By Joseph Dagdigian
YEREVAN — Students from Armenia’s and Artsakh’s villages hoping to attend one of the many universities in Yerevan face a number of obstacles, most importantly the challenge of affordable housing. Other difficulties include problems resulting from the poor conditions within many village schools where a lack of resources may result in inadequate preparation in some subjects. Unfamiliarity with life in a large urban environment may be another issue. Families of students from remote villages who cannot afford to support a student’s independent living expenses in Yerevan may consider leaving their village and moving to Yerevan for the sake of their children’s education. But abandoning Armenia’s villages, and especially Armenia’s border villages, poses serious problems for Armenia. Villages must be strengthened, not emptied of families. Despite cases of underfunded and understaffed village schools, however, many students from such villages excel due to their strong work ethics, and sheer determination to succeed.
Student Home, operating under the auspices of Armenia’s Strong Minds NGO, was established in 2021 by businessman Mher Mkrtchyan, business leader and educator Tsovinar Sargsyan and scientist Paytsar Muradyan, together with others. Student Home’s mission is to provide a supportive, affordable home for students from Armenia’s and Artsakh’s remote villages who are attending universities in Yerevan. Cost to students is approximately one quarter (25 percent) of the cost of university housing. Additionally, Student Home provides a welcoming and supportive environment for young Armenians unaccustomed to a big city environment. Informal educational lectures on topics of interest are organized and tutorials are offered for students who may need additional instruction in subjects such as English or Russian language, or computer skills. When feasible, scholarships may be offered to some of the neediest students. Just as important as the above, a community of determined young men and women from villages across Armenia and Artsakh is established. Though students are from different villages and are focusing on different majors at different universities, a common bond of community is established within a nurturing environment.
Student Home is located on 20 David Malyan St., Yerevan, in a vacant factory building. As the building was unused, Strong Minds negotiated a low-cost 10-year lease on a portion of the building which they renovated with funds from Armenian and Diaspora donors. Much of the work was done by volunteers. Though construction work is not quite complete, there are currently about 30-35 resident students there (fall semester – 2021) with a goal of housing 45-50 students. There is the possibility of purchasing the facilities sometime in the future. Student Home includes a large kitchen area, a meeting room for socializing or lectures, new bathrooms and a laundry. During an initial visit to their library, the library was about 20 percent populated with donated books. Each subsequent visit evidenced more and more books. Now sufficient books have been collected for some to be donated to village libraries, village schools, or community centers. Rooms are neat and modern with usually two students per room. The environment is cordial, attractively furnished and decorated, with a sense of community among the student residents. In the entrance way there is a large, nearly completed painting of a map of Armenia and Artsakh. Each student will have his or her village marked on the map. During evening hours, a security guard will be posted at the Student Home and the entrance will be monitored with a video camera.
Admission criteria are that students must be from remote villages, and must demonstrate a commitment to contribute to their village’s development. Students attend a number of Yerevan’s universities including Yerevan State University, the State Engineering University (Polytechnic), the French University, the Russian University and the Pedagogical University, with a number of majors including law, mathematics, architecture, international relations, science, psychology, philosophy, languages, and education.