Our quick weekend spent in Javakhk was without a doubt one to remember. From waking up cramped in a small room with 12 people and getting ready in 10 minutes, I was anxious to see how this day would go. As we sat around in the car for over an hour, everyone would agree that we were all agitated. However, once we started driving through Javakhk everyones mood completely changed. I was truly amazed by the places we went today. The scenery was breathtaking.
Our first stop was at an old fort which also consisted of a suspension bridge over the river. Never in my life have I been so amused then when I watched Ani try to to cross the bridge while begging Levon to stop shaking it. After a couple other stops we went by a stream to barbecue and relax. While there, we noticed a building in the distance and were curious of what it was. As a few of us walked closer, we noticed it was an old church. We went up the stairs that led to the doors of the church and were all amazed on how incredible the view was.
When we returned the agoump in Javakhk , we were greeted by AYF members from Canada and the East Coast. We all gathered around the table and talked about different issues the Armenians in Javakhk and all around the world are facing. As our discussion came to an end, Unger Naiyri said to us, “Even though we all come from different places around the world, the one thing that connects us all is that we are all Armenian; our Armenian spirit.” Now, more then ever, I feel as though I can truly understand what Unger Naiyri said to us. Within these past two weeks I’ve spent in Armenia, I’ve seen so many different places and met several young Armenians I would have never had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for AYF Youth Corps.
To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into by signing up for Youth Corps. There was a lot holding me back and I thought that if I came, my mind would be pre-occupied and reeling with all the problems back home. I remember hugging my mom at the airport and asking her to take me back home with her. I know now that it would have been the biggest mistake of my life had I not gone to Armenia.
AYF Youth Corps is truly a life changing opportunity. The kids at Camp are not only learning something new, but we are learning from them as well. As a group, we walk to Camp every morning to find over 200 kids waiting for us. Even though it’s not easy to handle them, seeing those kids’ faces light up as we walk by makes it all worth it. We couldn’t get any of this done without our handy-dandy whistles because I already lost my voice on the second day of Camp.
A typical day in Gyumri (apologies in advance for the inside jokes)… Arek hitting us with pillows to wake us up; walking to the store because Lori wants fruit; ending Camp with all of us sitting on the stairs listening to Levon and Sareen complain about how hungry they are; having Vahe invite us to Deegeen Lilig’s party every night; begging Taleen Y to take naps with me but ending up gossiping instead; voting off Asbed first during every mafia game we play even though we know it’s either Talin S or Arin; trying to hack the house’s wi-fi (Haik Avakyan) password; talking in a British accent because of Angela; and knocking out until we do it all over again.
The bond we’ve built within our group is unbreakable and I can’t wait to continue these next four weeks.
Today was an interesting day. First, waking up to the breathtaking mornings of Gyumri’s clear skies and to the soft chirping of the birds flying. Opening my eyes to something like this was more like a dream. I truly appreciate every minute of my trip here, especially when my dream has always been to be in Armenia. Moreover, being in Armenia to do this very program fulfills a dream I’ve had for years.
The walk to the Jampar was a relaxing and funny start to my morning. The funny parts consist of the conversations shared amongst the “team” and the bond being built. Arriving to the Jampar was good as usual, seeing the kids waiting there for the start of a new day. First, we took the kids to the gym and sang our national anthem with their young, strong voices, and then back to the classes for breakfast. After eating, as energetic and happy as they were, we started our English lessons. I felt really good teaching them English, because after each word I mentioned, they repeated it multiple times and mastered it. Confident in themselves, they learn fast and help each other when need be.
The kids know their Armenian songs very well and sing in a great projected voice, competing with their friends in the other groups. They also enjoy playing soccer and are actually really good at it. I was surprised to see the ball disappear from my feet in a matter of seconds as it gets stolen by the kids. After the tiring play, we split up into our colors and had an educational to teach them the general aspects of everyday life. They enjoyed the lesson and were anxious to learn more. However, with a tight schedule, we jumped right into the singing. Throughout the whole time, I was shocked to see how well they taught each other and how their strong voices rocked our classrooms. After the singing was over, we lined up the kids in their colors and had them sing Mshag Panvor in front of their anxious parents. And that concluded the fourth day of camp.
