Thomson Reuters Foundation
July 30 2014

Helping to settle a Syrian family in Armenia

Source: World Food Programme - Wed, 30 Jul 2014 01:22 GMT

It is seven months since I first met Maral Gahvesjian, waiting
patiently in a long queue of Syrians of Armenian descent, for their
WFP food rations at Charents 20, a residential area of the capital,
Yerevan. Maral, her husband and their three sons, fled their home
in Aleppo, Syria nearly two years ago – as she put it,
“leaving the dark days behind."

Life hasn't been easy in Yerevan for Maral, 50. The family managed to
rent cheap accommodation on the outskirts of the city, without heating
during the cold winter - but she was happy that they were all together
in Armenia, safe and sound. She told me WFP food assistance was a
crucial safety net: "The wheat flour, vegetable oil, rice, pulses and
pasta helped us a lot as my eldest son was the only one with a job in
the family."

These basic commodities are provided - thanks to Russia's contribution
- through WFP's six-month emergency food assistance programme to some
5,000 people in Armenia. Maral told me the family ration meant that
the little money they had could go towards other household essentials.
"Every day," she said, "I bake Syrian bread using the WFP flour. I
sprinkle it with a few drops of water and draw a cross in the air
while wishing peace and better days to come for Syria."

Seven months after my first encounter with Maral, we met again in a
small bistro, where she is now working, in a residential area of
Yerevan. She told me she feels more secure and settled - though I
spotted the Syrian flag displayed in the restaurant. Maral says she is
thinking of continuing her life in Armenia, a safe haven, rather than
returning to Aleppo when the war ends, as her family had initially

Behind the scenes: how WFP packaged food for Maral's family - and many others.

The Armenian government made an unexpected request to WFP - to provide
individually boxed monthly food rations for ethnic Armenians who had
fled the war in Syria.

While it might sound simple, my colleagues were not used to anything
but bulk distribution. However, Yessai Nikoyan, head of logistics, had
previously worked for a private company specializing in packing and
moving - so he coordinated our small team to get things rolling.

The first step was to design the packaging and find a supplier to
provide good quality (and tough) corrugated boxes and paper bags. Then
we needed to hire skilled workers to sort the commodities and pack the
boxes, checking and weighing the contents. Yessai formed an assembly
line, assigning one person per commodity, with a team leader at the
end, to ensure that each of the five commodities were well-packed and
sealed. Five layers of corrugated cardboard reinforced the boxes to
withstand handling.

WFP's Armenia office has completed three packing and distribution
cycles so far, with new box designs required each time there's a
change in type of food distributed - just to keep things interesting!

Russia has been exceptionally flexible in allowing WFP Armenia to
re-programme some of its contribution for the existing school feeding
operation to cover the needs of displaced Syrians of Armenian origin
that have settled in Armenia after fleeing Syria. The six-month
emergency food assistance reaches some 5,000 displaced Syrian
Armenians out of a total of 16,000 who have arrived in Armenia since
the beginning of the Syria crisis.