Ani Nina Oganyan
Los Angeles, USA
It has been about a month now that I have been back “home” in America. I arrived in Armenia early August to participate in a volunteer program I had read about online; something I casually stumbled upon as I was researching for a paper. Never would I have imagined that this program would leave such an overwhelming feeling deep in my heart. And never have I been asked the question “why”, so many times by so many people in my life. Why volunteer? Why Armenia? Why Birthright Armenia?
Sometimes these questions are the hardest to answer. No, wait, these questions are always the hardest to answer. The best, and my personal favorite answer, is “why not”, but some expect a better response. For as long as I could remember I have always been a volunteer. I remember volunteering to help my mom around the house and my teachers after school. At the age of ten, I began volunteering at a local animal shelter, and during the holidays I volunteered with local food and toy drives; the list goes on. Every volunteer has their list of reasons for why they choose to volunteer, but one of the reasons many will have in common is that volunteerism is a way of committing social change. Change starts within us, each and every one of us. I believe that in order for us to really see any sort of social change, we need to be the driving force behind it. Throughout the years, I have come to realize that volunteering is not only a form of giving/charity, but rather an exchange. This exchange, though it may sound selfish, keeps me sane and fulfilled. This exchange for me is where I offer my abilities and service in exchange for a challenge. This may sound like the smelliest of exchanges, but for me this challenge changes me everyday, this challenge is what makes me, me.
My family moved to the United States when I was just shy of two years old. At the time, Armenia was going through some of its darker days, so my family decided it was best to go away for some time, but little did they know that “some time” would turn into more than two decades. The word diaspora refers to a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area, according to Wikipedia. As a diaspora Armenian, scattered is exactly how I feel, day to day. There is an intangible presence that I always feel lurking by, that only begins to fade when I am in the presence of a certain people, culture, mountains, food, soil, and this small collection of land called Armenia. It is an unexplainable connection that I have within me; a connection I have heard many others refer to, and for them, it is also sometimes unexplainable. Sometimes it is simpler to just say, “It is THE homeland.”
About a year ago, I began to research for a paper I was writing. Several webpages and blogs later, I was reading an article published by the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia. First, I was excited to learn of such an organization and then I was intrigued by the topic that it covered. Soon after I clicked a link that took me to the Birthright Armenia list of internships page. As I delved deeper, I learned of an internship opportunity with WRCA through the Birthright Armenia program. I completed the online application within the next few weeks and before I knew it, I was in the Birthright office on orientation day. This program is true to all that it states and more. I learned to read and write in Armenian, which my grandfather was beyond excited to hear about, I met and worked with amazing individuals, have made life long friends who in their own ways inspire me, and embarked on weekly excursions that kept us on our toes. Literally, I, a girl who has worn sneakers a hand full of times, was repelling off of a cliff! During orientation, I was told that the office staff would be there for us, but I assumed it was just a common thing that is said in such programs, but to my surprise, this was a fact. The office staff became family and, with newer volunteers, our family grew weekly and when it came time to leave, as sad as it was, it was never a goodbye, always a see you later. I won’t cover all that the Birthright Armenia program offers, because the information is there for when you fill out your application, however from time to time I think of the phrase “the opportunities are endless,” and for me, it took this experience to really bring this phrase to life. When looking for home, a challenge, or an opportunity, I look to my birthright.