I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in Gyumri through AYF Youth Corps and the imprint that this city and its people have left on my heart is unimaginable. Although leading, organizing, and disciplining about 180 children at camp may be exhausting at times on me and my fellow counselors, it is all worth it each and every day. When I asked a few campers what their favorite food was, each and every one of them answered with porridge. I was extremely caught off guard with their replies and clarified my question, emphasizing the favorite part, because really, which American kid’s favorite food is bland porridge? But then they looked at me with a confused face, replying with the same answer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure their mothers make delicious porridge, but the fact of the matter is that their families do not have the means to eat much besides porridge, which lacks so many necessary nutrients they need in order to develop properly. We counselors have been complaining about the repetitive food at camp, craving Chipotle each and every day, but now I realize how important the yogurt, bread, juice, and hot dog we feed them every day are. The significance of giving back to Gyumri has never been so simple and evident to me.
Although we are giving to the new generation of Gyumri through this camp, the children here provide us with so much more. The warmth within each and every heart here is unexplainable. Campers who have been wearing the same pants to school every day shower us with bracelets and rings during arts and crafts. Campers who walk with us to school pick beautiful flowers from the street and pass it out to us. Campers who barely have internet connection find a way to friend request us on Facebook. Campers who are crammed into a small classroom always offer us a seat next to them. Campers who come to camp so hungry dig up a small piece of candy for us from the bottom of their pockets. Campers who have sores on their hands French-braid the girls’ hair beautifully. Campers who live in the most extreme conditions often give the warmest hugs. Campers who have not taken a single class on government have so many fresh ideas on the advancement of Armenia. Never have I ever met individuals who have so little that want to give so much.
Yes, we are providing these children with two weeks of fun, love, and friendship, but I now realize that this is not enough. The food, water bottles, t-shirts, crafts, and toothbrushes we provide them are so minuscule compared to the amount of help the Diaspora is capable of providing to the second-largest city in Armenia. If the children here are able to give us so much from the small means they come from, the Diaspora should be capable of providing them all with the brightest of futures.