(Wayne, PA, USA)
For any university student, summer vacation is probably the best time of the year as it provides a solid three months of relaxation as well as a small burst of independence from books and school responsibility. The hardest decision to make during a summer vacation is what to do
with it. Entering my junior year as a pre-med student, I was contemplating the usual pre-med summer activities, such as performing laboratory research or volunteering at a hospital. I considered all these options and almost went ahead with an eight week lab internship. In short, this would have been the biggest mistake of my life. Instead, I scrapped my laboratory job and set aside two months of my summer to volunteer at the Our Lady of Armenia Camp in Tsaghkadzor, sponsored by Birthright Armenia.
First and foremost, my reason for going to Armenia was to visit the country that I consider to be my homeland. Let me describe precisely why I decided to volunteer at the OLA summer camp. For the first 11 years of my schooling [preK-8], I attended the Armenian Sisters’ Academy run by the Armenian Sisters’ of the Immaculate Conception. It was at that school where I was able to fully develop my Armenian identity. The tangible elements such as language, history, and religious instruction helped form who I am today. However, there is much below the surface. The loving environment provided by the Sisters allowed me to regard them as family. So, there really was no question as to where I would volunteer my time in Armenia – I would try my best to help volunteer with the Sisters and help their mission in Armenia.
At the camp, job options were almost limitless. I spent my two months as a dentist’s assistant/translator, as well as an English, French, and Gym teacher. Each job taught me something new about Armenia, its children, and about myself. I could write individual travelogues about each one of these experiences. For this entry, I will focus on my first two weeks as a dentist’s assistant…
At first, I thought that the duties of a dentist’s assistant would entail watching from the sidelines and doing odd jobs here and there. I even thought that I would witness just a few fillings and basic dental cleaning. From my first day on the job, I realized this simply was not the case. The majority of children had at least three cavities. Some teeth were almost unrecognizable and completely decayed making oral infection a real threat to their general health. In short, there was a real need to help these children.
Every day after breakfast work would begin. “Peran’t patz…peran’t pageh…peran’t mi kich pageh…etc..” On average, we pulled about 10 teeth a day and did just about as many fillings. In addition to this work, the dentist and I cosmetically fixed crooked and unsightly teeth for four individuals. The most surprising bit about all this work was the fearlessness of the children. Ranging from the age of 7-14, out of the about 60 children we looked at, only one gave us a
hard time (…and even she wasn’t too bad). The site of a large needle even gives me the chills today, but not these kids. 1…2…3 teeth pulled, and these kids were still unbothered. They genuinely appreciated the work being done for them and never gave us a hard time.
All in all, my decision to work in Armenia this summer as opposed to a standard American internship proved to be much more personally rewarding. I gained first-hand dental experience while being given the experience to visit and help my homeland.