Giving Back:

Adopted teen donates $2,639 to orphans in Armenia

At sixteen Sanahin Arabyan raised $2,639 for an orphanage in Armenia. This year she is again "Giving Back" to a different orphanage and again asks for your support. Her charity is fully disclosed in reports and supervised by a network of adults.

For the first time since she was adopted by a Tucson couple Sanahin will visit her birth country. She will attend summer camp in Armenia with kids from the U.S. and Armenia, including orphans from her next charity.

Her personal story:

It all started last year around my birthday, April 24, 2009, when I turned 16 years old. It was a special year for me and so my adoptive parents decided to give me a memorable gift, something I would remember for a very long time to come.

They did the opposite of what they had done for the last 15 years. They wanted for me to “Give Back” instead of receiving. This would be my “Sweet 16” present.

Volunteering and charity had always been common in our household, so this concept was a very welcoming one in my heart. I had always wanted to make a difference and now was the time.

I was adopted from Armenia as an infant. I was one of the lucky ones to be able to live a very happy and fortunate life here in the US. Even though I attend an American High School, the Armenian culture is very strongly rooted in my soul.

My parents drive me from Tucson to Phoenix every Sunday to attend St. Apkar Armenian Church. in Scottsdale.  My participation in the choir (Sunday and Armenian schools in the past) has helped me get inspired, grow and blossom.

My newly found friends in the Armenian Church Youth Organization (ACYO) have been a blessing. My summers at Armenian Youth Federation  (AYF) camps and ACYO Church camp, have nurtured and shaped me in becoming the person I am today.

“Giving Back”

I knew that it was time for me to “Give Back”, so last April I decided to start a very modest charity project. I pledged to raise $1,000 a year and donate it to different orphanages in Armenia which are in need of any kind of help. This was very close to my heart. I knew $1,000 is not a big gift but I was sure it would put a smile on the faces of my sisters and brothers living there.

The orphanage I chose for 2009 was “Nor-Kharpert Specialized Children’s Home”(next column).  It was home to 223 kids between the ages of 6-18 who have either physical or mental challenges.

I had decided on the name “Giving Back” because no matter how blessed I’m here, I would never forget my birthplace. The inspiration had come to me from a song “Mayriki” (Mother) sung by Christine Pepelyan, accompanied by kids from Armenian orphanages. To me this affirmed one more time the importance of a mother’s love and tenderness.

At my church I set up a table with a poster showing my goal, which I updated each week to show how much I collected, and a donation box asking for $1 per family. I hoped to get the money to the kids by Christmas.

It was an ambitious road for me to take, as I had no idea what I was getting into. But I knew that with the help and generosity of my family, friends and church I could definitely succeed.

We could all succeed. I believed that if we could make a difference in just ONE person’s life, then definitely this labor of love was worth all the efforts.

During the Armenian Festival at our church in November 2009, I sold some very special cards with artwork by the kids in the orphanage. These were very well received, and now people from other states and Canada contact me for cards.

And so I was right! By December 2009, I had raised $2,639.

Just before Christmas, the children at the Nor-Kharpert Orphanage EACH received a small bag of goodies filled with fresh fruit and cookies, art supplies, and warm clothing.

The measure of the success was not just the amount of money collected (for which I’m most grateful for), but the smiles on their faces in the pictures that were sent to me when presented this very small token of love from a stranger. 

Energized and overwhelmed by the success of my first project year, I’m ready to start my new year with a different orphanage.

A new year, a new pledge, a different orphanage ...

For 2010 I chose “Our Lady of Armenia Center” in Gyumri in northwest Armenia for my next project.

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Sanahin and her display at the Armenian Church

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"Giving Back" 2009 report. 

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"Giving Back" 2010 report.

This is a particularly exciting one for me, as I will be able to go and spend a whole day at the “Diramayr Summer Camp” in Tsaghgatzor this summer, during a 3 weeks cultural visit to Armenia with a group of peers.

Diramayr Summer Camp is an extension of the Our Lady of Armenia Center, where the kids from the orphanage and other kids from very vulnerable and poor families come to enjoy their childhood for a couple of weeks each summer. I know that this experience will stay within me for a very long time to come.

On February 20, I was thrilled to be officially introduced to His Eminence, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, who was visiting our St. Apkar Armenian Church in Arizona. He blessed me and also presented me with a very special gift, a DVD about a priest and his wife who, like me, had worked very hard to raise money for various charitable projects in Armenia.

The DVD was the perfect gift for me. This was a reassurance for me that I was doing the right thing. Of course I couldn’t have done this without the support and blessings of our very own Father Zacharia Saribekian who has been a pillar to me and encourages me throughout my efforts.

Now, I know that by putting our hearts together, we CAN make a small difference in the lives of those special few. I’m so looking forward to my second year of challenges to raise the $1,000 by December 2010. 

For whoever wants to help me succeed, you can always contact me at

Sanahin Arabyan

NOR-KHARPERT SPECIALIZED CHILDREN’S HOME was founded in 1953. It’s located in central Armenia and houses 223 physically and mentally handicapped children between the ages of 6-18. Here the children are given daily physical and medical care. They are educated according to their ability and taught the art of crafts. As of today, 52 young adults are still residing at the orphanage because they don’t have an alternative to turn to. The Director of the Home is Mr. Harutyun Balasamyan. Video: "Kharpert Children's Home". This historic town has also been called Kharberd, Kharput, Kharpoot, Harpert, Harpoot, Harput, Harpout, Harpouth, Elazig, Elaziz, Mamuret el Aziz, Mamuret-ul-Aziz, Mamurelulaziz.

OUR LADY OF ARMENIA CENTER is a privately funded orphanage in Gyumri, Armenia and operated by the Armenian Sisters, who have begun working in Armenia following the devastating nearby earthquake in 1988. Throughout the year this center helps out orphans between the ages of 6-18. This Center strives to create an atmosphere where the children can develop their spiritual, social, physical, and emotional abilities. The director of the Center is Sr. Arousiag Sajonian. See photo album.

DIRAMAYR SUMMER CAMP in Tsaghgatzor is an extension of the Our Lady of Armenia Center. For the last 12 years, this summer camp has been providing a loving and caring learning environment to more than 8,000 orphans, institutionalized children and children from very poor backgrounds. My trip (July 18-31) is arranged by the Hamazkayin Student Cultural Forum "to bridge Armenian students from all over the world."