The first few days of camp in Askeran could not have gone better. Well actually that’s a lie, it definitely could have.
First off it’s hot in Artsakh; like really hot. So hot that the water breaks often turn into water fights.
Second the Arstakh bar-bar is nearly impossible to understand and the kids just laugh when we don’t get it. For some reason they just expect us to understand that ‘oonts es’ means the same thing as ‘vonce es’, or that ‘lav le’ means the same as ‘lav eli’.
And thirdly, the kids are really cleaver and they often figure out ways around our rules to switch classrooms to be in the same color as their friends.
This all sounds like I’m complaining but I’m not. These past few days, in all honesty, have been the some of the greatest days in my life. I had often heard about the kids here, but I was able to see how smart these kids are, how nationalistic these kids are, and how open they are to learning more.
For example, today we suggested a song to sing that not all the kids knew; yet all of the kids, even the ones that didn’t know the song, were singing loud and proud. I was really able to see the love these kids have for the their country and what it stands for. I consider myself lucky that I am able to live and work with these kids for the next two weeks and experience the same things they experience on a daily basis.
I cannot wait to see what these kids will gain in the next two weeks and I really can’t wait to see what I will gain.
After being with the kids for 7 hours, I am now sitting out on the balcony, surrounded by beautiful greenery. This day feels surreal. To be honest, this entire trip feels surreal. Never having had a roommate, and now being with 11 other people in a confined space, has placed me in unfamiliar territory. However, living with these 11 people I didn’t really know before this trip, in our homeland, has created a special bond between us that keeps growing every day. This bond is already helping create memories to last a lifetime. As Ani would say: “This isn’t real life, we’re in a delusional world.”
Having been to Armenia more than seven times, and visiting rural areas in other countries, I pretty much knew the conditions under which these kids in the villages were living in. However, I never really had the opportunity to communicate or spend time with them. When traveling to Armenia with my family, I always found myself living in conditions I was used to in America. Living with a host family during the Youth Corps program has opened my eyes to the real lifestyle people have in Armenia. I feel i’m truly experiencing the life of a Gyumri citizen.
The camp for the kids is also extremely eye-opening. Talking with them and sharing stories has allowed us to bond and build a close relationship with each other, where we’ll ultimately become friends. It’s funny how much the kids want to make us, the Youth Corps participants, proud. They’re inspired by us. But in reality, I’m inspired by them. The will, passion, and determination they possess, living in a recovering, broken-down city that doesn’t offer many innovative utilities and opportunities is amazing; their optimistic outlook and desire to learn English when they can otherwise be at home playing, is definitely a trait to applaud. Though not always angels, because trust me, they can be a handful (three campers in my group peed themselves today), you can’t help loving to be around them. We’ve already learned how to manage them though. To calm them down, we threaten to not allow them to play soccer. Their facial expressions when soccer is mentioned is hilarious, and they argue over which is the best team, Real Madrid or F. C. Barcelona, on a daily basis.
It hasn’t been long that we’ve been here and I’m looking forward to the weeks that are to come. Knowing that I was able to make a difference in a camper’s life, even if its a minuscule one, is incredible. So far, this trip is unique compared to all other trips I’ve taken before. Every day I’m reminded of how extremely grateful I should be for the lifestyle I have back home, and the opportunities that I’ve been given on a silver platter. Until now, I hadn’t been able to understand the true value of it all.
I can’t wait to see what Armenia has in store for us next.
Today was the second day in camp Gyumri. Although the craziness had died down a little it was still pretty hectic. Spending time with these kids has been very interesting and has taught me a lot about the way of life in Gyumri.
Yesterday when I first met them, I knew that I had to be strict with them, no matter how hard it would be. Since yesterday was the first day of camp and we were still adjusting to the routine it was difficult to control the children, but today since we had the routine down we had a lot more structure and the day went smoother.
