It is very hard to describe the anxiety, anticipation, and the emotions I know all of you may be going through on the eve of your departure. My biggest advice would be to cherish it, embrace it, and don’t take it for granted.
There very rarely is an occasion where individuals have the opportunity to have a direct impact on the lives of others, especially within such a short amount of time. As young Armenians living in the diaspora, we don’t have the connection to our homeland because it is not surrounding us all the time. Participating in this program will only give you a glimpse of the lifestyle of our brothers and sisters. This program is the first step, to what will hopefully be a long term commitment to our homeland.
You are going to learn a lot about yourself, and from our extended family back home. What you are doing is special, life-changing, and emotional. You are going to be entrenched in the day-to-day life of Armenia for six amazing weeks. You will experience one of the purest interactions an individual can ask for, when speaking, singing, and teaching the youngsters at our camp in Gyumri.
I want to wish you the best of luck, and an amazing time. Remember how proud you’ve made your fellow members here, but more so, how much of an impact you are going to have on over a hundred souls over there, as well as the impact that they will have on you.
I, and the entire AYF membership wishes you all the best on your journey.
In Common Cause,
AYF-WR Central Executive Chairman
In the midst of all the Navasartian Games’ excitement, while nearly the entire Armenian community of Southern California and beyond was cheering for their athletes and enjoying the Diaspora’s largest Armenian Festival, my fellow Youth Corps members and I were on a mission to raise as much money as we could to make our camp for the kids in Gyumri possible.
I was expecting this task to be the furthest thing from pleasant. I myself have been a Homenetmen athlete for a decade and have spent the past years at the Games doing nothing but watching basketball, eating soujoukh sandwiches, and having fun with my friends. To think that this year, I had to work instead of play, was daunting to say the least.
Over the course of the four-day festival, However, I came to realize that I would not have been anywhere else in the world (other than Camp Gyumri of course!) than at Birmingham High School for hours on end, scrambling around, trying to sell keychains, banners, books, bracelets, and license plate frames to festival goers.
Truth be told, each and every encounter I had–from the Armenian grandparents applauding my group’s efforts, to the young couple asking to hear more about Youth Corps–were worth missing every Navasartian Game and more. I can remember one encounter vividly; We approached an old man and tried to explain to him our mission in Gyumri so as to ask for a donation. But as soon as he heard that we would be on our way to Armenia in a week to volunteer, before even hearing the rest of our sentence, he took out a ten-dollar bill and placed it in my hand, followed by him placing his own hand on mine to close in the money. I had no idea who this man was, no relationship with him. I had never seen this man in my life; but at that moment, I felt as though I could be his granddaughter and he was proud of me for sacrificing my summer vacation and yearning to go to Armenia to work with local youth at a camp. “Hajoghootyoon aghjeegus” are the words that he left me with.
We ran into a few scenarios as well which were a bit silly. Someone refused to buy anything from us, and completely disregarding our mission of helping kids in Armenia, took advantage of the situation and tried selling us his product which was much more expensive than our $5 pins or $6 dollar bracelets. In contrast, one lady told us to run back to the AYF table and grab four more bracelets because she wanted to buy more, “Anything for Youth Corps and Hayastan!” she said.
The funniest moments of my first night were of some of the excuses we got from people who did not want to buy anything from us: “Come back tomorrow and I will buy from you,” one man sitting at the tables in front of the stage told us. I really hope he didn’t believe that we would be able to find him again today. “The blue beads are not lined up on this hamreech,” another man claimed. One woman told us that she would not support us because she was upporting her son who is doing a similar thing in Hayastan. She refused even when we encouraged her to support both for the sake of our motherland. “I don’t have a car,” said another man when we showed him our license plate frames.
The most inspiring episode of the weekend, however, came when we met a person known by everyone as Jhoojhoo. We met Jhoojhoo by sheer chance, when two Youth Corps participants tried to sell license plate frames to her. Rather than turn our members away or give them the $10 donation they were asking for, Jhoojhoo turned to her 3 friends and told them to reach deep into their pockets to “help the kids going to Armenia for a good cause.” And help they did, along with the 50 or so other people she introduced to our cause that weekend.
