26 July 2015, 11:40
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COAF's Next 'Smart' Move in Lori

COAF recently held the groundbreaking ceremony for a new technologically-equipped hub called the SMART Center that will be constructed in the Lori province of Armenia, the estimated launch date for which is the end of 2016. Plans for the center have been in the works for several years and is the brainchild of COAF’s founder, Garo Armen, and his staff in Yerevan

Building a state-of-the-art educational and learning facility in Armenia is not a entirely novel concept. Many other diasporan Armenians have taken on similar private projects like this in the past, with positive results. See Sam and Sylva Simonian’s Tumo Center for Creative Technologies or any one of Ruben Vardanyan’s projects (AYB School in Yerevan, the International School in Dilijan). What makes COAF’s undertaking unique is its positioning in the rural and relatively underpopulated Lori province of Armenia, located in the north of the country bordering Georgia.

Lori's picturesque setting amidst Armenia’s breathtaking natural beauty is certainly an attractive feature of the region, but Garo Armen, self-made Armenian-American entrepreneur and COAF's Founder, says that isn't the only thing that attracted them. Motivated by COAF’s success in the Armavir region, which has resulted in what he calls a “rebirth of the population,” the organization has recently been discussing future plans for expansion, mainly, how, where, and what will be the most expedient approach.

Armen emphasized the importance of expediency because, he says, "If we do what we did in Armavir, it would take too long of a time to reach all of the thousand villages of Armenia. We had to come up with a novel concept and a novel concept is exactly what we’re doing here. We believe the ‘Smart’ steps we will take in Lori will allow us to achieve what we have in Armavir much quicker, at a much lower cost, and more effectively. Once this has been accomplished in Lori our objective will be to repeat the Smart module perhaps 15-20 times all over rural Armenia.” 

Read ImYerevan’s Full Interview with Garo Armen Here.

The center will go by the alias SMART, named such for its multipurpose offerings in nearly every sector. The programs it will host include: programming, engineering, robotics, visual arts, music, imaginative expression, linguistics and languages, professional communications, environmental practices (educating people on recycling, renewable energy, organic agricultural techniques), modern healthcare practices (nutrition, preventive care, physical education), business career development, and civil education.

It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Armen says the broad offerings of the center are an intentional and strategic move. The goal, he says, is to be able to provide a more holistic approach that will tailor itself to the region. "You have to have a holistic program that addresses all meaningful aspects of the society that has been broken, and, as you do all of this, you will be amazed at how the children mobilize amongst themselves to come up with solutions." 

Ultimately, Armen says his team is driven by the desire to start providing incentives for people to repopulate rural regions and, at the same time, decrease the number of incentives for villagers already occupying them to emigrate elsewhere. One of those reasons, he says, will be the structure’s architecture, which will be “outrageously advanced [and] will motivate people who will start believing that what was unthinkable is indeed possible. This kind of belief has been our historical tradition reflected in our accomplishments and contributions as a nation as a culture and as people.” 

As construction on the center has only just begun, many specifics are difficult to determine, but a document provided by COAF detailing some of the building’s plans suggest that its interior will rival the impressive facade displayed at the groundbreaking ceremony (image above). Currently, the center boasts include state-of-the-art classrooms replete with open spaces designed for collaboration, hi-tech conferencing capabilities, an eco-lab for environmental experiments, a café and culinary center, a 130-seat auditorium, and a sound-proof music room. Most importantly, the building itself will be ecologically sound, running only on solar and renewable energy.

Details on how many jobs the center will create or how many people will benefit are as yet unavailable, although COAF representatives commented that the hope is that it will serve the entire population of the Lori Marz, the Tumanyan region and neighboring outskirts, (approximately 40,000-45,000 people). There are also very promising plans to include a bed-and-breakfast facility that will be able to accommodate around 20 guests at a time, inviting outside expertise to assist with educational visits to the center and stimulating tourism in the region.

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