“I would need much more than one wish to make this village alive again.” This was how the mayor of Ditavan, Seyran Sargsyan, responded years ago when asked which issue he would want solved if he was granted one magic wish.
The 19th century village sits about 1.2 miles from the Azerbaijani border. Most of the 120 families are farmers, although some of their lands are under occupation or uninhabitable due to the constant threat of Azerbaijani sniper fire. The infrastructure crumbling due to a lack of repairs, life in Ditatvan, as the Mayor Sargsyan suggested, was drear.
After a thorough assessment of the village’s needs as part of its Rural Development Program, launched in 2007, Armenia Fund announced a call for support to its donors. The Ekserciyan family, Armen and his wife Nadya, took note and answered. With their generous contributions to several projects over the past several years, the village is now a different place.
Nestled in the forests of Tavush, in a far-flung corner of Armenia’s northeast, the natural gas distribution network never reached Ditavan. Electricity was one of only two ways residents of the village had access to energy for heating and cooking; the other was wood. Cheap and plentiful, the local trees were an ideal fuel for villagers who had basic needs but limited means. But chopping down the ancient forest was not only depleting an important natural resource that was better left alone, it also caused landslides when the complex root systems of the trees were destroyed.
With funding from the Ekserciyans and initiative from Armenia Fund, a natural gas supply system was built that brought gas to the village. In addition to the medium-pressure pipeline, two control stations were also built to regulate deliveries. Besides serving the most basic and important need of heating homes and cooking food, the natural gas pipeline has had the benefit of relieving the villagers’ need to cut down trees from the surrounding forest, helping the verdant ecosystem to stay and to grow.
Another resource for sustenance is the most important one: water. Hrach Alikhanyan, a Ditavan resident and geological engineer, explains, “We have some good springs, but there was quite a bit of water loss because of decaying pipes.” Like other parts of the village’s infrastructure, the pipes that distributed water were in disrepair. Other than being in a poor condition, they were also over ground so the water inside the pipes would get hot during the summers and would freeze during the winters. And since the pipes were not hermetically sealed, they were also unsanitary.
As part of the Armenia Fund-Ekserciyan family partnership, the water system was wholly revamped. An internal distribution network with over 2 miles of brand new water pipelines was installed, as well as a new water main. The project completed, Alikhanyan excitedly reports, “Now, thank God, the network has been restored and we already have water 24 hours a day.”
Part of Armenia Fund’s regional water projects also included reconstructing a 10 mile-long irrigation canal serving four villages, including Ditavan. The impact of the renewed canal has been immense. In Ditavan, for example, the village’s land under cultivation skyrocketed to 96% whereas it was under 30% before proper irrigation.
Helping villagers take greater advantage of the fecund environment, Armenia Fund constructed a plant nursery that provides villagers with seeds, seedlings, and agricultural machinery. And to further ensure the sustainable success of the village and its residents, five greenhouses were also installed – with plans to build more – to help bring the crops to fruition.
But as far as the bad state of the infrastructure was concerned, there was one standout: the local school. Built in the 1930s, it was a wooden structure with no foundation. Because it was unable to accommodate the number of students there were in the village, metal bungalows were added. The bungalows, however, were uncomfortable for students and, also, had no climate control. So they would get very hot or freezing cold.
After an Armenia Fund assessment, it was determined that the school was in such bad shape that it could not be renovated and that a new one needed to be built. Again with the Ekserciyan family’s beneficence, a new school was built with enough classrooms for the village’s 42 students – with room for up to 60 as the village grows -, electricity, heating, and a septic system. The family’s contribution also includes new furnishings for the school. They have also committed to add a new wing to the school in the event that the number of students grows beyond the school’s current size.
Nadya Eskerciyan says about the project, “[W]hen my husband and I visited Ditavan, we learned that the community needed a better school. But since there were other, even more pressing issues facing the village at the time, we opted to tackle them first. Today Armen and I are so very gratified to see the happy faces of students and teachers.”
As meaningful as it is symbolic, the one other project the Eskericyans made possible was the reconstruction of the village’s community center. After thorough renovations, the building was outfitted with a health center, ceremony hall, administrative offices for local government, a library, and computer room. Heating, insulation, a new roof, floors, windows, doors, and electrical wiring were also installed. The center is now the hub of village life as it serves the many communal needs of the residents.
In all, the Ekserciyan family invested $1 million in making Ditavan a better place to live. Armen Ekserciyan was also awarded by President Serzh Sarkisian with a medal for his exemplary investment in the development of Armenia. Indeed, the Ekserciyans embody the selfless spirit of all Armenia Fund donors who make its humanitarian projects possible.
A resident, Sasha Bannahyan, leaves no question about the impact the great and selfless contribution the Ekserciyan family-sponsored Armenia Fund projects have had on the village: “Many of our young people had been moving out of Ditavan, but today, as they witness the steady rise of living standards in the village, they’re staying and planning to build their future right here in their native town.”
You don’t just have to take her word for it: in 2013 alone, six families who had left returned to Ditavan and restarted their lives there anew.