Narrator, Sargsyan Anush, talks about her cousin Mariam, as her role model and inspiring ancestor. Artist and interior designer Mariam also spends time raising money for ill children to obtain essential treatment and plans to one day to open a centre for families in need
The person who inspired me to write this story and participate in the EFAP programme is my cousin. Her name is Mariam. She was born in Armenia but then moved to Russia with her family when she was three years old. Now she helps people who need it, giving them clothes, food, money and anything they require. She gives both financial and psychological assistance and was inspired to take action after seeing so many children with different health problems and deciding to do what she could for them.
At first, she undertook the assistance alone but was later joined by people who liked what she did and started working with her. Now, she has a big group of people involved. The financial aid is for general living expenses and treatments, while the psychological support is particularly useful for those whose circumstances have led them to see no way forward. She is uniquely kind, beautiful, warm and smart. And what is more, she is compassionate. She feels other people’s souls and gives support when they suffer.
Just on the edge of self-respect are the qualities of kindness, energy and loyalty
Mariam is an artist and interior designer: she graduated from one of the best and oldest design schools in Russia – Stroganov University. However, in this story, I want to talk to you, not about her talent and skills, but about her mind and soul. Mariam has helped deprived families and children from all over the world for more than nine years now. She says that we are as responsible for the earth as we choose to be. Just on the edge of self-respect are the qualities of kindness, energy and loyalty: a link that we ought not to contravene. For Mariam, charity is ‘Life according to conscience’. She gathers tens of thousands of dollars for ill children to obtain essential surgeries and treatment to live happily with their families . But what is more important, throughout her life, is for her to share every shred of her kind and blessed heart with the children who need it most. Describing herself, she says:
‘…I am 25. I am an architect. What I am doing is trying to be in harmony with the world and be there where I must be. The first time I visited an orphans asylum [children’s home], I was 15. I help children in Russia, Ukraine, Syria and plan to also start in Armenia. Being an artist [has] enabled me to “get on” in this world, as I suggested to the management of [a psychiatric hospital] if I could do miniature painting on their walls and they loved my idea. It was my first acquaintance with that world… I do not know the answer of the question why I wanted to go there. Like any child who does not have spite in them and who do not choose whom to love, I loved the world and did not understand why I have everything I needed and someone [else] has nothing. Even hope, or parents [or] happiness. I guess was trying to understand that. I surely felt that there is a great place and opportunity to give and tell something to the people.
‘I started visiting orphan asylums often. And then, as fate willed, I met people who were thinking the way I did. Time passed and our help became more organised, professional and efficient. Using social media tools, I managed to find resources [for] a lot of people who needed it. I organised whip-rounds for children who had diseases and needed necessary treatment and surgery in Russia or foreign countries. When I gather money – for example for surgery for a child – I get in touch with the clinic and the doctor who is ready [to undertake] the surgery. Then, we make the right plan for the treatment and rehabilitation. After that, I tell my followers about the child and the whole situation and we start gathering the necessary money together.
What I am trying to do is help create a kinder generation: a generation of young people who love freedom and take care of the people around them
‘People from all over the world [have assisted] us. Most children from orphan asylums do not have clothes, shoes, food or study supplies; they lack living skills. We try to help them to become individuals. What I am trying to do is [play a part in creating] a kinder generation: a generation of young people who love freedom [and] who take care of the people around them. Many children do not know what to do after leaving orphan asylums. Sometimes, volunteers are also in charge of that because we give children what they need and the child does not learn to work [or] to create. For me, it is very important to explain to them how to do all those things independently. Over the years, besides being sponsors, we become good friends with some of the children, which is very important for and us and for them.
‘I have dozens of families in Russia who are in my custody. We help them with medicine, clothes and, in case of need, also with food … Also, victims of fires, single mothers… Just families who, for some reason, lost hope and [were in need].
‘There are many people who help me. Together, we [have] managed to help hundreds of children and that is only the beginning. My best assistant is my husband. He believes in me and thinks [in] the [same] way that I do. [He also] feels the way I feel. If and when we want to do something good, we receive energy from everywhere. First, there are our parents whose hearts feel the same as ours, [in the belief that we should facilitate] children to achieve their aims, not impede them. The power comes if you are fulfilled through enthusiasm: when you see the result of your work.
‘What is very important for me is to organise [what we do] with a smile and, with happiness, not because we feel sorry for the children.
‘It is important that people do not feel guilty because of being wealthy, happy or any other reason. [We should] understand that the biggest aim in our life is to increase kindness around us. Kindness [creates] happiness for everyone and helps us every time life brings us an obstacle that we need to overcome. Our heart resources are endless and are naturally given to us from life.
‘Sometime later, I plan to create a foundation and open a centre for families, where they will get not only financial, but also psychological help. This is for teenagers and children who leave orphan asylums, because we want them [to be able to enjoy life in the outside world]’.
Someone once asked Mariam: ‘Do you help poor and homeless people?’ Her answer astonished me: ‘…I help those people who are in need.’ This resonated with me as a very dignified and noble answer. I encounter a lot of people who see the light and beauty that comes from my cousin. A mother of a child Mariam worked with once said: ‘You did not only cure us from an illness. You cured our souls. Thank you that you help and know how to help, not demeaning me.’
