Santa's helpers: initiatives in Armenia that try to make New Year miracles happen for those who need them
New Year charity initiatives in Armenia
In Armenia, New Year is one of the most beloved holidays, people start preparing for it at the beginning of December. There are even estimates that the average family spends about 150,000 drams ($ 300) on New Year’s preparations, despite the fact that the minimum wage is only 68,000 ($ 140).
But after the 44-day war of 2020, for many, the New Year is no longer just a gastronomic holiday. There were people who gathered around them those who are ready to start helping others, giving attention and warmth to those who need it during this holiday season.
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“After the war, the children asked Santa Claus to bring their father back, nothing else”
The “Become Santa Claus, make your dream come true!” initiative began with an idea of Susie Hovhannisyan, a mother of two babies.
“Last year, just a month after the end of the war, when, according to tradition, we had to prepare for the New Year, I felt that I was not able to, my hands were tied. Then I thought: what will the children whose fathers did not return from the war, who were left homeless do? I thought that we could not leave them unattended, and decided to prepare gifts for them as well.
I shared this idea with my friend Ani, who is a journalist. Ani immediately agreed to help. We couldn’t have imagined that our initiative would receive such a great response, but we are very glad that we were able to become “intermediaries” between children and elves”, says Susie.
On social media, about 5,000 people joined a group created by two friends in a few days. Susie and Ani published the letters they received from the children, and the group members chose them and made the children’s dreams come true.
“It was hard after the war to read the letters of children. There were letters in which children asked Santa Claus to bring their dead fathers back home- nothing else – or peace, their lost homes. It is intolerable to think that a small child has no other desires. This year we received another letter that really affected me: a little girl wrote that she didn’t want gifts, but wanted to grow up and become very smart in order to find a final solution to this problem so that there would be no more war”, says Susie.
At the same time, it turned out that there are many people who want to do something good for children, but do not know what and how. This group has become a “meeting point” for them and the children. Last year, the initiative helped to fulfill the wishes of over a thousand children. Suzie has not yet had time to count letters that remained unanswered this year.
“The desire of people to help each other is very encouraging. There are ‘elves’ who made friends with children after meeting, have been friends with their family for about a year, and continued to help them. There are, of course, fake letters, but this does not disappoint me, because weeds grow even in the most luxurious gardens.
With the help of social workers, services, I try to clarify information about the social situation in the family and only then publish letters. In any case, there are so many positives that you can survive a couple of disappointments”, says Susie.
This year, the group continues to help kids fulfill their wishes. The friends feared that the enthusiasm would die out, but it turned out that people are still ready to help others. This year, the initiative helps to fulfill the dreams of not only those kids who have lost their fathers or are left without a home because of the war, but also children from socially disadvantaged families, as well as those who have been subjected to violence.
Flying Santa: Party at the Hospital
Santa Claus must visit all children – no matter where they are. For him, hospital walls cannot be an obstacle. This idea brought together a group of climbers a few years ago. The friends decided to apply their skills and experience to present a holiday to children in hospitals on New Year’s Day.
“New Year is probably the most family holiday. I’ve always tried to make it special for my sons. But there are children who cannot spend this day at home. And this is very unfair. We thought our mountaineering skills might come in handy to arrange surprises for critically ill children. This is how the idea of Flying Santa came about. Those who support our initiative prepare gifts with their own hands and write on them the name and gender of the child – for whom they are intended.
We check with hospitals in advance how many children they will have for the New Year, and in accordance with this we distribute gifts, appearing in their wards from the roofs – with the help of ropes”, says Antoine Ananyan, head of the White Panther and Flying Santa.
And before Santa’s visit the children, the Snow Maidens walk through the wards and prepare them for a surprise. Antoine says that the happiness of children who see Santa Claus entering the window cannot be compared with anything:
“Sometimes it seems that over time you can get used to these emotions, but the reaction of each child is different, it is impossible to get used to it. This happiness, excitement in their eyes is worth a lot. I was very moved by an incident that happened several years ago. The Snow Maiden went into the ward and told the little boy what would happen. The child, naturally, was looking forward to Santa Claus in his ward.
Now I don’t remember exactly what happened, but some technical problem arose, and Santa Claus was half an hour late. The child was so excited and so anticipating this surprise that he was exhausted and fell asleep. When we finally got to his room, we saw that he was sleeping: all of us in Santa Claus costumes gathered at his head. It was an exciting moment – a group of Santa Clauses gathered at the bedside of a sleeping child”.
According to him, the advantage of this initiative is that it does not depend on specific people: anyone with the experience and skills of mountaineering can do it. Several years ago, Antoine’s sons were waiting for Santa Claus flying in through the window, and now they, together with their father, have become Flying Santas for children in hospitals.
“Give a New Year”: a story that began with one child
In the 44-day war, Sona Grigoryan lost one of her friends – scout Tatul Hakobyan, whose son, Monte, was only two years old then. On New Year’s eve, Sona decided that she would do everything to please Monte.
“And suddenly I realized that if there is Monte, there are thousands of other children. If I can give a holiday to one or two of them, maybe there are people who want to do the same? I decided to start an initiative in which people will prepare gifts for children under 12, whose fathers have not returned from the war.
I didn’t want to collect money. Even when I met people who wanted to donate, I gave them contacts of specific families, so as not to become an intermediary in financial matters. I invited people to prepare gifts of their choice, mark on them the gender and age of the child for whom they are intended, and find appropriate families. This is how the Give New Year initiative was born”, says Sona.
Last year, ten days before the New Year, Sona, together with volunteer friends, delivered gifts throughout Armenia. 10-15 families were visited each day.
“Last year, we included the children of war veterans in the program, because we understood that it would be wrong to visit the families of the children who lost their relatives, to people with fresh wounds. This was a serious ethical dilemma for us. This year we have already prepared gifts for the children of the dead and seriously wounded soldiers.
I cannot say that this year is easier for us psychologically. A couple of days ago we visited the house of one of the dead soldiers. The youngest son cried and refused to approach Santa Claus. When she said that her father had sent him, the child immediately ran up to him, because she knew that her father would not have sent a bad person to her”, Sona says.
She admits that this year she did not expect to find people who would support her initiative. But it turned out that there was no shortage of people ready to help. Thanks to them, the number of families included in the program has also increased. For ten days now, Sona has been distributing gifts with her friends.
“I had no idea that so many people would gather this year, but this proves once again that people show amazing unity in those moments when the idea is a good deed”, says Sona.