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Alumni Success Story: Lorik Hartounian (MA TEFL ‘16) Advocates for Women’s Empowerment

The American University of Armenia (AUA) alumna Lorik Hartounian (MA TEFL ‘16) is the President of GOALS NGO (Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer) which aims to empower youth, particularly young girls, to become leaders through the creation of safe spaces to play soccer, speak their mind, and challenge social norms.

Tell us about your origins. Why did you decide to move to Armenia?

Although I was born and grew up in Tehran, Iran, my roots are Armenian. Around four hundred years ago my ancestors moved to Iran from Armenia. Being raised in an Armenian community outside Armenia we have always strived to preserve our culture and traditions. We have always cherished the hope of going back to our homeland. Every time I had vacations in Armenia I liked the country more and more. I could see the improvement year by year. I really wanted to be a part of it, so five years ago I moved back.

Tell us about your educational experience at AUA.

AUA played a huge role in my career choice. I liked the methodology used at AUA, the teamwork, making presentations, acquiring public speaking skills. Thanks to my adviser, I had the opportunity to spend my internship at the Women’s Resource Center. While teaching English there, I realized that those women needed to learn about human and women’s rights, gender equality, about how to defend themselves. So I decided to choose a topic for my capstone project which focused on teaching English through gender and women’s studies.

I have used the skills I acquired at AUA throughout my career. AUA gives its students the opportunity to be educated. My message to current students would be to study hard because every minute spent at AUA is meaningful.

Tell us about GOALS NGO. Why did you decide to join the team?

GOALS is the only sports development NGO in Armenia. It was established in 2015 by Peace Corps volunteers who recognized that there was a lack of opportunities for Armenian girls to be involved in sports. At first they created soccer teams in the villages where they were volunteering. After that they wanted to further their mission by founding GOALS NGO in 2016. They organized a training for teachers and invited me to participate in it. I felt empowered by their mission and expressed my readiness to help. At that time the co-founders wanted to recruit locals to continue what they had started, so I joined the GOALS team. Now there are three local members of GOALS – two AUA alumni and a student. Most of our interns and volunteers are either AUA students or alumni. AUA students are very passionate about making impact.

What was the biggest challenge you have ever faced as the President of GOALS?

We do not only create soccer leagues for girls, but also organize training courses aimed at changing the way those girls perceive equality and women’s empowerment. I would say influencing people’s mentality in the rural communities is the biggest challenge because convincing parents to let their daughters join our leagues is really difficult.

What was the NGO’s greatest achievement during the previous year?

We now have seven leagues in seven regions of Armenia with 652 girls who are 12 to 17 years old. I consider this to be our greatest achievement.

At first we had to go to rural communities, meet with school principals and families and convince them to open female leagues. Last fall we opened two new leagues in Armavir and Gegharkunik provinces upon their request. They learned about us through the social media and expressed interest.

Whenever those children tell me they want to be educated, to attend university or pursue other personal goals in life, I feel like we have achieved our mission.

What are the plans of GOALS in 2019?

Our mission is to impact the other regions of Armenia as well thereby increasing the number of current leagues and participants. In addition, I use every opportunity, every local and international platform to talk about GOALS and Armenia. I want more people to know about us and what we do.

How do you define success in your career?

I think education is very important for any community. When you educate the new generation of young adults, they will know how to form a family, how to build a career and be successful. So when I educate those girls and see the results they achieve through various activities, I feel successful and accomplished in my career.

Why is it important to empower girls in the 21st century?

Research shows that when there is equality in a community, there is greater progress in a country’s economy. I know that we have many talented girls in Armenia who have the potential to bring about change, but unfortunately they are mostly working in the service industry and are not placed in decision-making positions. But, when we achieve gender equality and people are treated irrespective of their gender or race, we would have the talented and competent women in lead positions commensurate with their qualifications.

GOALS is changing the mindset of Armenian girls. Now they believe that a woman can become President of Armenia.