In a tiny room tucked in the basement of St. Jacob’s Apostolic Church in Gyumri, Armenia, women and girls are hunched over a table, diligently working yarn and fabric together to fashion traditional Armenian dolls. More than just a craft, the dolls help to fund a nonprofit that is improving the lives of children and youth across Armenia’s second largest city.
Gyumri is filled with crowded living spaces, utilitarian storefronts, too many pitted dirt roads, and decaying concrete skeletons of former buildings the government can’t afford to raze. All are constant reminders of the 1988 earthquake that heaped devastation on top of the region’s chronic poverty.
This city’s young people have always known Gyumri this way. Yet one young man who isn’t willing to accept the status quo is raising the bar for the city’s youth. Misha Poghosyan, founder of the nonprofit organization that sells the traditional dolls, is an energetic 24-year-old whose wide-ranging interests include catering and fashion. But Misha has one overriding passion: to encourage and equip Gyumri’s vulnerable young people with faith and vision for a new future.
Those letters were the happiest part of my life. My sponsor was the motivation for me to reach further.—MISHA POGHOSYAN
A former World Vision sponsored child, Misha was born in 1991, the year many Armenians lost their jobs when Soviet factories collapsed alongside communism.
“Everybody was in need here,” says Misha, who was sponsored at age 9. “But because I was sponsored, I got to go to World Vision’s summer camp. I had many good talks with a priest at the camp. The values I share with children today come from these talks.”
Sponsorship means a dream comes true
Even as a boy, Misha was captivated by the World Vision social workers who regularly visited to see how they could help him, his two siblings, and parents. “I wanted to become like them,” he says.
Years later, that dream is coming to fruition. While Misha was still a teenager, priests noticed his enthusiasm for faith and mentoring children. He was invited to lead the Young Church Lovers Union, a children’s club at St. Jacob’s.
Soon Misha wanted to do more for these children — to give them healthy meals, new games, and field trips so they could learn about the world. To fund his vision, volunteers created the Armenian dolls and sold tickets to open-air movies.
It wasn’t long until Misha’s entrepreneurial spirit and big heart led him to World Vision’s office in Gyumri. He met with Christian Witness Manager Arman Muradyan. In the midst of their conversation, Misha shared with Arman how the club was made up largely of children who are orphans or growing up in impoverished families.
Arman invited Misha to partner with World Vision — the same organization that supported him through sponsorship years earlier. Arman subsequently helped Misha establish his own nonprofit organization, today known as ARM strong — “ARM” for Armenia.
The young man with a bachelor’s degree in photography and theater arts soon was at the helm of both the Young Church Lovers Union and ARM strong.
“The church youth club does projectsrelated to the church and traditional values,” Misha explains. “ARM strong is doingyouth empowerment — getting youth involved in raising awareness and activities that address the community’s need.”
ARM strong members organize community training, fairs, and activities that promote healthy families, such as child protection, first aid, environmental care, and — most of all — faith. Misha, known among his peers for his polished dress and styled hair, also uses his regular local radio show to urge people to love and care for one another.
My sponsor was my motivation
While Misha seldom slows down, no salary comes with his community-building efforts. He still lives with his parents in their tiny apartment, which helps to reduce the amount of income he needs. What he does earn comes once again from his deep well of creativity. “This is the interesting part of my life,” he says with a grin.
Economic development is among World Vision’s work throughout Armenia, assisting those with good ideas and lots of energy to start small businesses. So when Misha decided to launch a catering business that would employ local residents, World Vision assisted him. Now the business provides catering at local weddings, forums, and other large gatherings. Some of the profits also generate a small income for Misha and others.
Once in awe of World Vision’s social workers, Misha now works alongside them as he encourages Gyumri’s children and youth. He credits his sponsor with keeping hope alive for him when he was younger.
“Those letters were the happiest part of my life,” he recalls. “My sponsor was the motivation for me to reach further.”