Teresa Mkhitaryan: Simple-Hearted Hero of Our Time. «I Have a Dream: Always Help People So that the Ones We Help Do Not Need Our Help Anymore»
She has studied in one of the most developed countries of the world: Switzerland and stayed to live there. Years later she wrote: «(...) when you live here for many years you realize that happiness is not about money and clean buses. Comfort – yes, of course… And happiness certainly is in something else».
For the past three years Teresa has realized what true happiness is.
It all started in 2015 with an unplanned trip to Gyumri that still has not recovered after the dreadful earthquake of 1988. Teresa saw the terrible living and social conditions of the families that were dwelling in steel containers that were supposed to be temporary shelter for them but became permanent; lasting 30 years. It is unbearably sultry in summer and freezing cold in winter in those constructions with thin walls.
Teresa decides to help some of these families to get out of these containers by all means. She gathers around herself a group of non indifferent people and organizes fundraising to purchase apartments: «100 people – 100 dollars, and one family will be saved…». Sitting over the problems of Gyumri, Teresa saw the broad picture of what was happening and she realized that there are very few people actually affected by the earthquake, there are many more that live in the containers intentionally waiting for some benefactor to gift them an apartment or provide with some means without going into details.
«One can be included in the list of affected through good connections, by pulling strings, through agileness. It is even easier if one pays money or has a good relative where needed. The hardest work in Gyumri is to identify who is the swindler, and who is really affected. Practically we work as detectives here».
Moreover, according to Teresa «they had misdiagnosed many times in Gyumri: Instead of the heart they were curing the stomach», i.e. instead of identifying the root cause of distressful situation of people, the philanthropists especially, sent money and provisions to Gyumri and when the help was over (if the addressee ever received it) the people were once more in the same distressful situation.
«(...) most people think that the problems of Armenia can be solved with the help of money. You can spend as much as you want on an illusion; regardless it is still the same black hole... Indeed, the more you spend, the deeper the hole… In order to walk on, it is necessary to reveal the facts, work on the right decision and only then the means spent will be of use...».
Today there are three thousand containers in Gyumri that not only pollute the environment but also occupy areas where public-spirited facilities could be built. To clean the city from the steel boxes and identify who really needs help; Teresa has made the following classification:
1. People really affected by the earthquake and still waiting for help.
2. Swindlers, that settle in the empty containers to receive help when the «kind uncle from Los Angeles», as Teresa says, arrives.
3. People who have containers left but they themselves have been living abroad for decades.
4. People not affected by the earthquake at all: they have come to Gyumri from the villages and want to live in the city or they have come from the other regions and countries and have settled in the containers.
5. People that have received apartments and have given their containers to their relatives for use (there are many of them) hoping to receive an apartment through the containers.
6. People that have received an apartment after many years of waiting but due to the new additions to the family, part of them have moved to the container.
Taking the matter into her own hands at the end of October Teresa published information that there are done with the audits and she is going to render assistance to families really in need.
«When you walk through the containers everyone wants to tell how hard and painful it is... And as if you take from each of them a part of their burden, pain, resentment and hope... (...) The head is splitting from all that is heard and seen... It takes time to process and comprehend everything...».
Since this year Teresa has also engaged in the near-border villages of Tavush where families live just a few hundred meters away from the Azerbaijani border, at gunpoint in the direct sense of the word. Everything is located within the immediate danger zone: schools, kindergartens and residential houses. On her Facebook page under the hashtag #жизньнагранице (life on the border) Teresa advises about the help provided or offers to assist those that want to help. The help can be provided in different ways: organizing clubs for children, purchasing stationery materials, which are luxuriousness in the near-border villages, lightning of village streets, refurbishing the public and residential premises, helping individual families to land on feet and so on.
«The closest point for the residents of the region from the border with Azerbaijan is 50 meters, fifty meters. (...) I think we must do everything to ensure that people in these dangerous lands have a good life; they are provided with normal human conditions, good schools and hospitals. That is why we take one village after another and try to land on feet all the families that are in difficult situation for whatever reason. We owe them because they defend our borders every day and every minute».
«Money and property do not change people... To my opinion it has been proven million times. It is Love that changes the Person. In somebody's eyes you see that they need you, somebody's attitude towards you helps to believe in yourself, in your human dignity, have confidence (...). Our task for each individual case is to treat a person in a way that he believes in himself, and finds strength and his own place in this life».
Charity for Teresa is not the handout, or the short-term help to satisfy her ego. She does not help those who are willingly in deep water or can get out of difficult situation on their own, but are used to getting everything for no special reason; this helps people to be on the downward path but not to obtain independence. For Teresa help is to give impetus to the growth, development and keep watching over the result without interrupting the communication.
«The problem is not in the charity itself, the problem is that there are so many serious mistakes in the charity that there is more harm than benefit».
Apart from the stories about helping different families, villages, towns, people Teresa also shows the beauty and nobleness of people that are in difficult situations or live in dangerous, near-border areas. Allow nobody to stay indifferent towards the heavenly garden of grandpa Melis that he has built up in village Aygedzor, a few metres away from the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Here he has even tropical fruits: kiwi and banana plantlets. Allow nobody to stay indifferent towards the history of a family who have been waiting for their turn for an apartment in Gyumri for 30 years, but they have not become not evil-minded with their grave fate. One is astounded by the positivity and high spirit of the women from the near-border villages who sell their fruits and vegetables being directly at the Azerbaijani gunpoint. One of them said smiling: «If I were born again, I would like to be born again in my beloved village Vazashen...» (a village by the border).
And probably this is the most important thing to learn from them. And thank you to Teresa, for not letting us forget about the important things in such a fuss. She set an example of how to act and sparkle the hearts of hundreds of people: from the mayor of Swiss town Lugano to the simple residents of Armenian regions who gladly want to participate in different projects since true compassion, kindness and love have no boundaries.