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Originally posted on kohar minassian:
Yesterday, the Birthright Armenia excursion took me to the ArmAs Winery in the Aragatson Province of Armenia, about an hour away from Yerevan. It was really a relief to be out on the land with…

Being a Part of My Homeland

Meghrig Jabaghchourian
Syria, AVC 2012-2013

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I know that I was enough lucky to get a chance of becoming a volunteer with Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) for the second time. That means sharing more experience, learning new things, meeting different people.

This time I didn’t want to stay in Yerevan meet some tourists because Armenia is not just Yerevan; it is all the places from Gyumri to Martakert.

My First night in Yerevan

I arrived at 2:00 am to Yerevan, the driver told me that I had to go to Gayane’s home. When we arrived there, we knocked the door but no answer. After a few minutes a young man and a boy opened the door. That was Araz, another volunteer and he said “We didn’t know about you” Gayane woke up and said “Oh who are you?” I said I am a volunteer too and she was surprised… Anyway she was a very nice lady, and, after all, this was the first night after a long time, that I fell sleep with no voice of bombs and arms.

Gyumri

So my first step was to go to Gyumri. It is a very nice and ancient city — you touch the culture, the history, and also the pain and unforgettable sadness caused by the earthquake. I had to do something I have never done before working in an NGO called Youth Initiative Centre (YIC). I can’t forget the first day when I had to go to my work place all I knew is that I had to stop the Marshoutka in front of the old town hall. All the people in the marshutka knew that I was a newcomer and that I wanted to go to the old town hall, because I was keeping on asking the driver where we were and whether I had to get off there. In the end, he refused to take money from me. He said, “Du Hyur es estegh, patk chi vjares”

Nelly, Arthur, Gurgen, Anni, Tamara, Kert at YIC… we used to spend all the day together having lunch together which I will never forget, especially eating watermelons.  I learned so many things from them: I learned how to make others smile, how to bring joy and happiness to others, I learned how to help and love,  to create things with  small opportunities, I learned how to give while I had nothing and to feel that happiness and the satisfaction inside when you feel the people you feel their pain and bring a piece of smile to them.

Narine, my host sister, was a mother of two children, Hagpig and Ashotig — my host nephews. They were amazing! It was Hagopig’s birthday when I took him to the kinder garden with Narine all the children there knew about me. Narine and I used to sit at nights and share our issues, our dreams and traditions.

Artsakh

During my childhood Artsakh was inside me. All I remember about Artsakh is a video of the Armenian Soldiers who were fighting in Artsakh war and the songs of my Ante (she used to sing patriotic songs). I also remember how everyone used to joke of me when I was telling them I would become a soldier in the future to keep my homeland safe…

August  2012

I was told I would work with a lady called Susanna Petrosian in Artsakh Youth Development Center and live at her house. Susanna was a nice lady; I used to teach English and organize round tables discussions. I met many young people there. Susanna had three children — Valero Maria and Ovsana, who were all  so kind! Marian, who was 7 years old, used to teach me Russian words.

After 10 days I met Liliane de Cermadec , a producer from France and her work team. She told me they needed a translator and invited me to work with her. While I worked with her I had the chance to visit every place in Artsakh and be closer to my homeland. I will never forget Elada when she told me that they lost their three sons during the war. They were soldiers and the first one died in the prison in Baku. I don’t know if crying or shouting or even whining was enough to explain what I felt inside. Continue reading

New Tech Startup Founded by Alum

Meet Nigel Sharp, 28, born and raised in London, UK, and currently living in Armenia with his wife Yeva. Nigel parlayed a two-month volunteer stint into long-term employment, and recently founded his own start-up technology company called Lionsharp Solutions. The company is currently seeking investment to create the world’s first Voiceboard. ImageThe Lionsharp Solutions team (Nigel is 2nd from right)

Taken from the original piece written for Birthright Armenia’s e-newsletter http://conta.cc/10rmGaW
March 19, 2013

Deciding what to do in life sometimes takes the right set of circumstances and opportunities to seize, and of course, timing is everything. It all seemed to come together for 25-year-old Nigel Sharp, when he left his London life behind him in the spring of 2010, and headed to Armenia to volunteer.

