Typically, one would say, “I had no idea what to expect” when embarking on such a unique experience such as the one Youth Corps offers; however, I can’t lie, I thought I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. Having years of experience with kids being a Homenetmen scout for 7 years and participating in multiple AYF camp trips, I thought I was a veteran when it came to running a day camp for the children of Armenia. I was wrong, in the best way possible. Day one of jampar in Proshyan has commenced, and I have already learned so much, in such little time. These kids, in one word, are rejuvenating. So full of life and energy, so eager to learn and play, so excited to meet new people and make friends — qualities so rarely found amongst adolescent children nowadays. They are not interested in the latest gadget or the coolest game application, but rather enjoy the simple joys of playing Steal the Bacon or ‘futbol’. On the first day, kids were already learning all our names quicker than we could learn theirs, and volunteering to help us get the younger kids in a straight line for flag ceremony. During our morning exercise, virtually all hands were flung up into the air when the kids were asked if any of them had an exercise they wanted to share and demonstrate for everybody. They would all soulfully sing ‘Mer Hayrenik’ and ‘Mshag Panvor’ without reluctance during song practice. These demonstrated qualities of eager participation and helpfulness may seem expected or standard, but if you have had any experience with young children at all, you would know they are hard to come by in this day and age. These young kids show so much promise, it’s inspiring. My most treasured moment from the first day was meeting a young lady named Aida, who is 13 years old. She has the most advanced English speaking skills from the group, which she told me she learned on her own during her free time. She has successfully taught all three of her younger siblings English to the best of her abilities. Throughout the entire day she continued to speak to me in English, regardless of the fact that I was responding in Armenian. She later confessed that she wished to have conversations with me only in English to further advance her English speaking skills. This kind of ambition and hard work was absolutely astonishing for me. It wasn’t that I expected the kids of Proshyan to be lazy or incompetent; I expected them to be energetic and clever, yet they’ve exceeded all my expectations. I thought I had come here to help give these children life and knowledge, yet that’s exactly what they’ve given me. They’ve given me life in showing me that our Armenian youth shows great promise and potential, and knowledge that our culture’s future lies in the great hands of these aspirational, enthusiastic, and intelligent young adults. I thought I had come to Armenia to change lives, but they are changing mine.
Honestly what can I say? I am living one of my life long dreams; I’m home! By now you know that we have already toured Yerevan and my group is in Stepanakert for our first week at camp.
I came on this trip knowing there was going to be a language barrier, but I knew we could overcome it. I knew that there would be behavior difficulties, but by working together we can learn to understand each other. What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional aspect. Every time I speak to one of the children at camp, I am amazed more and more. Today, there was one camper in particular that stood out to me. A twelve year old girl named Lilit. During free time I was walking around with a few of the other campers getting to know them. Suddenly, with much excitement, Lilit walked up to me and asked if she can speak English with me. Feeling confident and in my element I agreed. For the next twenty-five minutes we had a full conversation in English. Lilit kept asking me questions, as if she liked hearing me speak. Finally, I stared asking her questions to which she answered with short but sweet answers. I knew that something about the way I was speaking was very interesting for her.
Lilit asked me if I had been anywhere else in the world other than Armenia. I told her that I had been to Mexico but nowhere else. I reiterated the question to her. She told me she hasn’t been anywhere else but it’s been a dream of her’s to go to France and America. She told me that her father had promised her that for her sixteenth birthday he was going to take her to France. What she said was very heartbreaking to hear. She continued to say that even though her father promised her, she didn’t have much hope because of her family’s difficult economic conditions. All I could do was say encouraging words and I try to spark a bit of hope about her father’s promise.
Dear sweet Lilit, keep faith and hope in your father and keep dreaming. One day your dream will also come true. Keep that amazing smile on your face and continue to shine bright.
I can’t wait to meet the other children and get to know them. I could travel the world and never find another place like this. I’m home.
I’m in my motherland, but I have one small problem: I don’t know the language. However, that problem meant nothing today.
