“Rafael” Civil Society Organisation
Location: Lori region, Armenia
Implementation period: June – August 2016
Coordinator: Hrach Marukyan
Context, Problem and Objective
The project was intended to contribute to the establishment of Lori region as a more recognisable and accessible one. The paradox and injustice of the situation is that the region is rated among the richest in terms of its history or culture monument abundance and mind-blowing landscapes, but accessing it represents a serious challenge, in particular, for large organised groups of people. The regional highway, which leads its visitors to the major natural sights of the region, such as Haghpat and Sanahin, which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as well as Qobayr, Akhtala, Dsegh, etc., is in an extremely poor condition. There is a lack of appropriate signs and plates for the heritage monuments and it means that many people simply do not guess how close they may be to the majestic in their greatness and beauty sites, which represent a national pride.
For several years now we have organised here summer camps for children from socially vulnerable families in various regions of Armenia, in order to give them an opportunity of a quality recreation, socialisation and, of course, seeing the Lori Province cultural heritage. Our idea this time was to involve the children in a constructive work with the monuments: developing road sign designs to be tested in the region and to serve the purpose of its patrimony promotion, as well as getting the children together for the sake of recreation and new impressions. When working with children, we inoculate to them from a young age love, pride and feeling of responsibility for our national heritage, as well as willingness to work with it: in fact, we use them as a medium to engage their families and children of the same age, with whom these children communicate in their daily lives, which, beyond any doubt, enhances the effects of our work.
The 2016 Summer School was attended by over 80 children aged between 12 and 15 from various Lori and Shirak Provinces’ towns and villages. We did our best that the days spent by the children in our camp were filled with positive emotions and exciting discoveries. The children took part in sightseeing tours of the Lori Province cultural heritage sites, looked into some historic facts and analysed current information on sight accessibility. They also learned about the standards and principles applicable to the road signs and, eventually, developed with the help from their assisting designers their own prototypes.
Further on, the elaborated road sign design specimens were lobbied by us at the regional administration level during training sessions and group discussions related to the agenda of the natural, historic and cultural heritage protection.
Because of certain delays within the process of our project implementation, our lobbyist activities were suffered a blow at the stage of local level electoral campaigning. On the other hand, an overhaul of the main Lori Province highway was begun, which highway takes the visitors to most heritage sites; the work is expected to be completed within 3 years. An unequivocally positive piece of news for us is that the newly retrofitted road will be equipped with the road signs made after the specimens proposed by the Summer Camp participants. It means that the project objectives have been met in full.
A broader project effect will be observed in the years to come, upon completion of the main road reconstruction, while the road signs showing the travel routes to the cultural heritage sites are to be placed due to on-going lobbying efforts by the Rafael NGO. The issue will remain high on our agenda to reverberate continuously in the local and regional authorities’ offices.
The Rafael NGO will keep on applying the same approaches, while performing its further actions and implementing any future projects. If we were to rely upon our own resources, only, the extent of the projects would be smaller and should fail to involve other regions or towns; however, given any additional funding becomes available, our NGO’s capacities allow us to scale up the events to cover the entire country.
Organisational and Partner Network Development
We have used our already available partnership relations to implement this project, while enhancing, when doing so, our links and intentions in the direction of a further collaboration. Thus, the project has been implemented in cooperation with the Gugark Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which provided the facilities to organise the children’s Summer School at. The partnership was initiated several years ago, when arranging our first ever summer camps for children from Armenia’s socially vulnerable families. In addition, our cooperation sphere includes schools and the Lori Regional State Service for Cultural Heritage Protection, whose assistance has been instrumental in organising detailed discussions, negotiations and dialogues for a better presentation of the project idea and for motivation towards more strenuous efforts.
We have also involved, for the sake of implementing our intended ideas, new professional resources, such as experts in various areas, viz.: architects, designers, historians or specialists in cultural heritage protection and awareness-raising in travel business development. All the above elements have directly contributed to the development of our managerial and social capacities, since all this team will be available to us, if and when necessary, for implementation of other similar projects. We have worked out an efficient operational relationship with the local and provincial authorities and other organisations or entities active in the province.
Our project did not provide for cooperation with other countries or with any other CHOICE scheme member inside our country, but we shall be glad to share our working experience at the local level and, definitely, to learn about successful cases involving other civil society organisations featuring some similar objectives and similar conditions.
The Rafael CSO is well known in the province and throughout the country as a strong organisation active in the spheres of cultural heritage protection and making provisions for a proper education and training of children. Our target group is primarily made up of schoolchildren, who learn how to cherish the cultural heritage and the natural environment, which is crucial at least for the sake of maintaining our national mentality at a decent level.