On the dark, cold evenings in a refugee and migrant centre in Belgium, two young Armenians sat and dreamed about apple trees. They dreamed of having an orchard, of watching their future children skipping between the rows of bright, sweet apples. Thoughts of sunshine and baskets full of ripe fruit sustained Grigor and Yeva during those hard times.
Grigor left Armenia more than a decade ago, determined to make a better life for himself. However, he found himself moving from shelter to shelter across Europe. "I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I couldn't imagine what life was like inside those walls. You can't take a shower whenever you want because there aren't many. You keep clean mostly with reusable cloth wipes. The food is nutritious but boring and unbalanced. But I persevered because it was my choice, unlike many others. Some of them had a house, a job, a car, and a good life, but at a certain point, their lives changed dramatically. These were the asylum seekers. They didn't choose to be there, but they bore through it," Grigor recalls. "This is your choice," he would repeat to himself over and over again, and it would push me through the days until one day I met Yeva."
On her journey to seek a better life, Yeva had also faced numerous hardships. She came to Belgium with her mother, who had a medical condition and passed away just before they were transferred to the centre. In the midst of her grief, Yeva encountered a fellow Armenian, and over time, the sympathy and support between her and Grigor began to grow into something bigger. The dreams of their own orchard started to take root.
Back in Armenia, amidst the blossoming trees they now owned, Grigor holds the most precious fruit and kisses the forehead of his sleeping baby. "After being introduced to IOM's Voluntary Return and Reintegration program, which supports migrants in returning to their countries of origin, we made up our minds and decided to take the opportunity and start anew. We didn't want to build our new family in a shelter," he explains. Yeva agrees, saying, "Instead, we decided to return to our country and use all the financial support given to us as assistance to build our future, for this bundle of joy."
The young parents were able to find and rent a suitable house in a rural area and purchase a two-hectare piece of land with apple trees. The couple got engaged and married shortly after returning to Armenia. Last year, they harvested eight tonnes of red apples, generating some profit for their new and growing family.