With a GDP per capita estimated at just $5,400 in 2011, Armenia is one of the poorest countries in the former Soviet Union. But although development in the center of the country's capital, Yerevan, might paint a different picture for some tourists, especially from its large Diaspora, the economic situation is most evident in the regions of the landlocked South Caucasus country.
With regional development increasingly a priority in Armenia, online site CivilNet has teamed up with Timothy Straight, one of Armenia's few non-Armenian foreigners who have made the country their home. Traveling to a different village each week, the former head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Honorary Consul for Norway and Finland, hopes to change all that.
“What we're trying to do is gather information and spread it, so that people can get correct understanding of what village life in Armenia is like,” explains the text accompanying a promotional video for Թիմը գնում է գյուղ (Tim goes to the village), otherwise known as Straight to the village.
The first episode went online on 20 September last year and takes a look at two villages close to the border with Turkey whose income is based on fruit production.
In the latest installment uploaded to YouTube on 2 April, and subtitled in English and Armenian, Straight travels to the impoverished town of Vardenis close to Armenia's Lake Sevan. The purpose of the visit is to meet with a local NGO working with disabled children.
On 12 March, the program celebrated its 20th episode with an interview with Straight where he “talks about some of the highlights and explains the reason why he does the program and the potential long-term effect of the show.”
Knighted by the King of Norway in 2010, Straight's involvement in regional development in Armenia is not limited to the video reports. Homeland Handicrafts, for example, is a voluntary organization dedicated to creating a sustainable income for artisans in Armenia.