This past week we held our first camp in Askeran. The minute we stepped onto the school grounds with all of our boxes we were greeted by the many smiles of the kids excited for their week at camp.
I’m sure I can speak for the entire group when I say that as excited as all of us were while heading to camp, seeing the joy in all the kids’ faces when we arrived boosted our excitement to a level beyond what we imagined.
I’m not going to lie – after we separated into colors and met in the classrooms, there were quite a few awkward moments between us and the campers; But as we began to play games and sing, everyone began warming up to one another. I can honestly say that it is one of the best moments of any camp – when the campers and counselors form those bonds to help make camp worthwhile.
Speaking of the campers, I’ve had the fortune of working with kids back home in America, but I knew there would obviously be a difference between the children here and the children there, yet I’m still astonished by the fact that the kids I met today, my campers, were so polite, attentive and eager to learn. They know how privileged they are to be here, and I couldn’t be more honored to be able to be a part of their experience. Even though I can’t verbally communicate with them, physical interaction and laughter are enough to take its place; for me at least.
It did not hit me until we stepped foot in the Proshyan agoump; I felt a mix of overwhelming joy, zealousness, and hope. Joy because this agoump was none like any I have ever seen before; it had its own gym, filled with punching bags and weightlifting equipment, and that is only downstairs. Upstairs has its own astonishing features, such as the stone-walled conference room and the newly built dorm-like rooms full of brand new bunks prepared for our use. Proshyan is only fifteen minutes from Yerevan, and after a week of touring, mostly in the city, I became used to calling Yerevan home. After settling in at the agoump, we returned with our group to Yerevan for dinner; I couldn’t wait to get back to Proshyan. I’m sure it had something to do with us sleeping at the Proshyan agoump that made me call it home, but Proshyan was the first place in Armenia to which I felt an emotional attachment. Never before have I seen a city that widely expresses their Tashnag roots; nor have I seen a people belonging to a village that walk around with their Zeenanshan necklaces chained tightly around their necks, waiting for everyone to take notice.
We all had a great week in Yerevan and my group was fortunate enough to spend Vartivar there too. However, by the end of the week all of us were ready to start having a different type of fun. We were all impatiently waiting to finally start camp and do what we really came to do.
That day finally came on Monday, July 13. The first day of camp in Proshyan left me impressed and in complete shock. From the start the kids of Proshyan treated us with utmost respect and kindness, and welcomed us with the most overwhelming warmth.
What really got to me was when seven year old kids started singing all four verses of Mer Hayrenik, and Mshag Panvor with such strength and pride. I always thought that the Diasporan Armenian youth expressed more patriotism than the ones living in Armenia, but now I’m not so sure that is the case. I felt proud but also disappointed and wished that campers back in LA were as enthusiastic about Hai Tahd, ARF, and the Armenian Cause. I know I’m quick to judge but after one day in Proshyan, I am positive that these kids will grow up to be prominent men and women making real changes in Armenia.
In Proshyan not only did I meet new influential young ungers and ungerouhies, but I also connected with my new family- Harut, Mel, Koko, Kile, Talia, Taline, Ani, Paulina, and our group leader, Melo. Soon Paulina became my mom, and who knew Koko could make such amazing breakfasts. I know it’s only been a day but I’m just so excited to learn from the kids here in Proshyan, later in Gyumri and Artsakh, and from my fellow Youth Corps group members – truly my new family. One thing I hope to do on this trip is to make the campers remember me like they remembered past Youth Corps participants.
