I volunteered teaching English in a few different schools last summer in Yerevan, Armenia through Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps. I am a Canadian born Armenian. I’m a teacher and have taught in Canada since receiving my Bachelor of Education in 2007. My experiences with teaching the children of Armenia created a bond I could not soon forget. When I left Armenia to go back home to Canada, I could not see the future without the possibility and hope of returning “home”. I was conflicted between my two homes and knew I had to make a decision as to where I wanted to continue my life. My husband shared the same dream of living our life in our homeland. After a few knocks on a few doors for several months, we opened one and one year later, we find ourselves living in Kapan, Armenia.
I don’t know how this year passed us by, how we arranged to move our lives and how I am sitting in front of my laptop right now writing this in my apartment in beautiful Kapan, but I am. Through my window I am currently staring at, in bewilderment, the gorgeous and almost always veiled, Mount Khustup. When the clouds finally disappear from my view of Khustup, it’s the hundreds of hanging laundry that cover the striking wrinkles and crinkles of the mountain. Being raised in Canada since birth, strings of laundry stretching from one building to the next is an unfamiliar sight. Do I miss my dryer? Yes. But I wouldn’t trade what I’m looking at right now for any fancy appliance. I am more than delighted to be staring at strangers’ pants, t-shirts, baby onesies, socks and underwear that dance all day long when the wind blows against them. This place forces you to live more humbly. I can’t drive to the local supermarket, pick up my grocery, put it in my car and drive home. I have to walk up and down enormous pot-holed hills, buy my parsley from an old lady making barely any money in a given day, go to another old lady to buy my tomatoes and yet another old lady to buy my peppers. After making ten pit stops to pick up everything I need, it’s time to purchase the heavier items like cooking oil, jugs of water and canned foods. With several loads of grocery in my hands, I walk back up the hill to go home. My purchases nearly about to fall apart and tumble down the hill, a few scrapes and cuts on my toes along the way is common. Most of my trips related to grocery end up involving some form of injury. Would I trade it for the convenience of a car, enormous supermarkets and by the way, amazing customer service (which is a whole different story)? Nope. It may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.
I spend the majority of my time researching what I can about Armenia and more importantly, Kapan. Through such research I have found hospitals, schools, care centers and orphanages where I visit and provide my time. I work with orphans and children with various disabilities by working with them one-on-one. I am also working with shipping companies to see if I can have clothing and other supplies donated with free shipping for the less fortunate locals and establishments. The opportunities to help here are endless. There are more obstacles than one can imagine but I decided I had to start somewhere. I don’t know where this road will lead me but what I do know is that I’m not leaving any time soon. The fulfillment I get from spending time with the children and communities here goes beyond words. You have to experience it for yourself. I do not know if I can make a difference here but I will do whatever it takes to make enough attempts. Kapan is the 4th largest city in Armenia and most diasporans have never heard of it. Like many cities and villages in Armenia, it’s quite neglected. With a population of about 45,000, it really shouldn’t be. So while I’m here, I will make every effort to engage in community building, spend time with deprived children and show them that someone cares for them. Showing these children that you love them with no strings attached is usually all they need to feel any kind of self worth. Many have been abandoned in boarding schools and orphanages with no word from their parents since their arrival. Sometimes a piece of chocolate is all they need to feel the slightest bit of warmth. Spending 5 minutes and inquiring about their lives is enough to put a smile on their faces. If that’s the extent of what I do during my time here, then it’s enough for me. To put a smile on a child’s face is a privilege I just can’t get enough of.
Another very important factor which forces me to fall in love with Kapan more and more every day is its historical background. Reading history is one thing; seeing history, is another. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a group of locals who I’ve become good friends with. Many of the men in this tight knit circle have fought in our wars for the very land in which I currently live. Mount Khustup, which I described earlier, is not simply a beautiful sight. This is the same mountain that Armenian military commander, Tavit Bek rode on and fought against the Ottoman Empire to protect. Some of Armenia’s greatest heroes were from, near, or came to fight in this region. To walk on the same ground and breathe the same air that our own heroes did is a feeling one can not quite do justice by attempting to describe. I’ve met amazing people who have inspired me to my core. The men in our circle of friends have generously taken us to the edges of villages near Kapan which border Iran and Azerbaijan. They have pointed out exact locations where Azeri soldiers were standing as they fired their guns and hurled their bombs at our mothers and children. One of the kindergartens I visit still has war torn walls and gunshot holes in the windows. This school faces a gorgeous tall mountain in Kapan where our enemies were hiding and killing our children. This is a country which has been through so much pain and devastation. The bloodshed here makes one wonder how Armenia is even still around. But she is. She is glory herself and a pillar of strength and I am privileged, to say the least, to be living inside her. I feel inspired, fulfilled and reborn when the sun climbs up every morning to wake me. I feel at peace, cozy and comforted when she cradles me to sleep.