This kind hearted, energetic woman turned out to be a legend in Homenetmen. She was the Ararat chapter’s most loved and admired volunteer. Known for her unparalleled generosity, activism, and humor, Jhoojhoo had helped so many people and causes in her day, that it would be hard to come across a soul she had not touched in a positive way. For two evenings in a row, Jhoojhoo dropped everything to help us, touring the crowd with our groups, making introductions and encouraging her friends to donate all the money they had in their pockets for our mission. It’s memories like these and people like Jhoojhoo that I will never forget.
All in all, the weekend was very successful. We introduced hundreds of people to Youth Corps and raised a good amount of money for our program–all while having fun and bonding with each other. Best of all we got to meet a bunch of people who supported our mission and gave us encouraging words to take with us on our trip.
This experience made me realize how important and respected the Youth Corps program is and conversely, how vital our community is in helping make the program a reality. People I had never even met before were telling me how proud and happy they were that I was in Youth Corps.
As if I wasn’t excited enough to go on this trip before, after this weekend, I am ten times more excited.
Even though only ten of us are traveling to Armenia, I am looking forward to coming back as a huge family, unfortunately having to leave behind our Gyumri family.
VAN NUYS, CA–The Armenian Youth Federation paid tribute to the courage and dedication of Karabakhs defense forces on Saturday, July 3 with a memorial event to honor the four Karabakh servicemen murdered last month during a late night attack by Azeri forces.
On June 18, only hours after the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan met in Saint Petersburg for peace talks to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azeri soldiers attacked a defense outpost in Karabakhs Mardakert region, killing four Armenian soldiers. The international communitys failed to condemn Azerbaijan for the attack.
The memorial demonstration was held minutes before Armenian music sensation Karnig Sarkisian took to the stage to perform for thousands of Armenian-Americans at the 35th annual Navasartian Games and Festival. Standing alongside dozens of young boys and girls holding Artsakh flags and candles, Santikian called observed a moment of silence for the fallen soldiers and called on the community renew its commitment to the Karabakh liberation struggle.
Mnatsakan Gasparian, Araik Barseghian, Edward Manukian, and Paruir Melkonian were added to a long list of brave soldiers unjustly and inhumanely killed since the 1994 cease-fire, Santikian exclaimed, speaking to a crowd of more than 5000 festival goers.
The international community has been unwilling to condemn Azerbaijan for the deadly attack, meanwhile the US, France, and Russia, which co-chair the OSCE Minsk group mediating the Karabakh conflict issued a joint statement in late June calling on Armenia to withdraw from occupied territories. Rather than blame Azerbaijan for its ongoing war rhetoric and repeated use of force, the the presidents of the three countries responded to the incident by again ignoring repeated demands to include Karabakh in the peace negotiations and cornering Armenia into more concessions.
We are here right now to show our brothers and sisters of Artsakh that we are here for them, that we stand united with them today, and will stand by them tomorrow, Santikian said, speaking to the crowd. We will do everything that we can to make sure that a just and fair resolution is brought to end the violence in Artsakh so our people can live on our land, free and peacefully.
The Navasartian demonstration came a week after the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Nigol Aghbalian Youth Organization protested against the Azeri assault at the OSCE headquarters in Yerevan. The protesters presented a letter to an OSCE representative at the headquarters and called on the pan-European organization to punish Azerbaijan for repeatedly violating the 1994 cease-fire agreement.
With chapters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization. Inspired by the past and motivated by the needs of the future, the AYF actively strives to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of all Armenian youth.
In the last few months, the Armenian Youth Federation has been working tirelessly to prepare its summer Youth Corps mission to Gyumri, where AYF volunteers from the Diaspora will operate a free day camp for children in Gyumri.
On July 10, the Youth Corps group will depart for the Homeland to spend two weeks touring Armenia and Karabakh and four weeks operating Camp Gyumri. Over the course of our mission in Gyumri, we will team will work with the local chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to provide much needed services to the families of this city. You can read more about the Youth Corps mission here.
This week, we unveiled the official t-shirt for Camp Gyumri 2010. The design was chosen from hundreds of entries submitted by last summer’s campers. The competition has become a tradition for the Youth Corps program, with campers every year drawing and designing the official t-shirt of camp for the following year. Throughout the 4-week program in Gyumri, the kids draw and color Camp Gyumri as they see it, hoping that their logo or design will be chosen as the following year’s camp shirt for 150 other campers like them to wear day in and day out.
