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!