Natacha Kalfayan moved from Lebanon to Armenia 12 years ago and is trying to prove through her daily work that it is not difficult to do business in Armenian regions. It’s just a matter of setting a goal and consistently moving towards it.
She feels that the atmosphere that permeates Armenia makes it difficult to convince people to trust themselves. For the past 12 years, Natacha has been hearing the same questions: “Where are you from? Why did you come to Armenia?”
“I was told that I was crazy for moving to Armenia,” Natacha says. “For the first two years, I was getting stressed out by these types of questions but in the third year, I started thinking about why there was no work. I realised that people were waiting for major employers to invest millions of dollars in Armenia and create new jobs. But just because these employers hadn’t come yet, did that mean there was nothing to do?”
In March 2018, Natacha established MADE, a handicraft platform, thanks to a grant provided within the framework of the EU-funded project ‘Dilijan and Adjacent Communities Development Initiative’. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, Dilijan residents receive training to create handicrafts that can be sold quickly, cheaply and easily. The knowledge Natacha is imparting is helping residents to become competitive in both the local and international market.
“Professional knowledge is only half of the course,” Natacha explains. “We show what genre and style means, how they can develop as an artisan and a personality, how to keep abreast of the industry, how to preserve originality and uniqueness, how to be consistent, how they can achieve financial success, how to create a brand, how to properly pack a product and where to find markets.”
Natacha follows her motto: “If you have the will to achieve a goal, you are smart enough; you just need to decide to do something and then do it.” Her dream is to help create a community where people will complement each other by creating and selling handmade items.
Through her activities, Natacha is breaking stereotypes that are deeply rooted among women in rural Armenia. The women that are involved in her project no longer complain that they do not have money for public transport or that their husbands do not let them work. Women from other regions are also starting to come to Natacha for training.
The most important thing is that people believe in their businesses. “At first it was hard; the first reaction from people was that we were using them for their labour,” Natacha admits. “But we helped them, trained them and they took what they had produced to the New Year's fair and sold it. Then they came to me and said, ‘now, Natacha, we believe that we can’.”
Natacha’s work is enriching the local craft culture and aiding its development. She is giving people of all ages and genders the chance to start a business, at home or elsewhere.
“Creativity does not imply any restrictions, so we have chosen 64 directions including pottery, woodworking, handicraft and knitting. Our goal is not only to educate people about crafts, but also to teach them to create a product in a month and sell it.”
Since Natacha’s project began, 170 people have received training and she believes that 12 of them are ready to create a product, brand it and sell it. In the future, she intends to approach the EU for further financial support so that she can expand into other regions of Armenia.
“This can become a powerful movement in Armenian regions,” she concludes. “We will prove that small investments can create big business.”
Author: Roza Hovhannisyan