Hidden Road Initiative holds holiday drive for children displaced by Artsakh war

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The Hidden Road Initiative, or HRI, has collected about 1,500 to 2,000 backpacks thus far for its Holiday Backpacks for Artsakh donation drive, according to Vanuhi Vartanian, a campus alumna who founded the HRI UC Berkeley chapter in 2015.

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The Hidden Road Initiative, or HRI, is holding a Holiday Backpacks for Artsakh donation event to provide holiday gifts and supplies for children displaced by the war in Artsakh.

Three weeks ago, the UC Berkeley and UCLA HRI chapters started the Holiday Backpacks for Artsakh holiday drive, which ends Dec. 8, according to UC Berkeley HRI chapter founder Vanuhi Vartanian. HRI provides drop-off locations for people to donate backpacks filled with toys, school supplies, personal care items, clothes, accessories and a personal note to children displaced by the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.

HRI was founded by UC Santa Barbara alumna Nanor Balabanian; Vartanian, a campus alumna, founded the UC Berkeley HRI chapter in 2015. According to Vartanian, HRI is a student-run nonprofit organization that gives back to underserved Armenian communities.

“The reason I decided to found the organization at Berkeley was because one of my friends was a part of it at Santa Barbara, and I was so beyond inspired,” Vartanian said. “It’s such an admirable cause — 100% of the donations go to the people that need it.”

In past projects, according to Vartanian, HRI provided scholarships for students, renovated two kindergartens and built playgrounds and computer labs. The organization is currently trying to help those displaced because of the war in Artsakh.

TheNagorno-Karabakh war, which began Sept. 27 and ended in mid-November, according to Vartanian, was a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia regarding recognition of the autonomous region of Artsakh. Many inhabitants of Artsakh were displaced by the war, some of whom are now staying in shelters run by the humanitarian organization Project HOPE.

“Hidden Road Initiative is an educational initiative, so we’ve volunteered to do art projects and teach in those shelters and make sure that kids are having fun activities,” Vartanian said.

On Nov. 28, celebrity Kim Kardashian shared HRI’s Holiday Backpacks for Artsakh drive on Twitter, gaining 589 retweets and 3,600 likes as of press time.

Vartanian estimated that HRI has already collected 1,500 to 2,000 backpacks so far. She added, however, that because HRI is student-run, she had not expected the drive to go viral, and HRI is currently having trouble with shipping costs.

“The kids that we are working within the centers, they’ve lost everything — they don’t have a school to go to anymore, they don’t have homes,” Vartanian said. “We’re trying to send over art things, and we want to bring more joy to them.”

Contact Jasmine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.