For twenty-one years I’ve always dreamt and thought about Armenia, my grandfather, the genocide, my father. I re-lived the 1988 ferocious earthquake that took my father’s life, in my mind, over and over, and despite the gloomy childhood memories I could not erase from my mind, I always had the desire to return to my homeland, which had become an imaginary, foreign, painful place for me. After a long contemplation, I knew my work in Armenia would be useful and rewarding, thus I signed up to volunteer with Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Education Center via Birthright Armenia for summer 2010. As I reminisce of my time in Armenia, I realize how I returned with more knowledge, compassion, and bond with Armenia; how I was able to obtain mere love in a country full of misery, and how Armenia will always be part of me, however far I am.
For a period of two months I worked in Armenia with the most vulnerable kids in society, kids from both public and private orphanages. I had arrived to Armenia with the intentions of merely teaching English to orphans, however, soon I realized I was more than a teacher. I had gained mentees, and become a mentor, had gained their trust, and become a friend and a sister to them. Soon enough I was entrusted with personal information concerning their lives, and I was asked for my opinion and advice. After I worked both at the public and private orphanages, and at a summer youth camp, with orphaned kids, as well as with kids who had families, I realized how precious and beautiful all kids are, and how they all deserve the best upbringing possible. For two months they amazed me with their talents, showed me their considerate and compassionate side, and filled my life with joy, love, smiles, and hugs.
Because of Birthright Armenia, I became acquainted with Armenia, as I was immersed in the Armenian culture, language, life, and history. I was able to live with host families, in Yerevan, Gyumri, and Artsakh and got to witness the day to day tribulations of the poor in Armenia, yet encounter generous and gregarious folks, who would most of the time greet you with a smile and hug. On our excursions, with a well informative tour guide, I got to visit many important historical sites, and during our forums, we learned facts about Armenia we would have not known, were we to travel to Armenia on our own. For example, whilst in Karabakh we visited a museum dedicated to all the fallen soldiers and observed via photos, how young many of them were, and when we visited a cathedral in Sushi, we saw similar young soldiers arrive, light a candle, and pray on their feet for an hour.
We were taken to an artist’s house in Gyumri, who kindly showed us her house, her paintings, talked about her life as an artist, answered a list of questions and privately talked with me about the son she lost during the 1988 earthquake. We were taken to a connoisseur’s house in Yerevan, where we had the privilege to hear the connoisseur talk about wine, his life in Italy and Armenia and his desire to help Armenia prosper in the wine industry; We were then graciously offered to have a tasting of a variety of Armenian wine, along with delicious hors devours, and having learned that he lived in Italy for twelve years, I utilized my Italian, whilst he patiently listened and kindly corrected my rusty grammar. We had the privilege of meeting with the defense minister in Yerevan, who talked to and answered questions from Birthright volunteers concerning security issues facing Armenia, the early 90’s Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan war, and despite the current peace talks, the ongoing conflict within the region. We also had the privilege of meeting with Nagorno-Karabakh Freedom Fighters in Gyumri, seeing young children perform Armenian traditional dances, and where instead of us, Birthright Armenia volunteers thanking the veterans for their selfless acts, strength and courage to protect their homeland, they thanked us, the Diaspora, for returning to and volunteering in our homeland.
Because of Birthright Armenia, I was surrounded by likeminded, gregarious, warm-hearted Diasporans, with whom I was able to share my family history and volunteer-work experience in Armenia, as well as learn about their background and volunteer work; I was placed in enriching work sites, and after socializing/ networking with other volunteers, I was able to learn about the different job sectors in Armenia, and during my downtime got the opportunity to work at a few other interesting job sites.
Whilst in Gyumri for a period of six weeks, I felt as a local; I loved seeing how considerate and helpful people were to one another, how complete strangers would give up their seats to one another on the marshutka, how a complete stranger would take the time to give another directions or help catch a cab. Because of the locals’ warm hospitality, compassion, and generosity, I felt and knew I had returned home.
I am aware of the fact that Armenia is a small country, unknown to many people around the world, but I want everyone from every corner of the world to know about this wonderful undying country and people, and I want Armenian’s troubles to be alleviated. However, I can only reach these aspirations if I revisit Armenia and begin helping out however I can. I am more than willing to dedicate many more months of my life to learn further about Armenia at first hand, and help Armenia and Armenians climb the steps towards an improved and developed state, where every Armenian living outside of their homeland would aspire to return to, where every inhabitant would be content about their living standards, and where everyone in the world would aspire to visit, learn, and talk about in a positive tone.