Finding Inspiration: The Hidden Road Initiative

When a person has $10,000 to spend there are many options: buy a house, go shopping… or help people in Armenia.

Nanor Balabanian, an Armenian native who attends the University of California-Santa Barbara, chose to do the latter when she received $10,000 from the Strauss Foundation. The foundation awarded money to 11 students  this year that it thought deserved the funds. Her project proposal is called The Hidden Road Initiative: Using Internet to Connect Roads and Bridge Issues.

Balabanian, who currently lives in Lebanon, was inspired to help the villagers of Aghbradzor, a remote village in the mountains of Armenia, when she went to visit them in 2009.

“I fell in love with the villagers and their humility and happiness despite their difficult circumstances,” Balabanian said.

The villagers are isolated from the rest of the world due to the lack of roads, transportation and Internet, and they don’t have doctors or any markets. Six months a year the villagers are snowed in, and no one can get in or out.

Balabanian said she wants to change that by installing Internet in the villages so that the residents can stay connected to the outside world even during the snowy season.

With the funds received from the Strauss Foundation, Balabanian, several other college students and one high school student will be able to go to Aghbradzor to install the computers, Internet and teach the villagers arts and crafts and other hobbies this summer.

“I hope to empower the students,” Balabanian explained.

Anyone can help in their own way by donating, fundraising or just raising awareness at work or school. When the Internet will be finished being installed in Aghbradzor, anyone that is interested can participate in the pen pal program that will allow the villagers of Aghbradzor stay connected to the outside world.