Letter From Gyumri: Faith Into Action


UCLA International Institute, CA
Aug 1 2007

Epifania Amoo-Adare, a former UCLA graduate student in Education
and staffer at the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa, writes
about her work in the South Caucasus.

A former staff member at the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa,
Epifania Amoo-Adare is currently an International Development Fellow
with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). As a Tbilisi-based Fellow, she
is gaining exposure to a broad range of CRS activities in Armenia,
Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and managing the Parish Social Ministry and
Volunteerism (PSM) in the South Caucasus project.

By Epifania Amoo-Adare

MY DECISION to work with Catholic Relief Services through its
International Development Fellow program was rooted in my adherence
to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching that guide the
organization’s emergency and development work. What I wasn’t prepared
for was the real force of "faith in action." It is the reason why I am
up at 3:00 a.m. for the second night running at the Berlin Guesthouse
in Gyumri, Armenia, lying in bed scribbling the day’s thoughts into my
journal, torch in hand because I don’t want the bedside lamp to jar my
half-sleepy eyes. I should obviously return to sleep, but the impact
of the past few days of data collection for the Parish Social Ministry
(PSM) and Volunteerism in the South Caucasus project won’t let me.

As a fellow, one of my organizational mandates was to carry out the
mid-term evaluation of the PSM project-sterile words to describe the
life-changing experience that I am having as I talk to people about
how faith and Christian principles of love, dignity, and justice have
informed their struggles for social and economic development.

Parishioners voluntarily develop and implement small-grant projects
based on participatory needs assessments of their community’s issues
and on trainings they receive from nine stellar national "animators"
who work for Armenian Caritas, Caritas Georgia, and the Roman Catholic
Community of Baku.

Through the evaluation, I find that PSM is blossoming in the minds,
hearts, and actions of the various parish communities in the South
Caucasus, volunteer communities diverse in their representations
of age, gender, and ethnicity. The spirit of volunteerism talked
about by the various parish animators, leaders, volunteers, as well
as the beneficiaries of their small-grant project efforts, is that
of Christian love that inspires each and every one to work hard
and selflessly for others in their community. More specifically,
parishioners in Azerbaijan speak of how PSM has provided a rock of
principles from which they can support the volunteerism that they
have practiced since the Catholic church opened its doors in Baku,
the capital. In Gori and Tbilisi (Georgia), parishioners speak of how
PSM has either strengthened already existing relationships between
Catholics and Orthodox Christians or begun to mend an age-old rift
between these two groups, as parish volunteers work to enrich the
elderly and local children’s lives out of principles of dignity
and solidarity. Similarly, in the village communities of Bavra and
Saragyugh (Armenia), parishioners are united in their selfless use
of minds, hands, and meager finances to reconstruct parts of their
villages’ infrastructure, not solely out of duty but because doing
unto and for others ultimately means doing for oneself and one’s
children’s children.

So after yet another day of talking to PSM leaders, volunteers, and
beneficiaries, the earnestness of their words won’t let me sleep. I can
feel my mind churn over the honest toughness of their hard lives and
how PSM is making some differences in their way of thinking and doing
for each other, in order to improve their difficult circumstances. A
very small taste of which I experienced today when our car got stuck
in the snow and we had to trudge almost one kilometer to Saragyugh
village. Freezing but grateful for my mittens, wool scarf, fur-lined
coat, felt hat, and a decent pair of winter boots, I realized how
privileged my own existence is. The proof was in the tired faces of
the schoolchildren walking the long distance home, whom we passed on
our way back to the car.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS