Taking Shelter: A Visit to the Women’s Support Center of Yerevan

Sadly, today, it is a common thing to hear about violent behavior — in Armenia, as well as in other parts of the world. The statistics and facts are horrifying, and oddly, we tend gaze past the realties, too scared or busy to face them. For several years, AIWA-SF has been a proud partner and supporter of the Women’s Support Center (WSC) based in Armenia. An organization in Armenia dedicated to the “prevention of domestic violence through the protection and empowerment of the victim, rehabilitation of family members; challenge systems and institutions so that they respond more effectively to the needs of battered women and their children; promote social change; and educate the community on gender equality and domestic violence and its consequences.” According to a global study by the Women’s Health Organization, 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. This fact is grossly horrifying.

Unfortunately, even today, Armenia lacks a comprehensive domestic violence law; this includes criminalizing domestic violence and provisions to protect victims of domestic violence. In a country where the criminal code does not prohibit domestic violence specifically, it makes it even harder to hold offenders accountable for their actions. Moreover, it makes it incredibly challenging for women and girls to stand up for themselves and demand to be treated rightly, because there is no formal decree that says abuse is wrong. Of course not all men are abusers, quite the contrary, yet it’s painful to see many cases go overlooked or ignored.

The WSC is devoted to bring awareness and policy on this topic. In 2016, the WSC received 1,064 hotline calls a 50% increase from 2015, along with plus 327 walk-ins, a 23% increase from 2015. The WSC diligently works with each victim and family to provide holistic healing and aid including shelter, healthcare, emotional, physical and mental healing, along with helping position them for a brighter future. In the 1-year follow up, 63% of the women survivors are working and have financial independence, 70% do not live with their abusers, and 84% report living free of abuse. The success rate is impressive and grows our hearts because it means that our impact is absolutely changing lives for the better!

The facts have faces. They have names, stories, dreams, and hopes. They have children who enjoy playing outdoors and coloring. With each success story our heart grows in size and we are reminded that our efforts and donations change lives.

While in Armenia, a select group of AIWA-SF members visited the safe house where some of the brave women and children who had the courage to flee abuse are staying. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a WSC staff member. Her big smile was noteworthy, as was her tight meaningful embrace.  She welcomed us with incredible warmth and gratitude. It was evident in her mannerism that she has re-found love. Later we learned that she is a survivor of domestic violence, thus, she values her new life unconditionally and has come to realize the she deserves love and light.

As we entered the shelter we noticed the homey feeling. It is clean with a very inviting atmosphere. We met with some of the women who currently reside at the shelter. We noticed their sunken, exhausted eyes. It was evident that they wanted to approach us but weren’t quite ready to trust. In our hearts we know they will persevere. We had the opportunity to review children’s artwork. We saw the progression of drawings in black and white to the introduction of color as they learn to trust and smile again.

We heard horrific stories.  We met women and children who despite the hell they have endured, believe that there is a brighter, abuse free future for them. The existence of the shelter, our visit, the supplies we took, and the comfort that organizations on the other side of our big planet support them, helps affirm that there is future for them, that they can do it and they will do it!  With the help of the WSC they are healing physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. They are learning that they are capable and deserving to live abuse free. They are enthusiastic to embrace their second chance at life and that’s hugely gratifying to see.

In addition to monetary contributions from our donors, we also provide supplies with each visit to Armenia. In April 2017, AIWA-SF visited and took a crate full of supplies. A second delivery, made in July 2017, included items such as toilet paper, medication, and food, delivering these carts of supplies allows the WSC to focus on their core competencies and alleviates much of the supply and inventory needs. Maro Matossian, WSC Executive Director, calls these contributions “unexpected blessings and a tremendous reduction of stress, and gives a special heartfelt thank you to AIWA-SF, its members, and donors.” We love seeing the impact of our contribution to WSC. Our project impact is wholly depend and donations from our community. Donations can be sent to AIWA-SF 15559 Union Ave #227 Los Gatos, CA 95032 or online via PayPal.

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About AIWA

The Armenian International Women’s Association is a dynamic global non-profit dedicated to empowerment, education and enrichment. Through many projects and initiatives, AIWA is committed to impacting positive social, economic and personal advancement of Armenian women worldwide through educational and other community activities that promote gender equity, and emphasize our Armenian cultural heritage.

To learn more about AIWA, please visit http://www.aiwainternational.org.

To get involved with the AIWA-SF affiliate, please visit http://www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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