a sweltering summer day, Armenia Fund staff – one of them just recuperated after crashing through a loose floorboard in the building – tried to listen attentively.

It was admittedly hard because in the humid room, the wall behind the mayor was completely covered in mold, the flag of Armenia hanging on it as though an act of defiance against the invading mildew. The building, to put it lightly, was in bad shape.

Enabled with money donated by Nisan Devecyan and Armenians worldwide, Armenia Fund began building a new community center that would house an administrative center, a meeting and events hall, a computer lab and, of course, a mayor’s office. In some other places, a community center alone isn’t enough to make a big difference but in Bavra, where community is all the people have, the impact has been huge.

Besides having a place to meet each other for events, residents can host town hall meetings with the mayor, or among themselves, to discuss issues important to them. With the new computer lab, the townsfolk have access to a breadth of information previously unbeknownst to them. The computer lab, in fact, has facilitated easier access to educational material which the community has welcomed.

To live in Bavra isn’t for the faint of heart, though one could say that about many places in Armenia. But to give credit where it’s due, the people of this small village, whether it’s because of their pride or their tradition, are nothing if not tenacious. Building a life on the cattle they raise, they steadfastly continue living in their village, shrouded in a modest nonchalance about any hardship they may have. Whatever that special thing is that makes them do it, for the rest of us, they can only be an inspiration.