“Chi gareli”, one of the many words I, along with many other children, had to hear this past summer at Kouyr Arusiag’s summer camp (Our Lady of Armenia). “Chi gareli”, I thought, was such a harsh word to say to a child who hadn’t finished his food at lunch, or who couldn’t memorize a certain prayer, or boys who jumped around just for the sake of being hyper, or girls wearing their hair down during breakfast, lunch and dinner. I, myself, was one of those girls who had been told to tie their hair back while having dinner, embarrassing, yes, but completely reasonable when I finally understood what Kouyr Arusiag, a woman who I came to admire and respect during my volunteer work, was actually trying to do. She was disciplining.
I am still amazed by how a woman her age manages to run an orphanage in Gyumri, direct a summer camp in Tsaghkadzor, put a roof over a dozen, if not more, families, teach, feed and clothe underprivileged children all at once. So, if you were to ask me what I learned from my experience this summer, I would have to say the love put into helping others, expecting nothing in return but respect and a smile.
I spent my days at camp teaching English in the mornings along with other Birthright Armenia volunteers, and playing with the children in the afternoons. I met a vast number of local volunteers who have come from different villages to work as group leaders and in the kitchen. I had the privilege of meeting a very large number of wonderful children who were never tired of playing and jumping around. I must admit though, memorizing their names took a very long time, but I eventually did it!
I was lucky enough to have worked both in Tsaghkadzor for nine weeks and Gyumri for two. In Gyumri, I stayed with an amazing host family, the Karapetyans, and honestly, I could not have asked for a better host family, because the Karapetyans definitely made me feel as if I were a member of their own. Being with them felt like home. I am very thankful to everything they have done for me. I now know I’ll always have a family waiting for me in Armenia.
Armenia, after this trip, has become a part of me. I now look at the subway station in Toronto, and I compare it to the Marshrutka system in Gyumri. I look at the different cars here and I remember the vast number of Lada’s in Armenia, I look at the men and women wearing suits and skirts in Toronto, going to work with a serious face, and I remember the women and men in Armenia who take their time to help you find your way when you’re lost in the middle of the Hrabarag, and most of all, I look at my pictures months later, and I reminisce on the good times I’ve had with wonderful people who have now become my birthright family.
Birthright Armenia, I thank you with all my heart for the wonderful experience you have given me. If it weren’t for you I would not have had the motivation to volunteer in Armenia, meet wonderful people and fall in love with Armenia’s vanilla ice cream.