YEREVAN, Armenia, April 7 (UNHCR) – She became a refugee when she could barely walk. More than 20 years later, Ramella Naltakyan is showing other vulnerable young refugees how to find their feet in Armenia.
After taking part in a UNHCR-supported programme that provides refugees and needy local people with access to computers, Ramella has found employment, inspired her community and made new friends and contacts.
Life is definitely looking up for the young ethnic Armenian woman born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. She was just a toddler when her family joined 360,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict of 1988-1992 and seeking asylum in Armenia. ''We moved to Armenia when I was too young to remember anything," she recalled. "My parents would tell me about the hardships they endured. We settled in a house that was falling apart in a poor refugee community. There were no jobs or any prospects for a better life. Gradually my parents got the house into decent shape and we've been living here ever since."
Home is Kasakh village in Kotayk Marz, a province in central Armenia. Naltakyan was raised in a neighbourhood with refugees and local residents, and developed strong friendships with both groups. Now 23, she is a naturalized Armenian, like many of the refugees from Azerbaijan and Iraq who have received assistance from UNHCR.
Over the past 18 years, the UN refugee agency has implemented a wide range of programmes to help provide decent housing, health services, education, income-generation and other livelihood and longer-term self-reliance activities for these refugees in Armenia.
In 2010, the agency brought its computer access project to Armenia to facilitate the local integration of refugees by increasing education and employment opportunities for them. The refugees say the Community Technology Access (CTA) initiative is extremely useful as it enhances their computer literacy – perhaps the most in-demand skill for employment in today's society. UNHCR now supports CTA programmes in 13 countries.
Last October, Ramella took part in the month-long classes even though she had graduated from a computer programming course at a private university in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. ''My university never gave me the knowledge that CTA offered," she said, noting that her formal education was mostly theoretical and that she preferred the methodology and atmosphere of the UNHCR-supported course. "The practical skills I gained in one month proved to be so useful. I have now become friends with computers," Ramella exclaimed, adding: "Everybody in the neighbourhood was so excited about the training.''
The course, which focuses on skills related to basic Windows and Microsoft Office, has produced 45 graduates so far, including 30 refugees and 15 locals. Three of the refugees, all women, have been hired by the village authorities.
Ramella, too, was offered a job – even before she graduated – to teach basic computer skills to children at a school in the neighbouring village. She was delighted, and accepted the job offer immediately.
"Mummy, I am proud I have achieved something in this life," she beamed, sharing her joy with her mother. "I now believe in a brighter future and I am happy I live in Armenia. I am thankful to my community that raised me, to UNHCR for making my dreams come true. I have found a job," she added.
"We should always remember that refugees are capable – if provided with the tools of language, skills development and employment opportunities – of assuming responsibility for their own affairs and contributing to their host society economically, socially and culturally," Damtew Dessalegne, UNHCR's representative in Armenia, noted. By Anahit Hayrapetyan in Yerevan, Armenia