It’s only been a week in Gyumri and I can’t believe our first week of Jampar is over. Here we are, approaching another hectic week of activities, games, and educationals with 200 Gyumretsi kids – and I’m so excited!
It only been a week in Gyumri and I can feel how much these kids love us; how everyday all they look forward to is seeing us, and spending time with us, and participating in the daily activities of Jampar with us. We leave our house at 9:15 am and 4 out of the 5 days this week, kids have waited at the corner of our street to walk to Jampar with us. A few have even waited past Jampar hours to walk back home with us.
It’s only been a week in Gyumri, and I am completely in love with the kids here. They’re so intelligent and active and open-hearted, and I genuinely care for these kids just as I feel they care for me.
It’s only been a week in Gyumri and we’re honestly exhausted. What we do is tiring, I’m not going to lie. We’re a group of 13 responsible for a group of 200. At the end of the day, all we want is to shower and rest. But let me tell you why it’s all worth it.
One of our Jampar activities is having the kids write about their favorite part of camp in their handmade passports. In these passports, the kids document the highlights of their Jampar experience.
It’s only been a week in Gyumri, and here is why what we do is worth the exhaustion.
This passport journal entry is by a boy named Vartan. Vartan is a quiet one. He’s so well-behaved. He’s also very smart and very eager to learn.
Here’s a translation of Vartan’s writing:
“At Jampar, what I enjoyed most, first of all, were the counselors. I really enjoy Unger Sevan and Ungeroohi Carla and a lot of others.”
It’s a small note, but it made me feel really appreciated.
This next passport entry is by a boy named Hambartsum. Hambartsum is one of the most active kids I’ve ever met. All he wants to do is play soccer and hug me.
Here’s a translation of Hambartsum’s writing:
“Today in the morning we had breakfast. And then we went to play soccer. And then we came back and had breakfast again. (I think he meant lunch.) And then we drew a lot of pictures. And then I told Carla that I love her very, very, very, very much.”
Every small action of ours has a huge effect on the kids here. What was the most surprising to me was how big an effect each action of the kids was going to have on me.
The “We Are Gyumri” campaign will kick off their first event on Saturday, August 9, at Noor Restaurant in the Sofia Foyer Hall (260 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101) with a Cocktail and Hors D’oeuvres event hosted by the AYF Orange County “Ashod Yergat” Chapter from 8pm to 12am.
“We Are Gyumri” is a campaign focused on raising funds to help unite and strengthen our youth organization in Gyumri, Armenia. The initial step is to upgrade and renovate the youth offices and facilities located at their Armenian Community Center. Currently, the building needs to be completely rebuilt, as it is unsafe and is not in condition to serve as a proper location for communal meetings. The establishment of a community center will create a common ground for the youth to meet, learn, interact, and collaborate. As this is only the first project of an entire campaign, our ultimate goal is to create a lasting positive impact on the youth of the region that is still struggling after the devastation of the 1988 earthquake.
Rebuilding their youth center will serve as a beacon to inspire the children to further their social and academic aspirations. This campaign will bridge the gap between the youth of Gyumri and our AYF Juniors in the West Coast, allowing members from both regions to interact and share information and strengthening the Homeland-Diaspora bond, while also creating opportunities for the advisors to work together and exchange ideas.
The August 9 event will not only mark the beginning of an exciting journey, but it will be a night to acknowledge the work our youth is doing and to help fuel the soil beneath our feet. The “Ashod Yergat” Chapter has dedicated over a year to organizing this project and would be honored to see you at this event to ensure that our vision for Gyumri transpires and that this campaign gets the best start imaginable. The situation in Gyumri demands assistance and with enough support, our campaign will be able to serve as the source for that relief.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the United States working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
After an 11-hour drive to Martuni in a 15-passanger van filled with suitcases, smelly bodies and no air conditioning, the idea of a shower sounded like a dream. Around midnight, we were able to settle into our new home for the next 2 weeks and meet our host family. I asked where their shower was, and after collecting all my shower supplies, I was led into a 6’x6′ room with a hose attached to the low ceiling.
Inside this shower, which could also be confused for a dungeon, I put my supplies down next to a spider that was residing peacefully and turned on the hose to shower. After 2 minutes, the hose was spewing liquid fire and I had to ask our house mother to fix the water. While I was dripping wet and wrapped in a towel, she came into the muddy dungeon and fixed the water.
I came out clean and changed. I was so humbled by the kindness our host family showed. I knew the living conditions here would be completely different than back home but I didn’t think it would leave an emotional impact on me. This family has so little compared to us, yet they eagerly welcome us with open arms and give us what little they have.
I now realize that this program is bigger than all of us. As cliche as it sounds, we’re affecting these kids’ lives and the whole population of Martuni is changing ours.
We’re leaving the beautiful city of Martuni in less than two weeks and I’m going to miss showering in my prison cell. I’ve been humbled by everything I’ve been through so far. I already have enough stories and memories to entertain my family with for months. I can’t believe this journey will continue on for another four weeks and 6 days. I’m ready to explore the showers in Baghanis and Proshyan.
Let us begin by introducing ourselves! We’re three AYF Youth Corps participants from Houston, Texas. Our names are Vahe, Nicole, and Nyrie, or as our fellow Youth Corps members call us, TEXAS. Many people think we come from a land of horses and cows, but little do they know that there is actually a small Armenian community there. Right now we’re in Martuni, Artsakh. We just completed our first day of AYF Camp…and we are so exhausted, both physically and mentally. Most people have the impression that working at a summer camp with kids will be a very fun and uplifting experience. Not that it wasn’t fun, but reality set hard the moment we said our first words to the kids, and almost instantly they mocked us because of our different dialect.