“It all somehow feels right, having come here as an Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) volunteer and Birthright Armenia participant, then remaining in Armenia to build a three-year skill set as an IT Project Manager at TUMO, that the next logical step is building my own business with local talent,” Nigel admits. “I don’t want to lie, it is high risk financially, and emotionally draining at times, but with the right support and the inner strength of our team, I believe success is ahead…”

“Having successfully implemented and installed the technology at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, I decided it’s now the right moment to build a new technology team in Yerevan named Lionsharp Solutions. This is probably the first team to move on from TUMO and to use their skills and confidence gained there to join Yerevan’s latest generation of entrepreneurs. In many respects we encompass the TUMO long-term mission, and this step has been a validation of what we have learned from that project. The future success of Armenia and it’s people will only come from innovation and utilizing our intellectual capital,” adds Nigel.

Nigel with his Lionsharp Solutions team members are currently in Sofia, Bulgaria, where they traveled to participate in the Eleven StartUp Accelerator competition in the hopes of attracting some funders to help back this growing start-up venture. Their hard work paid off. They scored their first huge success by placing first against almost 300 other teams from around the world and successfully winning their first round of acceleration investment! They will be given seed money of 25-50K EUR to continue developing their product and get mentorship from other professionals.

“We have the belief and desire to build a company which allows us to create new technology and products – the first of which will be the Voiceboard – a new way to digitize ideas with gesture and voice capture.  Maybe our new company motto should be a take on a wise Italian proverb: “It is better to live one day as a Lion than a hundred years as a sheep.”

Post-Armenia Blues

Nathalie Kazandjian aka Nat K
(Canada, AVC ‘ 12)


The ‛Welcome Home Natty’ poster along with friends and family were what greeted me as I made my way past the Arrival gates of the Montreal Trudeau Airport. In that instant, I felt pretty good about coming home. However, as the days went by, the post-Armenia blues violently kicked in as soon as I found myself doing the same old things I used to do. Suddenly, things that seemed so familiar felt foreign and strange. It was a whole new culture shock but it was real and unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do about it. The problem was not coming home to friends and family. The problem itself was leaving Armenia. For the little bit that I was back, I couldn’t even look at my photos nor talk about it for fear of being overcome with even more heartbreak and anguish than I already felt. I missed everything and everyone that belonged to my life in Armenia.

Before I know it, I found myself longing for Armenia. I missed waking up every morning to hearing my host mother say “ Parev parev garmir arev siroon jan”. I missed walking down 58 district to catch the marshrutka, 100 drams in hand and giving my regular Parev to the locals. I missed walking home from work and being greeted by the cutest little munchkins from my neighborhood showering me with hugs and kisses. I missed finishing the night off with a nice cup of MacCoffee alongside my host sisters while watching Armenian soap operas. I missed staying up with Nvartig, my baby host sister, till late at night drawing, coloring, playing cards, checkers, chess and teaching her English. I missed going to Ponchig Monchig and ordering a ridiculous amount of food. I missed going to the khorovadz place near the OLA center and engaging into a 45 minute conversation with the cook each and every time. I missed getting a ridiculous amount of daily texts and reminders from Allegra. I missed joining my Armenian brothers and sisters over weekend excursions. I missed running in the SAS supermarket and yelling like a crazy person “where’s the Ttvaser ?” before boarding our marshrukta to head back home. As well, as Heeng dzap, Marshrukta 9, besties crew, whatever your face, tracking down wifi, Le Cafe and Sevan’s inspirational speeches among many other things.

The desire to connect to people and the joy of making the connection was life affirming. The physical intensity of the excursions was invigorating. The time walking alone, listening to my own footsteps, sitting in the marshrukta watching the sunset, gazing at the stars was refreshing. Most of all, I long for the way I felt when I was in the Motherland. I felt alive, free, inspired and grateful. Man oh man does Armenia have a way with you. Each and every day there was a goal and an accomplishment that could be measured in different ways: in kilometers, in hugs, in the number of times I laughed out loud.