I have enjoyed teaching these kids and being a counselor to them. I’m slowly starting to get really close with these kids to a point where I feel like they are my younger sisters and brothers.
Overall this trip has taught me a lot about life and how I should appreciate all that I.
I am very very excited to be here now and eagerly look forward to the next 5 weeks. This trip is going to be a time in my life that I will forever cherish.
Our day started in Gyumri with 12 counselors and nearly 200 screaming campers, anxious to start their first day at camp. From ages 6 to 15, all lined up, each child was just as excited as the next. Once we split them up in to their groups (red, blue and orange), a full agenda was ahead of us. Having participated in Youth Corps in 2011, I was able to help the other participants adjust to the first day of camp. From english lessons and butt-volleyball to teaching them Mshag Panvor, getting 200 kids to cooperate was the tough part. Between the bathroom breaks, the crying, the screaming and the occasional run away child, we somehow managed to execute all that we had planned.
The highlight of my day came when a group of campers ran up to me and asked if I was Unger Levon, from summer camp 2 years ago. As soon as I saw their faces, my previous Youth Corps trip all came rushing back to me. We immediately started telling stories of the memories we shared together.
Building ties with the children of our homeland is such a special experience. An experience that is hard to put into words. A blog or a picture will not do justice to seeing the glowing smiles as the campers received simple things such as toothbrushes, t-shirts and water bottles. Day 1 was special, the next 2 weeks will be so much more.
Two days ago we took a break from our hectic touring schedule to attend a unique event, a memorial tree planting for Sose and Allen at Siraharneroo Aykee (Lover’s Park). Those who knew Sose and Allen undoubtedly know that they were immensely passionate about the various programs they worked on, especially Youth Corps; it was evident that the program was especially important to them both. After participating in Youth Corps in 2007 Sose realized that the program wasn’t reaching its full potential. It was Sose’s idea to change the program from physically rebuilding Armenia to having a day camp, which would allow participants to directly engage with the youth.
Two days away from the start of the program we spent a majority of our day discussing and finalizing the details of our daily schedule. The reality that “jampar” is going to begin finally hit me. I am extremely excited and eager to meet and get to know the real Armenia through my experiences with the youth in Gyumri. As we are about to embark on this journey, I am certain that each one of us will put in our best effort to not only do what is expected of us, but to improve the program in every aspect, as Sose and Allen envisioned.
Three months ago, I made the decision to apply to the AYF Youth Corps program. One week later, my life completely changed. My best friend was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins lymphoma cancer. It’s crazy how life plays out; one day you’re sitting and planning out your summer and the next day you’re watching your best friend go through chemotherapy.
For the average person, these type of circumstances would put a sudden halt to their life and disable them mentally and emotionally. However, she was able to find strength and take this opportunity to create a positive outlook on cancer, not only for herself, but for her family and her surrounding communities. She has inspired so many people with her fight, courage and positive attitude, and I hope one day I too can inspire others.
With her courage and strength in mind, I truly feel honored to have been given the opportunity to spend six weeks in my homeland, creating bonds with the other 23 participants, who will soon become my family.
Many of my fellow AYF members who have participated in the AYF Youth Corps program, have told me that this is going to be the best summer of my life, filled with amazing and unforgettable memories. It has been said that the feeling I get while spending time with the children is indescribable and I won’t want to leave them at the end of the program. We are finally in Hayastan and the feeling is like no other. It feels like home. It has only been our second day in Gyumri and I have fallen in love with the beautiful city. Monday is the long-awaited first day of camp and I, along with all the other participants, am impatiently waiting to finally begin bonding with the children.
My friend has given me the courage and inspiration to be a part of this program and connect with our brothers and sisters in our homeland. This program gives me the opportunity to be in Armenia for 6 weeks and build unbreakable bonds with the other participants and hundreds of children. I cherish this opportunity and look forward to the most exciting 5 weeks of my life.