71-year-old Olga Baghdasaryan is one of those women who fight injustices with dedication and persistence and use all possible and impossible means to bring positive changes to women’s lives and the community.
The advocate of the children and national minorities: Fight for equal education
Mrs. Olga has worked as a biology teacher at the Verin Dvin School for 30 years. In 1994, when the country was in a difficult situation due to the Karabakh war, Olga got the position of director of the same school. Speaking about the years of directorship, Mrs. Olga says that the school director is an advocate for children first.
“By becoming the director of the school in that difficult period, I initiated the principle of working with different organizations, because at that time, education, as well as other fields, received very little attention from the government,” says Olga Baghdasaryan.
Olga Baghdasaryan’s sensitive approach as the school director helped the Assyrians, one of the ethnic minorities living in Armenia, in the Verin Dvin community, to receive equal education and have the opportunity to learn their native language. “Our school required a very special approach because many Assyrian children were studying there. Since the government could not deal with such issues in those difficult times, I decided to cooperate with organizations that would assist in acquiring books specially designed for Assyrians. At that time, I implemented such an initiative: with our Assyrian language teacher, we traveled to Iran by our financial means and participated in a conference where we met the local Assyrian association, presented the problems of Assyrians in Armenia, etc. I was asked why I was so concerned about the fate of the Assyrians, being an Armenian myself. I said that it was my duty to think about the new generation of Assyrians and help them recognize their ancestors, their history, and their language. I did what was part of my duties and what my heart told me to do,” says Olga Baghdasaryan.
Mrs. Olga’s path allows us to say that there are always opportunities; you just need to look carefully and put in a lot of effort. As she says, if you want something, the means will be found. Olga Baghdasaryan has always been able to find support from both local and international institutions to organize events in her community. Mrs. Olga remembers with a smile how people responded to the various events she organized in the village. For example, cars rarely passed by the villages at that time, and when people saw official cars in their village, they already knew that Olga had organized something.
New cycles of activity: Protection of rural women as a way of life
Olga Baghdasaryan worked for 10 years in the Artashat military unit, after which she retired and founded the “Svetozar” NGO in 2017. One of the main goals of the NGO is to implement educational programs for women, children, and young people. The main target groups of the NGO are rural women and youth. “I decided to use the resources that I had for the benefit of people living in the villages because they are in great need of awareness, help, and guidance,” she says.
With the efforts of Mrs. Olga, the Dvin Women’s Community Council was also created, which deals with the issues of women in the community, and cooperates with the local authorities.
“Women in the villages suffer a lot. I want to make their lives easier in some way and help them. The saddest thing is that women living in the villages lack awareness. Maybe there wouldn’t be so many problems, maybe even domestic violence wouldn’t have grown, if women’s awareness of their rights was higher,” Olga notes with regret.
Additionally, a women’s support center was established in the city of Artashat, which helps women who experienced violence. “We closely cooperate with the center. We have already sent four cases from Verin Dvin. There has been enough support, and we will continue our cooperation with them,” she adds.
Mrs. Olga actively participates in the politics of the region. She is a member of the permanent commission dealing with gender issues in the Ararat region.
Cooperation with the Fund
The first project implemented by Olga’s NGO was with the support of the Women’s Fund Armenia, which was aimed at empowering women from the Verin Dvin community.
“I applied for and participated in the courses organized by the WFA and won a grant through a competition to implement the program “Empowerment of Women in Rural Communities” in the Verin Dvin community. When the organization is new, many donors don’t want to work with it. In this regard, the Fund played a special role for us. The unconditional trust and support of the WFA were crucial. It supported the effective implementation of the project, which helped make it easier to conduct activities in the public sphere,” says Olga.
“80% of residents of Verin Dvin are Assyrians. Assyrian and Armenian women together bear all the difficulties that befall on rural women. Today, many women, especially in regions and rural communities, remain unaware of their rights and are constrained in their actions. The time has come to help rural women to become active citizens and to increase the role of women in society by promoting their development through civic education,” she says.
With the support of the WFA, “Svetozar” NGO also implemented a rapid response program for COVID-19, supporting 20 families in starting agricultural activities.
Mrs. Olga is inspired by the successes and the positive changes that occur in the lives of rural women through programs; for example, when a woman with many children decides to get a profession, or when a woman who has been abused in the family becomes aware of her rights and the periodic violence stops, or when a woman goes to work and socializes.
“The biggest problem is the lack of trust and confidence among rural women. We managed to break it. We want to turn the spark that we created in the Verin Dvin community into a bonfire for the women of the entire region,” says Mrs. Olga with a smile.
Difficulties as new opportunities: New challenges and goals
Olga Baghdasaryan notes with a “guilty” smile that despite the negative consequences of COVID-19, it has also brought many positive changes in people’s lives, and she has personally benefited from it.
“After COVID, since many events and courses were moved to the online platform, I started actively participating in them, constantly gaining new knowledge as well as staying in touch with various individuals and organizations. During that period, I also participated in the “Katarine” women’s political leadership program, and now I am a member of the club, “she says.
Mrs. Olga’s philosophy of life is to learn continuously and to be familiar with innovations. “I love innovation. I like to learn new things, meet new people, communicate, and exchange experiences. Recently, I had a very important achievement: I participated in the program of Sose Women’s Issues NGO and received a gender trainer certificate. I hope I will be able to properly serve my knowledge to society, “ she says.
Olga thinks that many women often do not show social activity because of family and household issues, but as for her, if you want, you can find time for everything.
“I have three children and seven grandchildren. Of course, it is difficult to combine social activities, family, and household issues, especially if you live in the village and are also involved in agriculture, but you must always find time for yourself, you must always spend time doing the things you love,” adds Olga Baghdasaryan.
Mrs. Olga thinks that raising awareness is the basis of positive changes. “If you make a woman aware of her rights, show that her problem can be solved, inspire her, then the woman is completely transformed. One of the important goals of raising awareness is to show that a woman is not alone, that there are other women by her side who will help her in all possible ways,” concludes Olga Baghdasaryan.
Interview by Yelena Sargsyan