BY ERICA VENDETTI
It is not uncommon in Armenia, on a warm early autumn day, to see adults gathered together, chatting happily while the children sit on the floor playing with assorted toys, smiling and laughing.
Two children make car noises; others toss a ball back and forth; and one sits quietly creating imaginary lives for her inanimate friends. But, look closely and you will notice something different: Unlike at most social gatherings where the women are busy preparing coffee and tasty foods, the women here are busy making crocheted dolls wearing ancient Armenian dress. For now, it’s a lone prototype doll, and I sit with them, marveling at their courageous ambitions. Their energy makes the dolls feel just as alive as the bustling town five-stories below.
Talin, a town located in Aragatsotn Marz with approximately 5,700 people, has always been at a crossroad. Talin, like the rest of Armenia, is no exception to the existing economic and social difficulties; and it, too, was once a thriving hub, full of promise for skilled electrical, dairy, and textile workers. For families in Talin, the lure of employment for both genders was once strong. But now, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and closure of many factories, these opportunities are limited to the most skilled laborers.
Women in Armenia work mostly at home, serving as the glue in a strong family tradition as mother, wife, and homemaker. But as the global economy continues to struggle, so too do the families of Armenia. Here, the need for multiple-income families has grown without an increase in job availability. Recently, I spoke with a former resident who carried great affection in his heart for Talin, but like many others, had moved away for work. “I want to move back,” he told me, “but there is no work available for my family and me.” However, for those working with Talin Dolls, this reality is changing.
Talin Dolls, like the work of so many other great endeavors, is the result of international friendship. When Brian Bokhart, a current United States Peace Corps Volunteer, connected Gayane Khachatryan, a local Armenian woman, with Sir Timothy Straight, the honorary consul for Norway and Finland in Armenia and the founder of Homeland Handicrafts, no one expected that a mere six months later Talin Dolls would be a product highly demanded in the market. Just as each stitch brings the collectible doll to life, the sum of these individuals created a vessel for Talin Dolls to achieve its goals: the Talin Women’s Resource Center Development Foundation (TWRC).
TWRC’s work with Talin Dolls is two-fold. They strive to create jobs for women through the sale of exquisitely hand-crocheted dolls wearing traditional Armenian clothing, and with the use of profits generated create a disabled children’s resource center in the region. This new center seeks to identify disabled children and address their needs by providing information for parents, training to medical staff, and physiotherapy, and create a new support community for families of special needs children.
In addition to giving a fuller life for the children and families of disabled individuals in the Talin region, TWRC also strives to bridge the information gap among women on issues like health, nutrition, and rights to state services for themselves and their families. TWRC and Talin Dolls represents the combined efforts of different organizations and people that have come together to pool resources and experience, and mix ambition and hope to create something new to positively affect the future of women and children in Talin.
Being one of the new volunteers in the region, I have lost track of how many people have told me about their hopes for Armenia, their dreams for their family. All of this is said with the great passion and hospitality that comes with what it means to be Armenian. But the reality in regions far from Yerevan often means limited resources and a lack of information among various networks, especially those for children with special needs. Unfortunately, this often means many families are left alone to face the challenges of everyday living. Still, despite obstacles generated by complex business and societal inter-workings, Bokhart, Khachatryan, and Straight remain steadfast in their commitment to make this project succeed.
Currently, collectible dolls have been designed for 10 ancient communities: Moush, Sasoun, Trabizon, Vaspourakan, Karin (Erzroum), Zeytoun, Sebastia, Khotorjour, Artsakh, and Van. While the dolls themselves are collectors’ items for people of Armenian decent to reconnect to the lost regions of Armenia, for the artisans, the dolls provide much more. They offer skilled women the opportunity to provide stable funding for their families. By selling only 10 dolls, a woman can afford the monthly utility payments for her home. By selling upwards of 20 dolls, a woman can afford an entire month’s food for a family of 4. With the income from Talin Dolls, TWRC will be able to help disabled children and their families who often struggle in private to provide better care for their loved ones. With the success of the Talin Doll project, TWRC hopes to also hire a regular driver to connect more children from the surrounding communities with the resource center.
Today, the women of Talin work to transfer love of country, community, and family into each of the finished Armenian dolls. Through the Indiegogo campaign for Talin Dolls, the women hope to expand their collection through requests for Armenian districts not yet represented among the original 10. The possibilities are endless for this budding project. No sooner had Straight left Talin with the first 10 collectibles than someone approached him in a Yerevan cafe to purchase a doll before official photographs, let alone sales, had started. The women working with the Talin Dolls project embody the true spirit of Armenia, where, despite a difficult past and an uncertain future, the permeating message of these people is one of hope, family, and positivity about the direction of both their project and country.
Bokhart, Khachatryan, and Straight have done something very special for Talin: Not only have they created a community for women, where many know each other only by name, occupation, or children, but they have also tapped into the pride of the Armenian people, allowing women to renew their hopes and aspirations to merge traditional values with the reality of a never-ending list of family needs. Each time a doll is created, it renews a much-needed sense of accomplishment in these women. Talin Dolls’ future is in the hands of everyone—from the local Armenian, to the diaspora population, to other concerned citizens of the world. Helping the women of Talin Dolls and TWRC reminds the people of Armenia about the sincere concern and interest the international community has for this vibrant and hospitable country.
The women of TWRC are working tirelessly to complete all orders for mailing by Dec. 1, with plans for all dolls to arrive to their new homes by Christmas. The women of Talin look forward to hearing from you with orders for existing dolls and copies of family photos providing inspiration for new collectors models.
For more information regarding the project, or how to purchase a doll and how your purchase helps, visit: www.TalinDolls.com.
Erica Vendetti is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Her primary assignment is working as an English teacher for adults and children. She is a resident of Pennsylvania and graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Erica is committed to her community in Armenia and enjoys helping build and connect existing resources in the region.