By Sahag Toutjian

The 15th Anniversary gala of Developmental Services for Armenia (DSA) celebrated Sunday, 14 August 2011 in Geragos Banquet Hall, St Gregory Armenian Church, Pasadena, fifteen years of its steadfast – albeit commendably unassuming and refreshingly discreet – services for the improvement of certain neglected sectors of life in independent Armenia since 1996. A dinner reception had been organized for presentations, along with fund raising – reaching a total of almost $75,000 – through a silent auction featuring about 45 pieces of artifacts, art prints and drawings, and jewelry.

Following the social hour and silent auction, DSA Board member Hermine Janoyan took the floor to extend a warm welcome to the 200-strong guests gathered in the hall. A staunch, hard working and dedicated pivotal member of the Board, Mrs Janoyan gave a succinct bird’s-eye view of the genesis, wide range of activities, and the ideals of DSA. She pointed out that, to date, the emphasis has been primarily on meeting the pressing needs of the most disadvantaged social strata in Armenia during the difficult transitional period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the earthquake and the Karabagh war of independence with the subsequent blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan The emphasis henceforth is bound to shift to more development-oriented projects and services that would be of permanent benefit to the security and well-being of the population of the homeland; foremost among these would be projects on education and vocational training, along with selected parallel projects that would enhance the quality of life of children and juveniles.

The national anthems of the USA and of the Republic of Armenia were then superbly rendered by the renowned soloist Elise Tashjian, accompanied by the pianist Torossian. This was followed by Father Sarkis Petoyan’s brief spiritual reflections on the perilous situation of the people of Armenia and Artsakh afflicted with dire needs and adversities; in his invocation, Father Petoyan called upon the Almighty to watch over them and to safeguard the valiant soldiers who are committed to lay their lives for the protection of their people.

Relevant remarks on the occasion were advanced by DSA Board member Flora Dunaians. In the short time allocated, she succeeded to provide, first, a roundup of the historical background of the formation of the group; then she gave an overview of the most significant projects undertaken by the group, the priorities that determine their selections of tasks and undertakings, and the constant concern to balance the ends aimed with the means available. DSA’s first major project undertaken in Armenia has been the Erebuni College of Nursing, which gained professional viability and operational boost through close functional partnership with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Nursing and the Ministry of Health of Armenia. The main thrust of further initiatives in subsequent years has been on helping students and children by providing them with Computer Labs, the Renovation of School Gyms, the Installation of Heating Systems and Boiler Rooms in Schools, the provision of School Supplies, and miscellaneous other developmental additions and improvements in the fields of health, orphanages, handicapped children and the like.

Three outstanding women: Salpy Akaragian, Rita Tilkian-Hasserjian and Loucine Huckabay, all registered nurses (RN) in addition to a number of other academic qualifications, were honored for distinguished service to the vocation of nursing. They were awarded special presentations recognizing their devoted and magnanimous contributions to the establishment, start-up and operation of DSA’s first and star project in Armenia, the Erebuni College of Nursing, now offering the first four-year baccalaureate program in nursing, affiliated with and accredited by UCLA, with yearly scholarships to needy and meritorious students presently through 2011. (At the end of the celebration, while leaving the hall, we came face to face with one of these admirable human beings known as nurses, Salpy Akaragian; in answer to my wife’s question, Salpy started to describe joyously the state-of-the-art innovative health care programs she is associated with, namely the Armenian International Medical Fund in Armenia, where dedicated multidisciplinary US/Armenian professionals are applying cutting-edge technology at the Armenian International Ear Center. Since 2004, a total of 44 children and youth have had successful cochlear implant surgery in the ear, thereby enjoying the miraculous gift of hearing. As a result, Armenia has become the foremost regional center for cochlear implants in the Caucasus, presently standing second only to Russia in providing these services…)

At this time, dinner was served, complemented by rounds of selected hors-d’oeuvres. Worthy of mention: it was delicious, discreetly made up and delightfully presented; but it was refreshingly devoid of the wasteful show-off and gluttony that risks becoming the trade mark of our social events inside and outside of an Armenia with a desperate population hardly standing on its feet. Two Armenian folkloric dances were performed by four graceful young Armenian female dancers with supple movements, from the ensemble of the Gevorkyan Dancers; the choreography of Dance of Doves was of marked eloquence.

Professor Mihran Agbabian presented his firsthand reminiscences and reflections on the hard times prevailing in Armenia and the perils faced by the Nation during the days of DSA’s inception. As president emeritus of the then newly founded American University of Armenia, he was in close contact at that time with the public and government officials of the Republic of Armenia. As such, and also as member of the Diaspora Armenians from Los Angeles directly involved, he had a significant role in promoting and shaping the DSA venture.

A videotape projection then followed, showing the wide range of diverse DSA projects completed, operating and/or underway in Armenia.

The Developmental Services for Armenia was originally conceived by the first First Lady of independent Armenia, Lucia Ter Petrossian. It was initiated and founded in 1993. In 1996 it became incorporated as a non-profit organization by dedicated women of vision from Los Angeles and vicinities on the occasion of Mrs Ter Petrossian’s first official visit to California. Being present at the 15th Anniversary celebration, the First Lady was invited to present her remarks at the close of the gala. She thanked the DSA Board of Directors and the officials in charge for having hosted her in connection with her medical treatment very recently. She also thanked the audience for the expression of their kind wishes for her quick recovery.

The celebration was adjourned by the closing congratulatory message and benediction of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of Western Diocese of the Armenian Church.

The audience followed the speakers attentively to the end, because those speakers were not mere orators; their special appeal sprang from the fact that they belonged to a faithful team devoted to a common venture of enduring value.

At least for this writer, the whole undertaking reflected a welcome departure from the sadly instituted practice of inappropriate extravagance witnessed on many similar occasions; the celebration took place in an atmosphere of moderation, discretion and service where professionalism prevailed throughout.

Also, in contrast to the unending strife and obstructive/destructive bickering of the various political factions and splinter groups making up the grotesque quagmire of present-day Armenian homeland and the Diaspora, it is reassuring, in conclusion, to attend and witness the sane workings of these concerned teammates who, for the simple but supreme ideal of making a difference for their unfortunate fellow countrymen, have come together to accomplish authentic projects of long-lasting value for their well-being – convinced that it is the tiny drops that make up the ocean.

It is regrettable that sufficient space is not available to mention by name and to personally compliment each of the wonderful people involved in DSA’s highly commendable ventures for the people of Armenia.

Keep up the good work!

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