Cultural Enrichment and Rural Development
In the rural villages of Armenia, where COAF works, preserving cultural heritage is extremely important to the health of the community. It is what ties groups of people together, instills a sense of pride about who they are and is a key incentive for locals to make investments in and maintain their communities.
Whether through religion, education, food, language or dance, cultural expression is unifying. Before COAF started work in our cluster of six villages, the rural communities of Armavir marz (in the southwestern part of Armenia) had no physical places to come together for community activities. This had a tremendous impact on the cohesiveness of the community and on the attitudes of villagers toward their home town. Refurbishing the local community center (whose upkeep had been so neglected after the fall of the Soviet Union that it was not safe to use) was one of the priorities that was stated by Karakert residents in the first town hall meeting that was held prior to the start of COAF's projects.
The Impact of Dance
Since the community center in Karakert (the first village to be the recipient of COAF's interventions) was built, community activities have begun in a wide variety of areas and the lives of many residents have been enriched. The dance program is a treasured one of these activities, engaging 21 girls, ages 6 – 16 and 12 boys, ages 10 -14. As you can see from the enclosed photos, the dance club is a pride of the community and when they hold a performance, the auditorium of the community center fills up with spectators.
Not only does the dance club help to carry on the traditions that are so precious to the Armenian people, but it also incites confidence and pride in the participating students, provides a constructive and creative outlet for their free time, and is a great source for community spirit, giving residents of all ages something that ties them to their village and makes them proud to call it home.
Although all of the students in our dance program have been enriched by the club, there is one particular story that stands out from the rest:
Anna loves the beauty of Armenian music and dance. From her earliest years, even before she could walk, Anna dreamed of performing the ancient Armenian dances. But she struggled not only from the economic vulnerability impacting her family; she was also born in these difficult times with a serious case of the condition commonly known as "club foot". Mostly treatable where modern medical care is readily available, untreated the condition leaves patients looking as though they are walking on their ankles.
Since COAF arrived in her village, local doctors and the COAF medical staff have seen Anna through a number of surgeries, providing support on a physical and psychological level as she coped with her physical limitations. It has been a long road and for a long time Anna and her family thought that she would never be able to achieve her dream of dancing. Facing challenges at such a young age made Anna depressed and she began isolating herself and displaying aggression toward her peers in school. Now, because of the successful surgeries and the help of COAF's social work team, Anna is a happy and healthy 14-year-old. And best of all, she's joined the dance club and is learning to dance in the renovated community center. She has been studying for almost a year now and her favorite dance is the Lorca Dance. Anna has been transformed by this experience and beams with happiness and confidence because for her, she has accomplished what once seemed impossible. (See photos of Anna)
The Need that Exists
Although COAF has worked hard to make sure that the dance club has a place to practice and perform, we have never been able to allocate resources directly to the club and if you look closely, you'll see evidence of this in the mismatched, hand-me-down quality of the students' dance clothes and shoes. These children take great pride in what little they have and want to look their best when performing – they may only have one pair of tights and they may have holes in them, but you can be sure that those tights will always be clean. They make due with what they have and the little that their families can provide them with, but the proper clothing and equipment would make a huge difference in their lives. Life in the remote villages of Armenia is difficult and most families live under circumstances that would be shocking to the average American. Many live in old shipping containers left over from Soviet times and almost none have running water in their homes. Dancing provides a creative outlet and a much needed relief for so many children from the daily struggles of village life.
See more photos of Young Dancers of Armenia
For more information, visit www.coafkids.org