His Holiness Karekin II Work Project Work Project: A case study -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

His Holiness Karekin II Work Project Work Project: A case study

By Gohar Palyan, with Loucine Hayes and Willo Brock


Since its inception in March 2000, Habitat for Humanity Armenia (HFHA) has completed 275 houses, providing more than 1,400 people with simple, decent and affordable shelter. The organization operates through 3 affiliates in 9 regions of Armenia. One of the organization’s goals has been to actively engage the Diaspora in eliminating poverty housing in Armenia. Since the Armenian Apostolic Church operates all over the world, uniting Armenians and playing an instrumental role in preserving the Armenian culture and language, the Church was the perfect partner to assist HFHA.

The birth of the Catholicos Build

After the 2004 Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP), Ken Bensen, president of HFH Michigan and International Church Relations coordinator and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian came up with the idea to organize a large “blitz” type event in Armenia, comparable to a JCWP to create visibility for HFH Armenia and its mission to eliminate poverty housing.

When His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos and Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians visited the 2005 Jimmy Cater Work Project in Detroit, USA, as a guest of the MASCO Corporation, this idea was further developed and set to pilot in 2006.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in April 2006 to formalize the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and HFHA. As a result, the annual His Holiness Karekin II Work Project (Catholicos Work Project) was born. Churches sponsored 20 houses at the first His Holiness Karekin II Work Project in 2006 (CB2006), and the Armenian Diaspora, individuals and corporates sponsored several other houses. In addition, 6 churches sent work teams in 2006. The goal of the partnership was to complete 37 homes, symbolizing each Diocese and one for the Mother See, representing the Catholicos of all Armenians.

Objectives of the CB 2006

  • To develop and increase the long-term participation and commitment of the Armenian Church (both domestic and global) and the Armenian Diaspora to the HFHA program, in keeping with HFH Armenia’s strategy.
  • To leverage the event to diversify ECA’s donor and Global Village (GV) base by opening up a portion of the project to GV participants from Western Europe and Asia

The event
After the signing of the Memorandum, Armenian priests conducted a "house blessing" service in the town of Gavar, close to Lake Sevan, a prime tourist location in Armenia. The town had inherited a dilapidated 24-unit condominium building from the Soviet era. In 2006, the building was given to Habitat for Humanity. It was hard to imagine that this building could become a safe, comfortable dwelling for dozens of families. But volunteers, together with engineers, commenced the work armed with faith, hope and patience.

During the event week, 358 volunteers worked on the His Holiness Karekin II Work Project —73 international volunteers (including 10 HFHI staff) and 285 local volunteers (including HFHA, HabiArm—the local HFHA youth group—and board members). The concept of volunteerism is new in Armenia, and by participating in the build, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, inspired many volunteers at the project.


  • Twenty-four families were provided with decent shelter at the end of the week-log event. Outside the event, another 13 homes were finished. These 37 homes represented all 36 Diocese of the Armenian Church globally and the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Catholicos.
  • Relationships were established with national and international churches, with a future commitment to the Catholicos Build.
  • Volunteer management, construction and international fund raising worked well.
  • Good media coverage in Armenian newspaper, websites, TV channels. Mir TV, a Russian language satellite channel aimed at Russian speaking Diaspora, had various news items.
  • Raised “new money” international funds that would not be raised normally.

Lessons learned

  • It is very important to have a strategy, clear objectives and goals and realistic targets identified prior to the event and the project. This ensures the longevity of the project and successful outcomes. The strategy should have great synergy and value-added nature to overall organizational strategy and thus, the project becomes a logical and important part of the program.
  • Fundraising was challenging since we had a late start and not enough time to plan thoroughly, thus some pledged funds are still coming in. It is crucial to follow-up promptly and develop long-term relationships from existing donors to be able to say that the event achieved its goals.
  • Though multi-apartment building was a new type of construction for HFH Armenia, the team coped very well. Some lessons learned include planning for more time and having a well-prepared, pre-construction schedule for all other activities—like family selection, site preparation, supply procurement—to take place in enough time.
  • We expected churches to commit to teams, which didn’t happen. A few churches sponsored one or two individuals in the two open teams. One regularly-heard comment was that the dates weren’t suitable for college/university students who would be most interested to come (and very likely to be sponsored).

This event helped build awareness within Armenia of Habitat’s work, and outside the country, in terms of engaging and educating the Diaspora community. The area office supported HFH Armenia in this project and helped with fundraising and networking.

Recommendations for future builds

Though the idea for this build originated from the area office, HFH Armenia took ownership of the project. Any time any NO wants to undertake a huge event like this, it must consider whether the event fits with what the program is trying to achieve; and the cost and benefits of the event.


  • Ensure there are clear lines of reporting for all project-/event-related decisions between the national and area office and within the national office.
  • Ensure local staff understand role of a project manager.
  • Ensure that all administration systems are in place to support project.
  • Ensure that adequate personnel are in place to conduct the project.

Event planning

  • Check all country calendars and evaluate schedules of potential volunteers.
  • Get realistic cost estimates for all goods and services needed for the event prior to preparing a budget.


  • Network and link with other programs and organizations regularly—not only when there is “news.”
  • Organize “pre-event” events to create interest among NGOs, other local governments and interested stakeholders.

Working with home partners

  • Establish a regular system for monitoring and evaluation of all families even during the building period.
  • Maintain clear and transparent communications with families.
  • Prepare clear and understandable documents to explain procedures for registering property and signing loan documents.


  • Clearly document all expectations of local government, including milestones and timetables to avoid delays, confusion and frustration.
  • Review and vet all potential suppliers of materials, equipment and goods and services to assess capacity and reliability.
  • Ensure that a full-time construction manager is on site at all times.

Gohar Palyan is national director of HFH Armenia; Loucine Hayes is Program Development manager for HFH E/CA, and Willo Brock is director of Resource Development, HFHI Europe and Central Asia and was project director of the Catholicos Work Project 2006.