Two years ago when Tomik Vertanous learned that doctors in the Artsakh region of Armenia were severely lacking in medical supplies, he was moved to action.
“They were still using pillows that dated back to the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Vertanous, a junior political science major at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with a minor in health administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy. “They didn’t have suture kits. Not even cotton balls.”
With a friend, Vertanous created the nonprofit Hyer United, which collects expired but still usable medical equipment and supplies donated from Los Angeles-area hospitals to send to rural areas of Armenia. Latex gloves, gauze, antiseptic and syringes are just some of the items that Hyer United’s volunteers box up to make the two-month trip by ship and then by car.
Vertanous and Hyer United co-founder Meher Khechadori, a student at Glendale Community College, wanted their work to focus on the current economic and political situation in Armenia.
There are areas that need to be improved upon in order to make people’s daily lives better.
“Because Armenia is still a developing country, there are areas that need to be improved upon in order to make people’s daily lives better,” Vertanous said. “I really felt that this was a great way to have a lasting impact and an immediate impact. That’s what drives us.”
Supply and demand
The organization connected with a doctor in a rural area of Armenia who attends to clinics in 32 villages surrounding her own in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed and wartorn region in the South Caucus. This doctor determines the clinics’ supply needs and sends her requests to Hyer United. Once she receives their care packages, she speaks with Vertanous and Khechadori by phone or emails photos to let them know how their donations are being used.
For instance, one child who injured his head was able to make the journey to a faraway hospital for treatment because of the staples that Hyer United had sent the small clinic where he was initially examined.
“As a result he thankfully didn’t bleed out by the time he got to the hospital,” Vertanous said. “These are the impacts that drive the charity.”
Hyer United receives funding through private donations and fundraising activities. The organization holds an annual dinner and dance event, and recently organized a fitness day where people could take boot camp and yoga classes. The funds collected will go toward financing the next medical supply shipments to Armenia.
“Shipping is really expensive,” Vertanous said. “About 99 percent of our funds go toward shipping. Right now, we have a good amount of inventory so once we secure donations to pay for its shipping, we’ll send out another care package.”
The end goal: self-sustainment
Vertanous’ goal is to provide support for these rural villages until the nonprofit’s services are eventually no longer required. He hopes that in the future the Armenian government will become stable enough to provide health care services in the region.
“Our motto is to build the infrastructure of these regions and better people’s daily lives,” Vertanous said. “We’re more like a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding in hopes that the area we’re helping will eventually have their own medical resources, so they’re not dependent on us.”
Vertanous said that his political science education at USC Dornsife has helped him understand the fundamental concepts of how to foster self-sustainment when providing relief through Hyer United. In particular, he pointed to his recent course “Politics of Resources and Development,” taught by Eliz Sanasarian, a professor of political science.
“We looked at the case of Africa where billions of dollars get funneled into aid projects that don’t bring about the desired results,” Vertanous said. “People get discouraged. It’s really helped me navigate my way with Hyer United and avoid those situations. Self-sustainment for the region where we’re working is our end goal.”