From now until the end of August, Youth Corps participants will be blogging and sharing their journeys throughout Armenia and their experiences of volunteering in the Homeland.
Once again, it is that time of yeartime for AYF Summer Camp.
Beginning on July 5, more than 700 campers will converge onto AYF Camp Big Pines for the first of seven full-week summer sessions. Armenian youth between the ages of eight and seventeen will have the chance to make new friends, enjoy the outdoors, learn about their culture, and participate in a wide array of games and activities.
To prepare for the arrival of these young campers, members of the AYF teamed up with the Camp Board on June 25-27 for a special work weekend aimed at renovating and setting up the campground.
Contributing our time and service in any way we can to maintain and beautify AYF Camp helps make the campers’ experience better and better every year, said Emineh Noravian, a member of the AYF Camp Board which organized the weekend. All the building, painting, and cleaning we do during the work weekends help our Summer Camp program run smoothly.
Over 30 volunteers came together and successfully revitalized the entire campground. Some of the work that was carried out included a new paintjob for the lodge and staff cabin, the construction of a new storage room near the swimming pool, and the organization of supplies and facilities for use in the summer. The camp was also entirely cleared of brush, debris and shrubbery.
“It was really rewarding to see the condition camp was in when we got there and the visible improvements we were able to make through our work,” said Patil Aslanian, a member of the West Valley “Sardarabad” Chapter who participated in the work weekend. “Within less than 48 hours, camp received a face lift.”
Also lending a hand to the volunteer effort was AYF Central Executive Chair Arek Santikian. He explained the importance of AYF Camp in the lives of the volunteers that participated saying, We view AYF Camp as our home and, since it is such a special place for us, its our duty to have these weekends in order to preserve it.
Similar work weekends occur several times throughout the year, with volunteers from throughout the region dedicating their time and labor to make sure AYF Camp is constantly being improved and upgraded.
Volunteering at work weekends shows you genuinely care about the camp, said Anya Agopian, a member of both the AYF Central Executive and Camp Board. Everyone who came up wanted to make sure that camp was ready and looked good for the kids attending this summer. We want to be proud of our campground so we put in the effort to make sure we can be.
Since 2006, the AYF Camp Board has committed itself to a seven-year renovation plan aimed at modernizing and expanding the facilities of the campground. A total of 13 structures have already been completely upgraded, along with all of the restroom facilities and the swimming pool. These work weekends, along with the communitys generous support, play an integral part in the continued growth of AYF Camp as the largest and most prestigious Armenian summer program in the Western US.
Most people are asleep. Where am I? Loading a 30 pound table, a pile of old Asbarez newspapers, and a neatly folded Armenian flag into my Kia.
By 8:30 I arrive at the Albertsons parking lot between Central and Chevy Chase, ready to spend the day washing people’s cars for ANY amount they are willing to donate.
As cheesy at it may sound, there is nowhere else I would have rather been Saturday. I’m proud to say the other Youth Corps participants and I worked very hard that day to raise a modest sum of money to fund the day camp in Gyumri, which we are about to travel half-way around the world to operate for over a month.
With 8 girls and 1 guy, we washed, soaped, dried, and windexed our hearts out until our arms gave out. Bottom line is, we work hard, so that we can work even harder this summer. But when you love what you’re working for, you’re willing to do overtime.
I’ll be leaving in three days–a full week before the rest of the group. Although it’ll be my 5th time going to Armenia, I have to admit I’m extremely nervous; when I think about it long enough, I start to get nauseous. I’ll be gone for 67 days, by far the longest I’ve ever been away from home.
Don’t get me wrong, Armenia is without question my favorite place on earth and I’m counting down the hours until I leave, but being away from my family for over two months makes the whole thing a bittersweet experience. Of course I know eventually I will return to L.A., but it gets me thinking about the future. What if one day I want to move to Hayasdan permanently, how will I deal with leaving everything and everyone behind? Okay okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but I can’t help but think.
Back to what this blog was originally about. The rest of the volunteers and I have to continue working around the clock to raise enough to funds for this amazing program. We shamelessly raise our voices and ask our community to dig deep into their hearts and wallets and become an active part of this endeavor.
We will be washing cars again this weekend, this time in Orange County. Please come out, support, and get your car cleaned! The car wash will be held from 9am to 1pm at the local Armenian Center at 5305 W. McFadden Santa Ana, CA.