Armenia is another country that is so hard to work in because the hospitality is so incredible. How can you produce film and photography content when there is so much homemade cheese to eat, not to mention the home made vodka that you are challenged to keep drinking. It is a wonderful roadblock to productivity, one that reminded me vividly of a childhood summer spent with family in Northern Macedonia.
Our goal in Armenia was to document the impact of micro-finance on smallholder farmers. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, masses of unemployed Armenians found themselves with no income. Though Armenians eventually found better economic times, the country’s economic growth slowed significantly after the global financial crisis of 2008 and the percentage of Armenians living in poverty increased by 30 percent. Today, over a-third of Armenians live below the national poverty line and more than half the population remain jobless for over a year.
We documented the lives of Armenian families who are using micro-finance as a way to build financial stability. The unifying theme of the families we spent time with was to build businesses that made enough profit to send their children into higher education. The drive to do so was evident in the relentless efforts of parents and grandparents who work tirelessly to make each of their small agribusiness successful.
Greta, the 68 year-old matriarch of the Ohanyan family spoke of the pressure she feels to continue building a sustainable, secure income for her family. She uses loans from FINCA to expand her livestock of cows and sheep but to also make improvements on the family home. Her husband, 78 year-old Vazgen, likened the challenges they face to a game of chess, which he teaches to students in the local town “Thinking ahead is how you win. Knowing what move to make requires wisdom and experience. This is how we must live.”
Every year the FINCA Armenia team take time off to work together with their clients during harvest time. We joined them at the Alexanyan family cherry farm. This simple gesture fits well for an organisation that knows that its relationship with their clients is the critical component of lasting and meaningful change. I was told several times by family members at different farms that their loan repayments were scheduled in sync with harvest time, that there was a great consideration for how and when a farmer makes their money and that without this consideration, positive progress would not be possible.
At sunset, as we completed our day with the Ohanyan family, Greta and Vazgen’s son, Hayk posed for a photograph on his horse with the Armenian highlands stretching out behind him. As Hayk waited patiently for me to get the shot a recently born foal ran in circles around them. It reminded me of the different ways each generation of Armenian people had spoken about the responsibilities they have on their shoulders, but also the network of support each family seems to offer each other. I think FINCA plays a valuable role in this network of support, and hope it does so for as long as that support is needed.
On location in Seattle