“Perhaps you’re mistaken; are you looking for the Health Ministry?” I ask the elderly woman, whom we meet at the entrance of the Fund’s offices. No, she’s not mistaken; it’s we who are new around here. Mrs. Yelena enters the Fund’s offices as though she were family. There’s no need to accompany her. She knows all the departments. She knows everyone, and everyone knows her very well. In fact, she’s an avid supporter of the Fund, appreciative of its work and trustworthiness alike. “My dear girl,” she says on her way to the accounting department, “I’m here every year on June 1st, and I’m the first to arrive. I was late this year because my husband is sick. So I came alone.”
Yelena Aghajanyan is 79 years old. For the past ten years, she has started the month of June in the company of the Fund’s staff. “Here it is, dear Gayan: 2,000 dram, for sick children, as usual,” she says as she places the amount on the desk. She explains that she has been a longtime contributor to the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, regularly donating a portion of her pension to the organization, and that, in recent years, her donations have been intended for children’s-assistance programs. “Our children are precious; they’re our country’s future,” she says. “Everyone must help out to the best of their abilities, even with as little as ten dram. What does the size of the amount matter? Now this 2,000 dram is what I can afford. It’s my pension, my work, with which I wish to render a bit of help.”
Mrs. Yelena is a former university lecturer. She taught political economy. She says benevolence has been a way of life for her since as early as the Soviet years. She started out by holding fundraisers with her students, to benefit various projects. Mrs. Yelena’s modest donations have reached as far as Chernobyl. “My dear girl, one must have faith, do you understand?” she says. “I believe in the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. I see that everything is done correctly, and that even my tiny donations mean a great deal. It makes me feel good.”
“I feel good, not for having made a contribution, but for seeing the great results of the Fund’s work,” Mrs. Yelena stresses, and then sternly refuses to be photographed. She doesn’t make donations to show off, she objects indignantly. What will she say to her sons? And what will her grandchildren think? In vain do we try to convince her. She hasn’t agreed to being photographed in previous years, and won’t do it now. Eventually, however, she allows us to write about her. When she’s told that she has set a great example, that her benevolence is both inspiring and instructive, she says, “I don’t know about setting an example. But I tell you one thing: there’s a good verse in the Bible: ‘The benevolent man's happiness lies in the happiness of others.’ That’s all there is to it.”
Our conversation then turns to more mundane matters. She says she has been suffering from intense leg pain, and her husband hasn’t felt well for some time now. But what counts is that she was able once again to come to our offices, she emphasizes. She feels at home here, like a member of the Fund’s big family. As she takes her leave, she says “So long; we’ll meet again next year.” No need to bid us good luck. The important thing is to believe — to have the desire to believe.