We do not know what will happen tomorrow and which of us will need help
When considering the need not to weaken or demean people through strategies for aid, Mariam emphasises the importance of forming relationships where those helping are also able to accept assistance themselves. She elaborates:
‘It is important for me that the mothers of children we help do not feel humiliated or that they are begging. It is important for me that they understand that we are all the same people and are just helping each other to cope with difficulties at this moment. We do not know what will happen tomorrow and which of us will need help…’
This effect is also apparent when Mariam tells me that, when the entire amount needed for the operation of a child has been collected, it is often the case that the mother of that child will begin to help raise money for another child. She continues with the following example:
‘As I write the answer to your questions (August 2018), I have a collection for a child from Tajikistan. He needs a course of chemotherapy and liver transplantation. People of different nationalities, faiths, ages and status are helping him….’
When I ask if there is a relationship between helping those in need and changing a society’s values and practices, Mariam asserts that it is very important for everyone, regardless of whether they work and whatever their position, ‘to be useful and feel that they do not live in vain’. She also notes that experiencing a ‘strong decline of power’ can result in a ‘regime of self-preservation’. This can make it difficult to understand where to turn for help. The strategy here is to ‘support the family until it gets on its feet.’
I do not think I can write a lot about Mariam, as there is no practical need served in doing so. But I would like to ponder her underlying qualities that inspire me, as there is a need for humanity, in understanding what is important and vital for ourselves, the people around us and our minds. Mariam has had a great influence on me because seeing her activity led me to start thinking about kindness and the depth of its importance in our lives. In turn, I decided to offer support to people after graduating from university because Mariam made me understand that kindness makes us better people. I am proud to be her cousin and hope one day she will be proud of being mine.
Mariam has had a great impact on her society. There are many people who have been inspired by her and, seeing her activities, they give her a helping hand, also wanting to assist someone themselves and do something good: she is their motivation.
I think Mariam is an example of how women can play an important role in communities
Mariam is a motivation for me, too. When I see what she is doing for people, I also feel the importance of serving others, of holding someone’s hand firmly if that person says they need it. When people want help and get it, they don’t feel unnecessary in their society. We should support them so they know that having problems doesn’t mean they are alone, because we are with them. All of these ideas come to my mind when I see how Mariam is doing everything she can to assist people. Mariam inspires me every day. Even if I just remember her name, something wakes up in my mind and I know I am going to support people in need. I also want to see people smile.
People who are with Mariam have also told me that she inspired them to understand how important it is to help people. And I think it is vital that there are people who can persuade and convince others to do this in a meaningful and genuine way. Not everyone can inspire others to reach out to other people and I believe this ability is a gift for Mariam and all others who manage it.
Finally, I would like to add that I think Mariam is one of the best examples of how women can play an important role in our communities, by doing great things and serving as an example to others. We are also an important part of the world and shouldn’t have to lie low. Women have rights that must not be denied. Mariam and those like her prove this and I want to tell the world every day.
[In August 2018, we asked our author if she would relay some questions to Mariam. Some of the subsequent answers have formed parts of this piece but Mariam was particularly interested in the following query, which we have therefore included here, separately.]
Do you stay in touch with people once help has been rendered? What can you tell us about the long-term impact of your philanthropic intervention?
‘This is my favourite! I love to see how the children grow up! … Time flies so fast; like, most recently, [a child] was two months old and needed urgent heart surgery; [in no time at all], he will be looking back as an adult guy…
‘We try to make friends and communicate with everyone we help. We periodically call each other and tell each other what has changed in our lives. If we helped the child get onto treatment, then we stay in touch during the time he is being treated, rehabilitated and restored. We help to find a clinic, buy tickets and find where to stay for the duration of treatment. It is important to help in a comprehensive way; this all takes a titanic amount of work, but otherwise it [would be] impossible. We go to children’s homes … every month… We have been friends with them for many years.
‘We also communicate after the children are released from the orphanage. Families and children in orphanages know that our shoulder is always there and that they can ask for help. They call when they need help or [when they] just [want to] talk about their successes…
‘…Most importantly, we teach a person to help themselves and not simply need us. You cannot force a person to help. A help policy without pressure and without pity is the most correct [way] because it is [both] long-term and current aid. It makes no sense to just collect money or clothes and give it away. You need to listen to people and get to know their whole history. We do not help because we feel sorry, ashamed or [want to] clear our karma; no, we help because it brings us joy: joy to see how a child recovers…
‘In Russian, there is a very good phrase: “Give a fishing rod for catching fish, and not fish.” That’s why those people to whom we help feel worthy: we help them overcome the fear of difficulties, poverty and death.’
I am Sargsyan Anush. I was born on the 17th of November, 1998, in Armenia. The village where I was born is called Sarnaghbyur. When I was three years old, my family moved to another village, Aragatsavan. I went to the N1 secondary school in Aragatsavan for 12 years. After school, I attended Yerevan State University (YSU), where I study now. It’s my second year. I study in the department of translation.
All images provided, with permission, by Andranik Avdalyan.
Mariam holds a child called Yasmna, who has had a problem with her liver. Her mother has served as her donor and Mariam played a role in organising the operation.
Mariam hugs and congratulates an elderly woman, who is holding a card and a flower, at the Military Hospital. Mariam has organised an event for thanking and congratulating this generation of veterans.
Mariam embraces a young boy in the internal Zolino ward (which she has been supporting for more than nine years).
In this photo, Mariam is holding a toddler, Vasilisa, who is from a poor family and still recovering in hospital (at the time of the picture) after serious burns. Mariam has managed Vasilisa’s treatment and helped create better conditions for her family’s everyday life.
These pictures are also from the Military Hospital event. The picture shows an elderly woman enjoying the day with Mariam.
This picture shows Mariam kissing the forehead of a small child who is wearing a pink flower hairband. The image is taken from a charitable casting event in the ‘Kolomenskoy’ ward. All the revenue has been sent to the residents of Redkino.