BY ARAM V. KALIGIAN
Zhanna Andreasyan, the Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, recently concluded a week-long visit to Boston to examine best practices to address a wide range of social issues such as domestic violence, mental health, children services and poverty. The visit was facilitated by the Women’s Support Center of Armenia, the leading NGO combatting domestic violence in Armenia. Andreasyan was accompanied by Maro Matosian, the Executive Director of the WSC, Hasmik Kevorgyan, WSC Project Coordinator, and Lenna Garibian, the U.S. project lead who coordinated the five-day itinerary in Boston.
The knowledge-exchange visit consisted of over twenty meetings with government agencies, NGOs, health professionals, and university professors to provide a multidisciplinary approach to addressing social issues in Armenia. “The visit was incredibly productive and informative,” said Andreasyan. “It was a perfect example of how the Armenian government, NGOs, and the Diaspora can work together to address problems in Armenia.”
“For issues like domestic violence, Armenia is at a similar stage as it was in the U.S. in the 1970s,” stated Matosian. “Armenians deny that domestic violence is a significant problem, they think it should be kept quiet and left for families to sort out privately. And yet, so far in 2019, there have already been sixteen Armenian women killed by their husbands or partners, whereas the last time there was a femicide in Cambridge it was over ten years ago. The severity of the domestic violence problem in Armenia first needs to be exposed so that we can start producing solutions to the problem.”
“Besides the denial, in Armenia we also lack professionals in the field of social work,” Matosian added. “The model for such services is antiquated and the NGOs were practically doing all the field work. The Ministry for the first time acknowledged this situation and is partnering with the NGO sector to develop programs and services. This model is also present in all developed countries and we saw how it also works in Boston. This is a very important step forward for Armenia and during this trip we looked at various models and methodology that these non-governmental organizations were implementing.”
The Armenian delegation met with government agencies such as the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance, the Cambridge Police Department (including Police Commissioner Branville Bard), CABHART (Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont High-Risk Assessment and Response Team), and the city’s Gender Based Violence Prevention Initiative. The delegation also met with several NGOs, including senior staff at Transition House (the first domestic violence shelter in Massachusetts and the second in the U.S.), Jane Doe Inc., Economic Mobility Pathways, Child Witness to Violence Project, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Children’s Advocacy Center/Family Justice, and Emerge Abuser Education Program, among many others. The team also had two meetings with professors at Boston University’s Department of Social Work to discuss developing a curriculum to properly train social workers in Armenia.
“There are five universities in Armenia that offer programs in social work, but there is no evaluation of the curricula, no coordination of what is being taught, no evaluation of best practices, and no standardized board examination to determine whether students are learning appropriate practices,” noted Andreasyan. “Armenia has very few social workers who are well-trained and competent to assess and assist domestic violence victims, let alone people with mental health problems or disabilities.” The graduating students do not even complete supervised practical work.
The team also visited Boston Medical Center and South Boston Community Health Center to examine models of coordinating social services into medical services delivery. They visited food pantries at both sites, which are primarily supplied by the Greater Boston Food Bank, since addressing issues of poverty and hunger in Armenia are also responsibilities of the Deputy Minister.
“The Women’s Support Center has been at the forefront in the fight against domestic violence in Armenia for the past decade,” said Lenna Garibian, U.S. project lead for the visit. “So when Maro told me that what they really needed this year (post-revolution) was to organize a knowledge-exchange visit, I was more than happy to help. I spent several months meeting with professionals in the social services sector to educate myself, and eventually assembled a team of experienced social workers who generously shared their time and connections to help us gain access to the most appropriate organizations. The success of the visit is due entirely to the dedication, expertise, and collaboration of this Boston-based team of social workers, including Yoko Harumi, Shirley Fan-Chan, and Meline Topouzian.”
The visit was capped off with a reception at the home of Sevak and Rouzan Abrahamian in Lexington, where Boston Armenian community supporters had the opportunity to meet the Deputy Minister to discuss domestic violence and other social problems in Armenia, and the government’s approach to addressing these problems.
“It was a very informative and productive visit,” said Andreasyan, “and I look forward to partnering with these organizations and individuals in the future. I am very grateful for all the assistance and support that everyone provided to the government of Armenia. This is just the beginning, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but I am very hopeful that we will start effectively addressing some of the most critical social problems in Armenia.”