I remember my first day in Armenia back in June when a friend asked me why I came to Armenia this summer. Immediately, my answer was to help and put my values and my education into practice. Little did I realize that Armenia was the one helping me. I’ve been to Armenia twice before, I constantly read the Armenian paper and like you I have read all the blogs from last years Youth Corps participants. I thought I knew a lot about our homeland and our people. Now that I look back I realize how completely wrong I was.
Living in Gyumri over the past few months has taught me a lot. I’ve learned things that I would’ve never learned through the news or through a blog. How can one expect to know the visions, aspirations and feelings of their people without immersing themselves into their daily lives? How would I know the needs of the children in Gyumri if I had not spent everyday engaging in dialogue with them? How would I have learned about the dynamics of Gyumris social relationships if I had not stepped out of the circle of diasporan Armenians and stepped into the lives of the locals.
I came here to teach children and I became a student of my students. They have become a source of knowledge and information, teachers as well as learners. Together we explore, connect, investigate, inquire, ask questions, listen carefully, speak, and act.
But it doesn’t end with them.
When I’m not at Camp Gyumri I’m with the local AYF and ARF members. Through them I have learned the similarities and differences of how our organization works in Armenia in comparison to the diaspora, the challenges they face and the work they do with the badanees.
I’ve also had the privilege of living with the Karapetyans (my previous host family). I was able to take part in the engagement of their 25-year-old daughter and the birth of Nare, my other host sister’s new baby. Every night we would talk about the traditions, lifestyle and history of Gyumri. We spent countless hours talking about anything from politics to the 1988 earthquake that still effects every individual and is a topic that comes up with every Gyumretsi I talk to.
These connections and relationships are not temporary; these individuals will be my comrades, my friends and my family for life. I came to Armenia thinking I would give back to my homeland but what I got in return was so much more.
This blog is dedicated to all those who wish to visit Armenia one day. I hope that you will adventure out of Yerevan and out of your comfort zone. Visit the real Armenia, the neglected Armenia, visit Gyumri and talk to the people. You will learn a lot about our homeland, our people and about yourself.