BY SONA ZEITLIAN

On Saturday May 14, 2022 AGBU Hye Geen and Young Circle celebrated the 29th anniversary of the founding of Hye Geen and the 20th anniversary of  the establishment of the first Pregnant Women’s Center in Armenia. The event took place at Noor Restaurant’s Ella Banquet Hall in Pasadena. As the guests arrived, there was musical accompaniment by Nareg Kelian.

The dual milestones are initiated by the visionary community leader Sona Yacoubian, for whom being Armenian means bearing special responsibility providing quality services for the sustained development of our Homeland. Beside a record-setting civic engagement, both projects have demonstrated dedicated volunteerism, in keeping with AGBU’s legacy of serving the national well-being.

In her welcoming remarks, Elizabeth Kabanyan of AGBU Hye Geen Young Circle and member of the event’s organizing committee referred to Hye Geen’s promotion of healthy mothers and babies, of strengthening family relations and improving lives. This significant contribution started a collaboration with Yerevan State University’s Sociology Department. As a result, student interns are dispatched to Hye Geen’s Pregnant Women’s Centers to gain valuable experience in civil service.

Next on the day’s program was a video presentation entitled “Build a Brighter Future in Armenia,” featuring representatives of the eight Pregnant Women’s Centers. They all acknowledged the useful role of the Centers in preventing demographic decline in Armenia’s economically depressed regions by boosting the birth rate. They also expressed gratitude for AGBU Hye Geen’s innovative ideas and commendable generosity in creating much needed support systems which strengthen the Centers’ capacity to sustain themselves.

AGBU Hye Geen Young Circle member Nellie Yacoubian defined the scope of Hye Geen’s civic engagement in Armenia. She began by an impressive announcement that “5,226 new babies have been supported and nurtured by our Pregnant Women’s Centers.” Then she documented the history of the establishment of the Centers.

The Gyumri Center opened 20 years ago, followed by another in Vanadzor in 2006 with funding from the London Trust. In 2008 the Yacoubian Family Center was established in Talin. In 2011, the Nora Injijian Center opened at Yeghvard, later supported by Mike and Narine Mouradian for three years and henceforth to be named in memory of Sera Aintablian. In 2012 the Arshagouhi Tavitian Center was established in Yerevan. Then in 2017, a group of friends, namely Nairie Balian, Lena Hartounian, Silva Kardjian, Nina Krakirian and Vera Manoukian came together to start the Charentsavan Center. Since the start of the Covid pandemic, another group of friends, namely Varant Markarian, Haigo Kavarian, Houri Belian, Varteni P. Yerjanian, Elizabeth Kabanyan and Nina Kechejian Carlstrom came together in 2021 to open the first Center in Artsakh at Stepanagert.

Nellie Yacoubian also announced the imminent opening of two more Centers, namely the Tamar Kevonian Center at Sevan and the Sepetjian Family Center in Etchmiadzin. Finally, she commented on the remarkable impact of AGBU Hye Geen Pregnant Women’s Centers by saying, “Our Centers are popular! Women travel distances to come and get support from our family development Centers. They also join through Zoom. Our goal is to have one Center in each district, so we can improve community health access.”

As the audience erupted in applause, AGBU Hye Geen committee member Lora Kouyoumjian presented two eloquent tributes to the public spirit and achievements of AGBU Hye Geen. A congratulatory message from Yerevan State University’s Sociology Department highly regarded Hye Geen’s empowering of women and the value of the internship program available to graduate students.

AGBU President Berdj Setrakian’s commendation praised the indispensable role of the Pregnant Women Centers in affirming motherhood and strengthening families for the benefit of civil society.

Then the day’s organizing committee called to the podium the donors and members of their families, and awarded them with beautifully illustrated Certificates of Appreciation.

Finally, Sona Yacoubian founder and president of AGBU Hye Geen, summed up the obstacles and challenges she faced while introducing critical social reforms in sustainable public administration. She overcame outright obstructionism, mostly by women, by an abiding conviction in creating crucial institutions to empower women, prevent the decline in Armenia’s life expectancy and build trust through social support. Her persistant efforts were encouraged by Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, Yenovk Balikian and Peter Darakdjian, while legal issues were handled by Nairie Balian and Talin Yacoubian. Finally, the project was the beneficiary of the support of Louise Manoukian Simone.

Once established, AGBU Hye Geen pursued a twofold plan: First, to support “pregnant women in communities with little access to proper medical and social care in Armenia”. Second, to support the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, improving maternal health, and raising the birth rate.

Throughout the years, AGBU Hye Geen’s Pregnant Women Centers have assumed “responsibility in building a bright and strong civil society in the U.S. and Armenia,” stated Sona Yacoubian. She concluded her remarks by thanking AGBU Committee member Varteni Yerjanian and Young Circle member Nellie Yacoubian for the organizational success of the day’s event, as well as Ani Babian for her unfailing generosity. She also thanked the audience for their trust in the mission and achievements of AGBU Hye Geen.

By all accounts, the celebration of the day’s dual anniversaries was to be remembered and cherished.

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