Editor’s note: Empowering women is at the core of Heifer International’s model for sustainable development. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, this week we are sharing stories of the women with whom Heifer works, who take the gifts of livestock and education to produce extraordinary results for themselves, their families and their communities.
Article by Katya Cengel, photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee, who recently traveled to Armenia for World Ark magazine.
TEGHENIK, Armenia—Tsovinar Davtyan doesn’t remember her mother. Her
father died when she was 13. She wasn’t going to lose Seryozha, so she
married him at age 15.
“Who would let this kind of guy go?” she laughs, gesturing toward the
quiet man beside her.
She is 67 now, with spiky white hair and tanned and leathery skin.
Seryozha is 70. He remains silent while his wife does the talking, often
answering questions in a way that leaves her audience laughing. During
Soviet times Seryozha drove a tractor on the kolkhoz, or state
collective farm, and Tsovinar cut hay. In 1964 they built the four-room
stone house they now share with their son, Maksim, his wife, and their
three grandchildren. In winter the only warm room is the main one, which
is heated by a wood stove.
Maksim works as a driver at a nearby military base while they work the
land, growing potatoes, beans, tomatoes, peppers, apples and pears.
Tsovinar turns the apples into vinegar and cans the other vegetables to
last them through the winter. She also turns milk into cheese for the
family’s consumption and to sell. When asked how long it takes to make
cheese, she smiles mischievously.
“It depends on my mood,” she says. “If I’m in a good mood, it takes me
three hours. If I am in a bad mood, it takes one and a half.”
Tsovinar is usually in a good mood. Her family was one of several chosen
by Fuller Foundation to receive an interest-free home repair loan.
Heifer Armenia partnered with Fuller to provide cows to loan recipients
so they could have a source of income with which to pay off their loans.
Tsovinar’s home has yet to be repaired, but she received her cow, Sona,
in 2009, and has already passed on one of its calves. She has one other
cow and two calves and generates about $100 a month through the sale of
cheese. The money is put toward university expenses for the two oldest
grandchildren. The youngest grandchild, Harutyun, is only one, 14 years
younger than his next oldest sibling. He was an unexpected surprise his
grandmother calls “our great victory”. Everything she does now is for
“I have seen whatever I would like to see in my life, I don’t need
anything more for me,” she says. “Everything is for my grandchildren.”
When asked whether she could use new shoes she replies “let my
grandchildren have new shoes.” But standing outside her small home, with
its leaky asbestos roof, she does have one request.
“I am still waiting for my roof.”