Before the pandemic’s start
Hermine lives in Verin Karmiraghbyur - a high-mountain border village of Berd consolidated community in Tavush region. While caring for her three children, she is engaged in backyard farming and animal husbandry for household income. Despite being burdened with the daily hard routine of village life alone, she never complained about her situation, neither turned to anyone for support. Hermine always got inspired by agricultural innovations and made her own experiments in the berry garden. She would always rush to her garden located at the outskirts of the village, where she used to dream and plan the future of her young family, the day when her husband – a labor migrant, could finally come back from Russia and never leave again.
Hermine is one of the young beneficiaries of the “Berd Berry” project, financed by the UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme in 2016-2018. The project supported local women in border communities of Tavush region, with the highest rates of women unemployment in Armenia, with sustainable harvesting of wild plants and berry cultivation practices in their gardens. As a project beneficiary, she had an agreement with Berd Women's Resource Center for marketing the berry harvest. Besides, she joined the Center’s women group of berry jam producers and earned some additional income. She was eager to share the knowledge and skills she gained during the project to empower local women and was a great source of inspiration for others by carrying a heavy load of farm-work all by herself. Hermine enjoyed getting astonished and admiring glances of the villagers when operated the motorized tiller shared by the group members.
When Coronavirus knocked on the door!
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March and subsequent quarantine, rural women faced a lot of challenges, including increase of domestic violence, tension and aggression for mothers tracking the distance learning process of their children, and others.
Taking into account such an unfavorable situation for women, Berd Women’s Resource Center started a series of online meetings on conflict management, confident behavior and craft-therapy in the evenings, when the distance learning for schoolchildren was over and women could have a little time not only for learning but also for sharing their concerns and experience.
“My two kids were using the same phone, as their classes started at the same time. They had to miss some classes, as we could not combine all. I haven’t applied for additional equipment for e-learning, as there are lots of families who haven’t even one. There is a family with five schoolchildren next to us, they were given one laptop by the government. If they could keep up with it, what I can demand?” Hermine tells.
To the question, if she really sees any concerns relating to the ongoing pandemic situation, she replies quietly: “I am not happy with the situation, but I keep doing what I was doing before; my garden is my salvation, lots of work to do there, which helps me not to be focused on the situation. My problem is what to make for dinner next time, as what my kids like to eat – such as buckwheat, potato, tomato – prices have gone up. So, I choose natural green veggies and berries collected from the wild, which are healthy and free,” she smiles.
Hermine’s family is in the risk group, as she takes care of her parents-in-law (68- and 72-year-old), who have chronic diseases. She usually refuses to go to the grocery and prefers using what they have harvested from the garden or collected from the forest. But if she has to, she always wears a mask and gloves. Hermine feels grateful, the government in the framework of a poverty reduction initiative, provided her with a cow, a 30 percent discount for utility bills, and a one-time subsidy. She thinks that it is not fair to put everything on the government’s shoulders, as many do. The pandemic is the nature’s response to what people have been doing to the environment for such a long time…
What after coronavirus?
“There is life after coronavirus, of course, as it was before,” she is laughing. “I hope that after the pandemic my husband can come back finally and we can repair the dilapidated wall behind the house, I can’t fix it alone. And I think that I am lucky to live in this village with fresh air, healthy food and lots of perspectives with my berry garden, with the women I met in the “Berd Berry” project.” This is a usual challenge, that makes us stronger and gives time to think once again what we did wrong and still can do for reestablishing a harmonized and balanced coexistence with mother nature…
Hermine’s berry bushes seem to promise a good harvest, as the year is favorable for agriculture.
Anahit Badalyan, Lead, Berd Women’s Resource Center