By Caree Edson, KF14, Armenia
It was about noon on a gorgeous Spring day in Goris, Armenia when I showed up at the local SEF branch to meet the employees there. Goris is stunning in its natural beauty. The city center resides at the bottom of a bowl with caves and mountains towering on every side.
The tiny, three-person staff of the SEF branch welcomed me with tea, brownies and chocolate (a custom I plan to take back home with me) and were thrilled for the opportunity to show me around. The only question was how many borrowers I would like to visit. Since the day was getting later, I asked them to pick their two favorite Kiva borrowers and introduce me. With no agenda, other than training on how to take fabulous profile photos, we were off on a four-wheel drive trek around the villages to see two of the area’s farmers.
The first was located on the hillside overlooking the city below. Gagik Mashuryan lost his job 7 years ago and moved to Goris to acquire farmland with his brother. Since Gagik was unavailable when we arrived, his brother showed us around and graciously offered to be interviewed about the success and the challenges facing their family farm. Much to the dismay of my associate and eager translator, Nelly, I asked to go see the cows that were purchased with the Kiva loan and was promptly shown to the concrete barn structure that houses over 100 cows. After getting my fill of frolicking around cow manure and petting the sheep, I asked to take a picture. The farmer requested that I include only the beautiful cows in my photo-shoot and not himself as he was not properly dressed for the occasion.
Milk is apparently a profitable source of income in this Southern city of Armenia. With prices starting at 200 Armenian Dram per liter (approximately $.55) and the steady demand, farmers in this region are faring quite well, especially with the additional cows brought in by their Kiva loan. Gagik’s brother conveyed that farming is hard-work but a way of life for him. He has been engaged in agriculture for over 20 years and only recently moved to a larger farm to house the increase in livestock.
Next we headed out to the village of Khndzoresk to meet a family that my driver had coined “The Good Family” on his drawing of a map of the village (alongside the actual names of the other borrowers that reside in the neighborhood). “The Good Family” was anxiously awaiting our arrival. Vardan Sirunts is a young man with a beautiful, energetic and outgoing wife and two adorable little boys-3 and 6 years old. They welcomed us with ear-to-ear grins and loads of pride exclaiming that instead of purchasing 3 new cattle with their Kiva loan, they were actually able to buy 4. The farm was laid out in a unique formation on the hillside overlooking a phenomenal view of the valley below. Vardan’s family lived in the residences on the second floor with the cattle sleeping below on the ground level and the hay and vegetable garden occupying the space just next to their home. I was invited in for coffee and more chocolate-how could I refuse?
We spent about 30 minutes chatting with the good family about business and their achievements and objectives for the future. When asked if his boys would eventually take over the family milk business, Vardan replied that he would rather his sons attend university and have more options than he had. He speaks wisely as a man who has witnessed the drastic changes in the economy when he tells us that jobs and money can be taken away, but farms and cattle will allow one to sustain their life and the well-being of their family for generations. Vardan’s wife is clearly a city-slicker in fashionable attire, but loves her life on the farm. She shares in the day-to-day tasks as well as making home-made cheese, and raising her boys. She conveys that selling cheese is much more profitable than milk, but too unstable of an industry for a young family of four attempting to save for the future.
The drive back to the office was fairly arduous but unequaled in its beauty. We pulled over several times so I could take photos. It took us over 4 hours to see just two Kiva borrowers and one of them was the closest to the branch. I can’t imagine how loan officers balance their daily tasks with visits to clients through such difficult, muddy, unpaved territory. Nelly, my translator/SEF loan officer, invited me for lunch back at the office, so we all sat down to bread and an entire package of hot dogs and potatoes. The whole office was both exhausted trying to communicate in English all day and exhilarated to play hosts to an excited and thoroughly grateful Kiva Fellow.
Life in Armenia just gets better and better with days like these, “good families”, hard-working farmers and gorgeous scenery as we move into Spring. I was thrilled for the opportunity to meet such a wonderful crew and some more of Kiva’s success stories in person.
Caree is a Fellow with SEF International in Armenia. She is happy that the grass is turning green and the roads are getting to be more drivable to ensure future visits to Kiva borrowers.