Although I was only gone for two months and while nothing has changed at home, everything has changed within me. Living in Armenia, gave me a deep appreciation of my life – where I live, where I work, my family and my friends. It also made me appreciate things that we too often take for granted such as the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, weeping eyes, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

To travel to Armenia is to truly take a journey within yourself. When we leave the comfort of home and everything that we have grown to be accustomed to, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry. We tend to surrender ourselves by becoming much more accepting to the twists, turns and little surprises that life has to offer. I came to Armenia searching for answers. Instead, I left in search of better questions. Sometimes, the unexpected is just what is needed to put life into perspective.

So here I am, back to my same old routine of stop and go, impatiently waiting to graduate just to start a new adventure. All the while feeling nostalgic about my time in Armenia which can feel heavier than the far too many pounds gained abroad.

When I think about it, perhaps the post-Armenia blues is something you can never truly let go of. For it that where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

To sign off, I simply cannot say goodbye to those whom I have grown to love, for the memories we have made will last a lifetime and never a goodbye. None of this would have been possible without Birthright Armenia & Armenian Volunteer Corps. For those of you who are thinking of joining the program, I encourage you to take a leap and go for it. Armenia 2012 always in my heart.

Thank you.

Fiona Greig, AVC ’12
(United Kingdom)

Dear Birthright Armenia/Depi Hayk and AVC,I cannot count the number of times I have tried to sit down and write this final blog entry. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. I clung on to my time in Armenia through friends who were still there and then from my dad and aunt’s second trip out there. It felt very strange to see photos of them visiting places where I had been just a few weeks before. At first I was jealous but now I am just excited for the next time and hopeful that it will be the whole family.It is now 2 months and 2 days since I left and I am finally ready to finish this blog (for now!) I agonised over how to sum up my time in Armenia in a little post like this. What did I want to say? List my highlights, lessons learnt, friends made… but there are simply too many. It’s the same problem I have every time somebody asks me how my summer was. I freeze, my mouth gets dry and a million brightly coloured images flash through my mind. And then I normally come out with something stunningly eloquent like “It was good”, “really good” or “amazing” if I’m feeling particularly articulate. One of my friends asked me if it had been worth “giving up” my whole summer for. I was stunned into silence (rare). The idea that I had given anything up was utterly incomprehensible to me. Yet even then, as I thought of all the myriad reasons why I would not trade this summer for all the cognac in Armenia, I couldn’t find a way of making it make sense to someone else. So I’ve given up. I come out with random stories and anecdotes now and then but mostly I look at pictures, skype when I can and try to remember everything.

So finally I have decided to stop over thinking this whole thing and just say what I really want to say.

THANK YOU.

Thank you to the staff and benefactors of Birthright Armenia/Depi Hayk and Armenian Volunteer Corps for giving me the opportunity to discover a new country, a new culture and a new language. And thank you for leaving me wanting more. For giving me time to work out what this bewitching and complicated place means to me.

Thank you for the beautiful, crazy and unexpected excursions which were beyond my wildest dreams. For the wonderful language classes, the educational forums and the sociable havaks. For the varied, challenging and inspirational workplaces.

Thank you for letting us let our hair down at the weekends (and sorry for how wholeheartedly some of us took this offer up…!)

Thank you for introducing me to a new family who not only welcomed me into their lives with open arms and hearts but also had my father and aunt round for dinner during their trip!

Thank you for introducing me to my brothers and sisters from all around the world who I never knew I had and now can’t imagine living without. And to those of you who told me I was welcome to come visit, watch out!

And finally, thank you for giving me this moment on my return to England. I was able to sit with my incredible grandmother who has never been to Armenia in her life and show her my photographs, tell her my stories, answer her questions… and show her my tattoo :s

This is the thing I want to thank you for most. It’s not something I can put in words so here are some photos.

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