(Houston, TX, USA)
Deciding to be a volunteer in Armenia took no hesitation. Minutes after my sister recommended me to apply for Birthright Armenia I was on the website writing my application. My sister would constantly talk about her stay in Armenia and I knew that I would want to have this experience.
With a Major in Business and working with computers as a hobby, the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) placed me to work in the Gyumri IT Center. I was expected to only teach computer courses in Web design, Search Engine Optimization, and PHP. As I was planning out my schedule with Amalya Yeghoyan, the Deputy Director, there was a larger problem at hand. After students would finish their two years at GITC a large percentage of students were not able find work. After hearing about this I took an initiative to change gears and help students find freelance work from outside countries. I never had experience finding work but I had worked as a project manager for a small business in Houston who constantly had their work outsourced. Working with this company I learned to look for certain things in a coder, primarily presentation. With the knowledge of knowing what to expect from a coder and what to look for in a coder I flipped things around. At first I did the dirty work for the graduates, I went out and found small projects and represented the coders. My work was greatly appreciated but this was not a solution. As cliché as it might sound, it was time to teach the fisherman to fish. I taught a class on how to find work, where to look, how to present themselves, and so forth. This was the most rewarding since the graduates where eager to find work and where successful. It was defiantly a moral boost in the graduates and future graduates, they were excited to learn more because there knew there was light at the end of the tunnel. As an effect it made me proud of them and as a result it thought me that education is the key to many doors and possibilities.
Gyumri is a very distinct city, it faced a very large economic collapse and has still not developed as much as Yerevan. It is a surprise to see citizens with so little to have so much to look forward to. Through all the struggles they have gone through they still live as happy and caring people. When I arrived it was strange to have people invite me to their homes for coffee because I was from the Diaspora. Our group in Gyumri is easily be distinguished because of the social factors such as the way we dress. None the less we were accepted as residence, all of the number 20 Marshutka [minibus] drivers greet me when I get on, a couple have them invited me to go out for a drink but I had to deny the request. In all, Gyumri is best because of the southern hospitality style they have, it is laid back but still has so much to look forward to. The volunteers who are with me here are in all, great people and without them it would have been a little harder but thankfully we all became great friends.
My homestay family enhanced my overall experience greatly. It only took a day after I went from a guest to a member of the family. I refer to the members of the family as Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister. It basically all comes down to that, we are family. My host Mom always says I was her lost son, we look out for each other and help each other in whatever way we can. My host Mom is a baker who lost her store after the earthquake in 1988 but still bakes from her house to supply pastries to a local grocery store. She always wants new ideas so one day I come home with a couple dozen pictures of cakes and pastries I pulled from the internet. When I started showing her the pictures, her eyes light up as if it where Christmas morning.
My experience here had a great affect in my life moving forward starting from a business perspective to a long lost family. To me Armenia is untouched land, there is so much to expand and so many things to improve on. The forums Birthright setup enlightened me to form a business of some sort in the future, anything from production to services. There are great people currently in Armenia but is up to us volunteers from the Diaspora to help and show leadership. The family I stayed with will always be in my memory and my heart. They are people who I have gained more than just trust and respect for, they are family. It is hard for me to in vision not having any of the two in the future.