There are no words to accurately describe the feeling I felt when we landed at Zvartnots airport. As I looked outside the planes window, I didn’t see beautiful city lights or glorious monuments as I had imagined. An older Armenian lady sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Shat seeroom hox chi, biac mer hoxna” (It’s not that pretty, but it’s ours). She was right… There was absolutely nothing around us that indicated we had landed in Armenia but there was this special feeling in our hearts that let us know we were home. Once we got off the plane, we gathered around arm in arm, and started singing Anoush Hayrenik. Most of our group members did not know each other prior to the trip but just after 3 days, we developed an amazing bond that I cannot imagine being broken. This special bond will only make our experience in the villages that much more exciting and efficient. With our energy levels and spirits high, we continue our journey to the villages where we will really make a difference in the lives of the campers. The thought of knowing a child is happy and carefree for a couple hours a day because of our presence is the ultimate feeling. Our homeland brings out the best in us and I’m confident it will positively impact our relationship with the kids at the camps. I hope to really grow from this experience and truly make a positive difference in these children’s lives.
For starters, my name is Gasia Boghigian. I am nineteen years old and I am from Glendale, CA; a city filled with a tremendously large population of Diaspora living Armenians. I have had a lot of diverse experiences throughout my young life, but one thing has remained consistent, the love and appreciation I have for the Armenia and the Armenian people. As long as I can remember, my parents have raised me to be the best Armenian (and best person) I can possibly be. At the age of about seven or eight, I joined the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) as a badanee (junior), and I can undoubtedly say that this organization has changed my life and helped shape who I am and who I have become throughout the years. Since I became involved with AYF, I have not stopped hearing and learning about Armenia–both about the past and the present, this being something usual for most Diasporain Armenians. I have learned about our triumphant ancient civilizations, the tragic chapters of injustice, and about the resilience our people have shown as if I were an “odar” because learning about Armenians has been a history lesson all my life.
Ever since I began learning more in-depth about Armenia, I have dreamt consistently about finally visiting my homeland. As an AYF member, for several years I have heard of a beautiful program called the AYF Youth Corps, that connects us (the diaspora) with Armenia and benefits thousands of kids in Armenia. This year I will be spending my summer in Armenia and Artsakh as a Youth Corps participant and one of four recipients of Sosé & Allen’s Legacy Fellowship, and I get to meet and get to know children and see and experience the place I have known without knowing.
Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to expect, but I am anxious and excited!
I have never been so impatient in waiting for something to happen in my life. Besides the ultimate fact that I have, since day one, learned about this magical place called Armenia, I have wanted to give back, help, and do much more at the best of my ability because I want to be a part of Armenia’s growth and the prosperity of the Armenian people. I can’t wait to share my stories along the way!
The place I currently call home is in Studio City, yet I anticipate the visit to my motherland for the first time to feel as though I am coming home. I envision walking out of the doors of Zvartnots International Airport and breathing in the clean and unpolluted air, unlike that of Los Angeles. I’ll walk down the streets, entranced by the aroma of newly risen bread, and thrilled to embark on my journey. My quest will begin by visiting historical sites that I have been learning about since elementary school at Merdinian. I’m excited to finally see firsthand these landmarks that I’ve heard so much about. I am interested in interacting with the local people and getting to really know them, since all the individuals I am familiar with are a part of the diaspora. I presume that everyone in Armenia is kindhearted and hospitable, especially those who, during our camp sessions, will be preparing meals for and housing fifteen individuals they have never met.
Some have asked why I chose the Youth Corps program for my first visit to Armenia. I do not wish to stay in a luxurious hotel in Yerevan and solely visit the monumental sites of my country. I would much rather make a child smile or assist them in making a lanyard. The making of a lanyard enables them to learn a new skill, and is an item they will treasure as part of the many memories they make at camp. Knowing that I made a child smile reassures me that they are genuinely enjoying themselves in that moment. Although the children are young, I’m certain the memories they make will be landmarks in their childhood.
I am thankful to have been chosen to be a participant of this years Youth Corp family and am excited for the journey that lies ahead.
“A life changing experience” was how a Youth Corps alumnus described the impact of AYF’s summer program to me. Although the simple phrase is often overused and exaggerated, I absolutely believed him. From his sincere expression and distinct change in demeanor, I realized the program was extraordinary and that was the moment I decided to become a part of it.
