Days before Camp Martuni began, I was nervous and anxious. It’s my first time participating in Youth Corps so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. You can say my emotions were running wild. On the first day of camp, when we met and started getting to know all of the campers, they were hyper and so excited to meet us. With over a hundred kids trying to sign up for camp, it was overwhelming and exciting all at once. In the midst of all the chaos, there was one camper that caught my attention, Ungerouhi Aida. She has the sweetest personality and a smile that can brighten up any room. I fell in love with her within the first hour of camp. During the first day of class, she was attentive and so eager to learn. You could tell how happy she was to be able to participate in the camp.
On Thursday morning, as I walked into school, a group of kids were already there waiting for our arrival like they do every day. As I got closer, Ungerouhi Aida walked up to me and gave me a bouquet of flowers she had picked herself. She was so excited to hand them to me. I realized that just a few days into camp, these kids were already appreciative of us. Spending this past week with them has been such a fun learning experience and has already been life-changing. Not only because of how great these kids are and that I have the opportunity to work with them, but also because I get to experience the kindness and generosity of the people of Martuni. I’m so happy I still have a week to spend with Ungerouhi Aida and the rest our campers at Camp Martuni.
I am currently sitting in Digin Lilig’s living room with a few of my fellow Youth Corps participants and I am questioning how I ended up here. Just over a week ago, I was in Los Angeles and now I am sitting in a host family’s house in the middle of Gyumri with 13 other participants who are slowly becoming family. I attended AYF Camp as a camper multiple times, but I never returned when I was old enough to be a counselor. Now, I can’t believe I am in Gyumri, the night of my first day as AYF Youth Corps Jampar counselor, trying to put to words this truly life-changing experience.
I was told that Youth Corps’ agenda would be very similar to AYF Camp’s, so what I was expecting here was not much different. Once we left Yerevan and entered Gyumri after a week of sight-seeing and touring, the reality finally hit me; I was not in a city anymore. Gyumri literally looks like a place uncovered in a documentary: a city-state filled with destroyed buildings, half-finished homes, and rocky dirt roads.
Today, as our group walked through the streets of Gyumri towards “Tbrots 10”, we found our way by getting directions from the locals on the street. Once we got there, I was overfilled with emotions; it was truly an incredible feeling walking into the school’s yard and seeing dozens of children lined up at the door to enter Jampar, an hour before it actually started. The entire experience really made my heart melt. Just through that moment alone, I knew that I was in Hayastan for a purpose: to work with and for these kids who have honestly been waiting all year to participate in our Jampar. I’ll never forget the smiles on the children’s faces when we gave them Jampar T-shirts, water bottles, and wrist bands, something that is so common and simple for us to have. It really made me realize how little these children actually have, and how everything we give to them and every second we spend with them has immense value and a great impact on them.
I am not going to lie, I am not a person who gets emotional quickly, but this was truly something else. The experience of walking into Gyumri’s “Tbrots 10” and spending the entire day with 130 Gyumretsi kids of various ages will forever be inscribed in my memory. I cannot wait to spend the rest of the week with all the great kids I met today, and I cannot wait to meet all the kids during the coming weeks of Jampar. This entire experience made me realize that if the first day of Jampar this was exciting, heartfelt, and satisfying, then every day that follows is going to be so much more!
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.
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!
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.
Participating in AYF Youth Corps has always been on my To-Do List. I’ve wanted to participate in this program ever since I was introduced to it as a Badanee. Following Youth Corps, I’ll be staying in Armenia for an additional five weeks to become a Birthright Armenia participant, as well.
Thus, in less than two weeks, I’ll be embarking on the journey of a lifetime. While I’ve been to Armenia once before, I know that this trip will be entirely different. For starters, I’ll be there for longer than two weeks, doing so much more than sightseeing and touring. I have so much to look forward to and I can’t help but be overtaken with excitement. There’s so much I want to do and experience while living and working in Armenia, and what better way to organize those aspirations than with an Armenia To-Do list as my first Youth Corps blog. Of course, I know that the adventures that wait in Armenia are going to exceed this list, greatly.
Here we go:
1. Learn to make Sarma (called Dolma in Armenia). Maybe I’ll even be able to pick the grape leaves myself!
2. Have the kids I work with in Armenia and Artsakh teach me how to juggle a soccer ball.
3. Sing a couple of lines from my favorite Sayat Nova song on Sayat Nova St.
4. Make Ճինկալով Հաց in Artsakh.
5. Շուրջպար with my group around the «Ազատ Արցախը Ողջունում է Ձեզ» sign at the entrance of Karabakh.
6. Coordinate an Armenian dance with a group of ճահել kids.
7. Ամէն առիթ օգտագոծել Հայերէն երգելու:
8. Have a memorable experience celebrating Armenia’s second independence on September 21.
9. Dance to a live Dhol and Zurna entourage.
10. Become a family with the other Youth Corps participants.
11. Write a Youth Corps blog entirely in Armenian.
12. Make very second in Armenia matter; the smallest effort and contribution is going to make a huge impact.
13. Visit Areni winery.
14. Witness a wedding.
15. Discover, and fall in love with hidden gems of Armenia and Artsakh that often go unnoticed or unappreciated.
16. To not be a tourist.
17. Learn Artsakh’s national anthem.
18. Have an incredible experience watching the World Cup championship match.
19. Climb a tree. (I’ve never climbed a tree before.)
20. Go hiking in Artsakh.
21. Learn to skip rocks at Parvana Lij in Javakhk.
22. Contribute to Armenia’s development and prosperity through my volunteer work with AYF Youth Corps and the internship I take part in with Birthright Armenia.
23. Survive Vartivar.
24. Try to buy a jazve from Jazve Cafe.
25. Return with stories about life in Armenia and inspire more diasporans to live and experience Armenia the following summer.
26. Lorke wherever, whenever possible.
27. Be fearless, be independent, open-hearted, and open-minded.
28. See Henrikh Mkhitaryan
29. Ամէն առիթ օգտագոծել Հայերէն խօսելու:
30. Have the most remarkable, adventurous, inspirational, educational, and unforgettable, summer
Throughout my time in Armenia, I’ll be consistently writing blogs and I hope that in each one of those blogs I’ll be able to tell an incredible story about an extraordinary experience I had, on my own and with the group. In time, I’ll be gladly crossing off things from my Armenia To-Do List.
I am less than three weeks away from my departure and currently mixed with many emotions. Last time I was in Armenia, I had a different agenda. I was on a class trip, I was in fifth grade, and I had just an idea of my capabilities in this country. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about returning and getting a taste of what it’s really like to be living in Armenia, but it’s a different kind of nervousness. Of course, I get emotional every time I think about leaving my friends and family, people who I have spent the past eighteen summers with, but I also get the same sentiment every time I think about going home again, seeing Ararat again, walking on the streets of Yerevan again. I am impatiently waiting for AYF Youth Corps to start, I am excited to meet my family for the next six weeks, and I can’t wait to create memories and give back to a country that has given me so much.