Making a Dream Come True
As a young girl, Nora Aghamalyan had two wishes. She always wanted to become an actress, and she always wanted to own her own home.
Growing up in a Soviet-era kolkhoz—an agricultural community—in Armenia, Nora did everything she could to get her career off the ground. She participated in acting, singing and dancing activities around her village of Ddmashen. She wanted to be a star. Then she met the dashing Valodya and fell in love. In quick succession, they had three boys. Nora shelved her dream of fame and fortune on the stage and started singing lullabies and raising a family.
But Nora never lost her dream of owning a home. It always seemed just out of her grasp. Her whole world shifted quickly when the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia declared its independence. Times were hard for everyone. Even today, Armenia is a poor country. According to national statistics, almost 20% of its fewer than 3 million citizens are unemployed, and 50% of those working are just getting by.
For 30 years, Nora, her husband and their three sons struggled. They shared two rundown, cold, moldy rooms without running water, electricity and with an outside toilet. Nora prepared meals on a wood stove in the middle of one of the rooms.
“It was very difficult,” Nora says, “but we had to manage. There was no other way. I got a job as a cleaner and put away every dram, (Armenian currency) I could.” And, just when things were looking up, Valodya, who worked in a machine factory, became ill and couldn’t work anymore. That’s when they decided that two of their sons had to go to Russia to look for work, she recalls.
But Nora never let go of her dream.
The day that changed her life
In autumn 2012 Nora saw her chance. Representatives from Nor Horizon, a credit universal organisation, came to Ddmashen. Everybody gathered to hear about loans to low and middle-income families, which the company was offering in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity Armenia. Nora listened and asked to speak to someone. She hoped to qualify for a loan based on her family’s meager savings along with her salary as a cleaner and her sons’ remittances from their construction jobs in Russia. To her delight she did.
During her meeting with Nor Horizon, she was told that Habitat Armenia would be there to help. She asked if Habitat Armenia could help her with the paperwork? With construction advice? Help supervise the work? The answers were: yes, yes and of course. She, along with Valodya and their youngest son, Gor, convened a family meeting via Skype with her sons, Hakob and Garik, in Russia.
Shortly thereafter, Nora explains Habitat Armenia almost became part of her family. They helped her fill out forms and obtain approval for two loans. Habitat Armenia also helped select the building materials and agreed to supervise the construction. It was going to take time, but Nora knew her dream home was finally going to be built.
In 2013, construction work started with the support of Habitat’s international volunteer program. Nora and her family moved to another part of the community center, while construction lasted. Throughout the process, Nora was at the heart of things, making snacks, preparing coffee and offering Habitat’s Canadian volunteers the country’s most popular fruit—apricots. Nora’s two older sons, who returned from Russia on a regular basis, helped out and oversaw the construction work. Slowly, Nora’s dream home took shape.
Nora’s new house
After almost three years of tiling, plastering, painting, wiring and waiting, Nora finally has what she always wanted–a new house to clean! “It has everything,” she says, “running water, a bathroom, an inside toilet, three bedrooms and a large living room—everything. I even have a garden and a cat and it’s all thanks to Habitat for Humanity. I can’t thank them enough. They are my second family. I go around the village and tell everybody what Habitat’s people did for me,” she says proudly. “They made my dream come true.”
Nora’s feelings are shared by Luiza Vardanyan, Habitat for Humanity Armenia’s executive director. “Our micro loan program has developed true partnerships between the loan company and the families we work with,” says Luiza. “Basically, we take care of the whole project from the beginning until the end and sometimes even afterwards.
“But what really matters are the people. This is why we are doing this. If they are happy, that means our work has been worthwhile. Nora is a perfect example. She is our ‘marketing’ person,” says Luiza smiling. “I am glad that her dream (of a home) came true.”
I go around the village and tell everybody what Habitat’s people did for me. They made my dream come true.— Nora
So far, Habitat Armenia has helped almost 4,000 families and only in FY 2015 disbursed USD$ 2.2 million. They have also helped more than 1,614 people with housing support services that includes developing construction budgets, helping select materials, and managing construction. Luiza believes Habitat Armenia can do much more. The country is full of people like Nora, who want to build, upgrade, renovate or make their home a decent place to live, but just can’t afford it.