Just outside Yerevan, lies the town of Nor Hatjn. The other day, three of us – Arto, FAR’s program director, Rafik, director of FAR’s soup kitchens, and myself – paid a visit. During the YPT trip we visited the Gyumri soup kitchen, so I sort of had an idea. Financed by the Bay Area Friends of Armenia and carried out by FAR, five different kitchens provide a full lunch to recipients every day in different parts of the country. Most of FAR’s kitchens, like Gyumri’s for instance, serve the elderly – former doctors, professors, teachers, and scientists whose pensions barely cover basic living costs. Nor Hatjn’s kitchen is a little different. The recipients are families, primarily refugees from the war with Azerbajian who have settled and raised their children here.
This is a town where there is literally no job opportunity – the two factories, one diamond cutting, the other for car parts, closed down awhile ago and there’s not much else going on in terms of commerce. Most residents live in subsidized housing and 200 people come to the soup kitchen for their meat, lavash, and fruit every single day. Sure enough, we were surrounded by what seemed like dozens of exuberant children once we walked into the room. They weren’t shy about practicing their English as we circled around the room and bantered back and forth. My camera was a hit — as I knew it would be — and I handed it over to them so they could snap group shots and family pictures.
The terrazzo floor and old chandeliers hanging were the only signs of this building’s former glory. Paint peels off the walls; water drips constantly from the pipes in the kitchen. And every single day the water is shut off. The owner of the building is bankrupt, doesn’t pay the water bill, so every single day the managers must fight to have it turned back on so they can prepare this necessary meal. It’s a constant, unsustainable battle.
The option would be to buy the building and renovate it, which would cost about $100,000. BAFA is working on fundraising for these efforts now, but of course there’s a long way to go. The other option would be to leave this building and re-open the kitchen somewhere else. But what would the people of Nor Hatjn do? Traveling to another town altogether just to eat would be a hardship, especially in winter. Plus, many depend on leftovers to feed them for the rest of the day. This is a place where their families gather, where their children play, and where they aren’t afraid to complain when the menu changes. They’d most likely lose their primary source of sustenance, and as it seemed to me, their center of community. I truly hope that does not happen. Despite the obstacles, FAR staff still makes this soup kitchen possible, and there’s no doubt that they will continue, but here’s hoping for things to be even better someday.