One year later, I am anxiously packing for my trip to Armenia. Like many Armenian youth in the Diaspora, I have never been to Armenia and have no concrete ties to my homeland. Yet, I owe a great deal to Armenia. This country has given me an identity, family, and character all rooted in its rich culture and tumultuous history. I am grateful for this opportunity to establish meaningful connections to my homeland, and I am eager to build relationships with the children and future of Armenia.
All I expect is an adventure, one that will make me part of a greater whole. We must seize every opportunity to grow as human beings and positively impact fellow human lives. I believe it is the leaps of faith in ourselves and others that will yield the most reward. As I eagerly await this journey, I recall another Youth Corps alumnus who told me, “Everyday I wish I could go back!” I hope to return with the same sense of fulfillment accompanied by personal growth, a greater awareness of my people, and an unwavering confidence in the future of Armenia.
I attended Rose and Alex Pilibos my entire life, so you can only imagine my excitement on our first day of Jampar in Askeran, Artsakh, when a young boy came to camp in a Pilibos polo shirt, the same one I had worn for 15 years. My Armenian school uniform made its way to Artsakh and allowed me to realize that in one way or another, all roads lead to the Hayrenik. Growing up in California, in a very tight-knit Armenian community, I learned how important it was to connect to the homeland. In 2011, when I traveled to Hayastan for the first time, I was able to see the land I had learned so much about, but that void of connecting to the homeland on a more personal level was not filled because I was merely a tourist. I didn’t interact with any locals, I didn’t hear their personal stories, I didn’t experience life in Armenia, and while I fell in love with my homeland, I was not able to build my bridge to it. For that reason, I was very interested in participating in the Youth Corps program, knowing that its goal is to bridge the gap between the Diaspora and the homeland. To me, bridging meant having a personal relationship with the locals of the homeland. It also meant getting a feel of living in the homeland. AYF Youth Corps allowed me to do both. I interacted on a personal level with the kids and counselors in Gyumri, Baghanis, and Askeran. For over six weeks, I heard their stories, their fears, their joys, their dreams, and their aspirations. Ultimately, I built relationships in the different regions of Armenia that I know will not fade away.
Throughout the different camps, kids constantly asked me if I was Armenian. It really upset me at first because here I was, in Armenia with the intent of building a relationship with the local Armenians, and they don’t even know that there are Armenians who live outside of Armenia. However, this also created a drive within me; a drive to teach about how there are Diasporan Armenians who work tentatively to help the homeland and to build their bridges to it. Therefore, during educationals about the Diaspora in the different camps, I spoke about the history of the establishment of Diasporan Armenians following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, as well as the historical influxes of Diasporan Armenians throughout the last century. I also discussed the role that has been played by Diasporan Armenians to help develop and sustain our country. Through this educational, the campers began to understand and appreciate the importance of a strong relationship between Armenians living in the homeland and those abroad. Giving the Diaspora educational, my goal was to teach the kids to see me as an equal Armenian; to see how Armenian Diasporans care and work for the homeland even though we are outside the homeland. I wanted them to understand that geographic location does not define one’s Armenian spirit – one’s Hayrenasirootyoon.
Seeing the boy in the Pilibos polo, in a way, served as a physical symbol of my bridge built to the homeland. The polo was piece of my home and a symbol of my upbringing as a Diasporan Armenian. Seeing an Artsakhtsi boy wearing it allowed me to physically see the Diaspora’s connection to Armenia; how the Diaspora and the homeland are intact, bridged. I felt by seeing just how the Diaspora’s help and work to develop the homeland really does play a role in Armenia. It was the first day of camp, I did not know this boy yet, but I instantly felt a connection to him. Somehow, someway, we both wore the same polo. For my bridge built, I am eternally grateful to Youth Corps and everyone and everything, including my family and my Armenian school, which played a role in building the foundation of my bridge to my homeland. And lastly, I ask you to please keep donating to Hayastan and Artsakh, even if it is just old school uniforms, because they honestly get there and they really help the people who may not be as fortunate as us.