I (Nyrie) have worked with kids for three years, and I was still shocked by the way the kids here reacted to us. I don’t say this to make what we’re doing sound bad. It was definitely a great experience and I look forward to seeing how these kids grow in these upcoming two weeks that we have with them.
I (Nicole) was very worried coming into today considering my minimal language knowledge. I was happy to see
that I was still able to bond with the kids even though we did not pass more than a few sentences back and forth. They showed appreciation, excitement and affection after the intial giggles at my lack of proper vocabulary. While it may seem like these kids have tough skin, it was very obvious that they also have good hearts.
I (Vahe) noticed that while playing steal the bacon, they were so enthusiastic to show us their running skills. It showed us that even though they have been putting on a tough front, they really are excited that we are here with them. A camper even asked a Youth Corps member if we were going to come back next year. We’re excited to continue these next two weeks of camp with these kids and to get to know them better.
— Nicole Sabbagh, Nyrie Kasparian, and Vahe Ouzounian
I couldn’t sleep tonight… I am less than a week away from going to Armenia, and I’m already having dreams of the kids I’m going to meet and the memories I’m going to make with all of the other ungers and ungerouhis. This is my first time participating in AYF Youth Corps. Every time I think about Armenia, I’m constantly reminded that I’m not only going to Armenia to volunteer, but I’m also going to make an impact on someone’s life.
I am impatiently waiting for July 5th. I can’t wait until I meet my family, wake up to the sun in Armenia, and be able to experience this type of opportunity. The next 6 weeks are going to be amazing; they are going to be filled with laughter, happiness and joy.
AYF Youth Corps gives you that feeling that being a part of something special makes you SPECIAL.
I’ll be posting pictures, blogs, and vlogs throughout my stay in Armenia for 6 weeks with the other AYF Youth Corps participants. Stay tuned!
Every year in April, a familiar echo of discontent and disappointment in ourselves is heard far and wide. It is during this month, when our communities become the most active, that the perpetual cynics lay it on the strongest.
Community organizations become subjected to harsh judgments of being overly invested in genocide recognition, of singing and preaching and making unrealistic demands that keep us in an endless cycle of self-gratifying protest. These echoes of discontent and disappointment reinforce the idea that we have wasted our energies on one dimension of the Armenian Cause that has become a failed strategy.
While critique of the genocide month may sometimes be tolerated if supplemented by recommendations for alternative action, a majority of that discontent is simply a misconception about what we are actually doing. This self-deprecation often comes from those who might not fully understand what the most active segments of our community are invested in.
The articles written throughout the following pages are a product of the month of April. They discuss a wide-ranging set of issues that transcend the genocide narrative. This Spring 2014 Haytoug does not submit to one unique theme, as most previous editions have had. The contributors were told to simply write about what interested them the most, and the results serve as validation that even amongst the April madness, our interests reach far beyond genocide recognition. Armenian youth have something important to say. Whether it be about activists in Armenia joining the online global community, or its government joining the Russian-led Custom’s Union; the need for modern day heroes or a better understanding of female heroines from our past; looking forward to new means of activism that breaks us out of the Armenian bubble, or recommitting ourselves to our militant roots.
We don’t live, work or fight exclusively for one thing, because our interests as well as our politics are dynamic. These articles speak to the complexity of the Armenian world, and to the fact that while genocide recognition is at the top of our agenda, it does not stand alone. These articles speak to the politics, culture and imagination of Armenian youth, however brilliant or dull they may be. These articles speak to the fact that we are in motion, we have visions and dreams, therefore are not nearing our mortality as those disheartened echoes in April suggest.
Self-reflection of our shortcomings is important, but those April judgments should not become a feel-good narrative for change. The Haytoug does not generally offer final answers or solutions, but it raises questions on behalf of Armenian youth who do not succumb to crippling generalizations.
The last few years, there have been two things that I have really wanted to do, and this summer, I have the opportunity to do both things.
The first is participating in the Youth Corps program that is organized by the AYF and has been around as long as I have been. This year is the 20th anniversary of Youth Corps, and seeing how I am also twenty, I know that this is an important year. Twenty is the age that you are at the doorstep of manhood and you need to make big decisions. I’m glad I’m going to be part of Youth Corps’ big decisions, like having a camp in Baghanis near the border of Azerbaijan and adding extra weeks to accommodate the high demand for the camps.
The second is owning and completely wrecking a pair of Converse All-Stars. These shoes have been the symbol of coolness and the sign of the all-American kid, yet I have never owned a single pair. Last week, I decided to get a pair but did not want to pay the ridicules $50 price tag that is on them. I went to Downtown and found a couple that was selling an authentic pair for $45, which I was able to bargain down to $38. I am looking forward to taking these shoes with me to Armenia and really breaking them in and testing them out.
AYF Youth Corps and Converse All-Stars are such opposites, one being selfless volunteerism in Armenia and the other a selfish compliance to constant advertisements. Even though they are very dissimilar, they make up who I am: an Armenian-American who has very strong ties with his homeland but also adapts and lives in America.
Stay tuned for pictures, videos, and more blog posts about my time with Youth Corps and how my All-Stars are holding up.