I remember my first day in Armenia back in June when a friend asked me why I came to Armenia this summer. Immediately, my answer was to help and put my values and my education into practice. Little did I realize that Armenia was the one helping me. I’ve been to Armenia twice before, I constantly read the Armenian paper and like you I would read the blogs from previous volunteers. I thought I knew a lot about our homeland and our people. Now that I look back I realize how completely wrong I was.
Living in Gyumri over the past few months has taught me a lot. I’ve learned things that I would’ve never learned through the news or through a blog or by visiting as a tourist. How can one expect to know the visions, aspirations and feelings of their people without immersing themselves into their daily lives? How would I know the needs of the children in Gyumri if I had not spent everyday engaging in dialogue with them? How would I have learned about the dynamics of Gyumri’s social relationships if I had not stepped out of the circle of diasporan Armenians and stepped into the lives of the locals.
I came here to teach children and I became a student of my students.
They have become a source of knowledge and information, teachers as well as learners. Together we explore, connect, investigate, inquire, ask questions, listen carefully, speak, and act.
But it doesn’t end with them.
Through my work experience at both the Children’s Social Child Care Center and the Armenian Youth Federation’s Youth Corps Program, I was able to meet locals who strive to work towards a better Armenia.
Together we discussed the many challenges we face and the obstacles that stand in our way. Most importantly, we discussed the future: the direction it should take, the shape it can consume and our role in the process.
I’ve also had the privilege of living with the best host family anyone can ask for. It’s as if Birthright Armenia picked the Karapetyans just for me.
I was able to take part in the engagement of their 25-year-old daughter and the birth of Nare, my other host sister’s new baby. Every night we would talk about the traditions, lifestyle and history of Gyumri. We spent countless hours talking about anything from politics to the 1988 earthquake, which still effects every individual and is a topic that comes up with every Gyumretsi I talk to.
These connections and relationships are not temporary; these individuals will be my comrades, my friends and my family for life. I know that when I return next summer they will be there, standing beside me ready to work towards the same cause. I came to Armenia thinking I would give back to my homeland but what I got in return was so much more.
This blog is dedicated to all those who wish to visit Armenia one day.
I hope that you will adventure out of Yerevan and out of your comfort zone. Visit the real Armenia, the often neglected parts of Armenia, visit Gyumri and talk to the people. You will learn a lot about our homeland, our people and about yourself.