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BUUGBEE-Dalarik-Armenia-1-blogStory by Katya Cengel; photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee. Katya and Geoff are visiting Heifer projects in Romania and Armenia this week for Heifer’s World Ark magazine.

DALARIK, Armenia—Varduhi Torosyan rattles off the details of her business venture with such enthusiasm that she barely pauses for punctuation, or breath. She recounts the 40,000 dram ($100) loan she received from Heifer Armenia in December 2011, and how she used it to buy materials with which to make Christmas ornaments. She followed the ornaments with floral arrangements made from plastic flowers, before moving on to handcrafted wool toys, and, more recently, beaded jewelry.

"Even if I have only a sheet of paper in my hand, I would try to do something extraordinary all the time," she says.

BUUGBEE-Dalarik-Armenia-2-blogShe is 12 years old and not short on confidence, business savvy or ideas. The eldest child of an unemployed construction worker, Varduhi is one of 10 youth in Dalarik who received funding through Heifer Armenia and its local partner organization, Development Principles, to launch a business. The initiative is part of the larger Heifer project YANOA, which develops youth clubs modeled on the 4-H principle in Armenian communities where Heifer is already active. 

The extracurricular clubs offer six different focuses, including business. It was in the business class that Varduhi learned about supply and demand. Her proposal for a handicraft business was funded with the stipulation that she pass on the gift to another student by May 2013. She is now ready to pay back the loan and re-invest her 35,000 dram ($86) profit in her business. 

Aside from a little help from her father, Alexan Torosyan, she did it all on her own, she insists. Her father took her to the market to research the price of ornaments, which she discovered was about 350 dram, or around 86 cents. In order to remain competitive she priced her ornaments at 300 dram, or 74 cents. She sold them to her neighbors in this small agriculture community 90 kilometers outside the capital of Yerevan. Before the holidays were over she had sold out—clearing 200 ornaments with not even one left for herself. 

The money she made on the ornaments was enough to return her loan and still have some left, but she decided to delay repayment in order to reinvest the whole sum in her business. This time she focused on wool toys, a craft she learned from a cousin who picked up the skill during a trip to Poland. A neighbor taught her how to make beaded jewelry. She finds inspiration everywhere, studying styles on television and the street, but insists that her creations are original, crafted with her own unique touch. Competitors and copycats don't worry her.

"If I see people copying one I will create a new idea to win the competition," she says.

As for her future, Varduhi wants to be a historian, or possibly a tour guide, but is leaving her options open. She is young, she says, and her dreams may change. Right now her dream is to save 200,000 dram, or about $500, for a computer so she can take her ideas further. Her mother, Christine Mkrtchyan, has no doubt that Varduhi will reach her goals.

"I'm confident that she will succeed because she has a lot of determination and drive," says Mkrtchyan. "And when a person has drive, plus knowledge and skills, they can succeed."


Donna Stokes

Donna Stokes is the managing editor of World Ark magazine. She has worked for Heifer International since September 2008 when she leaped over to the nonprofit world from a two-decade career in newspaper journalism.