WOBURN, Massachusetts—Armenia Tree Project has established a new partnership with Homeland Development Initiative Foundation with a set of crochet finger puppets based on characters from its Building Bridges program.
For the past seven years, ATP’s Building Bridges program has introduced environmental education into schools throughout the diaspora. The effort is underwritten by a leadership grant from the Thomas Kooyumjian Family Foundation. It has expanded from a few schools in Glendale and Watertown to more than 75 schools throughout the United States.
ATP created a series of tools for schools, teachers and students to learn about Armenia’s environment. These include a Building Bridges website, an annual newsletter, interactive presentations for schools, YouTube videos with educational and documentary content and tree planting opportunities in Armenia.
Every issue of the newsletter highlights a new theme, with topics ranging from recycling to trees. The newsletter and recurring characters Aram and Maral were created by illustrator Alik Arzoumanian.
“Alik has a unique sense of style, is an active environmentalist, and is able to create age-specific content that is easily understood, informative, and fun,” explains Sarah Hayes, West Coast Operations Manager who also runs the Building Bridges program. “We research the issues to develop materials that are engaging and fun. Our goal is to help young Armenians feel proud of where they are from, not in an idealized or embellished way, but in a way that identifies some of our environmental problems and present solutions.”
This year, ATP worked with HDIF to bring the Building Bridges characters to life in a set of crocheted finger puppets. The Aram and Maral characters, along with the gampr dog and pomegranate tree were made by hand by artisans in Armenia especially for ATP. The set is being offered this fall to supporters at the level of $200 and above.
“This finger puppet set is a win-win for Armenia and for ATP. It combines fun for kids along with our environmental education program,” notes Deputy Director Jason Sohigian. “For supporters who receive the set in the small bag with the ATP logo, you are putting talented people to work in Armenia. And, ATP will put ten more trees in the ground with your donation.”
“Many people know HDIF founder Tim Straight as the honorary consul of Norway and Finland to Armenia,” adds Hayes. “He’s also the driving force behind HDIF and its empowerment of women entrepreneurs to make products such as this for sale and for export. We’re excited about this partnership and look forward to seeing the response.”
Students have responded with great enthusiasm to the Building Bridges program, whether it’s a guest lecture or a visit in Armenia. “Planting trees in Armenia means a lot to me because it’s like planting your roots here and you’re leaving a little something here–a gift to Armenia. It’s like you’re saying ‘Armenia you’ve given me so much, here’s something back,’” says Ani, a student from the fifth-grade class at St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, which visited Armenia this spring.
Armenia Tree Project has planted more than five million trees since its inception in 1994. The organization is the only major tree planting program in the country and in its 22 years has successfully established four nurseries, two environmental education centers and has greened community areas in every province of Armenia and Artsakh. In the process, ATP has provided employment for hundreds of people and provided vital resources to thousands of village residents. For more information, visit the website www.armeniatree.org.