Every evening, Melanie, Margaret, Sevana and I sit down and plan what to do with our Advanced English students the next day. We had already talked about family, school and hygiene with them, and were starting to run out of ideas when Sevana suggested we ask the students what they would change and what they would keep the same if they were president of Armenia. We were worried about whether or not we could help them with political terms or if they would even be interested at all, but the responses we got helped us see the changes needed in Armenia through a child’s eyes and the simplicity of most of their suggested changes showed some of the roots of the troubles Armenia faces.
Many of our students had worries that we would have expected to hear from adults. These children are so much more aware of their surroundings than we had expected. They share the household stress with their parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Hasmik Hovasepyan says,
“If I were president of Armenia, I would create more jobs because I want to help people. I shall create more buildings because I want people to have homes.”
Hasmik is 12 years old and has worries that I have never seen in an American preteen, who would have been more worried about the latest video game or trendy outfit.
Trash has never been a problem for us in the two weeks we’ve been in Gyumri because there is a dumpster located about two blocks away from our temporary home and we produce very little trash since we don’t cook our own food and don’t clean much, but our students showed us that trash is a huge problem for Gyumri’s smallest citizens. 13 year old Jenya Hovhannisyan says,
“I would create a law forbidding trash cans in the streets.”
While Jenya wanted fewer trash cans, 14 year old Gor Hovhanisyan
“would eliminate trash.”
We had seen trash on the streets of Gyumri, but began noticing it more after reading our students’ responses. As Unger Gevorg explained to us, there are no laws about trash on the streets, and people do not care to find a trash can, instead choosing to dump whatever trash they have on the streets.
The innocence of the children really showed in some of their responses. 13 year old Angela Apriyan would
“build parks for children and… give money and clothes to orphanages… and establish flowers and trees in streets.”
12 year old Alina Mkhoyan wants to
“eliminate criminals” and “have world peace.”
11 year old Marian Nahapetyan would
“eliminate money because people commit crimes for money and it is not needed.”
14 year old Andranick Khachatryan
“would buy wonderful footballers for our country because today football is not good in Armenia.”
But some of the most memorable responses were the most serious ones. 14 year old Gor Hovhanisyan wants
“to help for women and and laws that prevent parents from hitting their children.”
Hearing that from Gor, who is usually bouncing off the walls in our classroom was incredible. It just emphasized the fact that we learn something new about our students every day. I personally had always underestimated him and am sorry it took so long to realize his true colors. 11 year old Roza Simonyan wants
“Ararat to be ours again,”
but she had trouble explaining how she would reach that goal if she were president.
12 year old Arpi Antanyan
“would build skyscrapers and change every building [and] keep the same only the natural beauty of Armenia.”
Like Hasmik and Arpi, many of our students wanted better, newer buildings in Gyumri, which brought to light that over two decades after the 1988 earthquake, there are still buildings that need to be rebuilt and the ones that survived the earthquake are deteriorating over time. Arpi also wants to
“create a law about not smoking”
because she wants people to be healthy. In a country where smoking is accepted in almost every location, Arpi’s response gave me hope that there are still those who care about the health and wellness of the people. The final sentence of Arpi’s response was most memorable:
“I would beautify my country so well that nobody would want to leave.”
As children of Armenian emigrants, we know that the conditions in Armenia are unbearable for many people, but it was beautiful to see that there are still those who believe that Armenians should stay in Armenia.
At the end of it all, Andranick said it best, “my country Armenia is the best in the world.” It is these children with their big ideas and innocent outlooks on life who will grow up to be the changes that Armenia needs in order to live up to its full potential. I’m so proud that we were able to see the beginnings of it.
For the past three years every time I heard the song Yelek Hayer I would remember Patil Aslanian as my counselor at AYF Camp Big Pines going crazy, yelling and screaming for the blue color to remember the words to this simple song. From today on, the most striking memory of Yelek Hayer will forever remain from July 18, the seventh day of Jambar in Gyumri.
When our group leader, Vache asked us what the mandatory song for 2011 Gyumri Jambar should be, Patil and I looked at each other and said Yelek Hayer. The rest of the group quickly agreed because it is an upbeat song and easy to learn. The second day of Jambar we started song practices and as the only counselor in my color familiar with the song I automatically became the crazy song teacher, who would yell at 40 innocent faces when they would forget a single word. Throughout the week I became more and more competitive always fearing that these kids would hate me. I made one girl cry for an hour, had the mischievous boys sent to all four corners of the class and even had to start using corners in the hallway. Every day after song practice I would think to myself, why am I doing this… these kids are on summer vacation, and look forward to Jambar all year. I am being the counselor I always hated.
Today I walked into song practice with a big bottle of water, ready to yell my lungs out. To my count of yerek, chors (three, four) the classroom shook. The kids amazed me. Not only did they sing loud, but it finally sounded like they understood the song. They not only had extreme passion for the song, they also had a will to impress us. You could feel the words resonated in their lives. Following Yelek Hayer, they sang Sardarabad and Kini Litz like I had never heard before. At the end when I turned to them and smiled they started to cheer, because finally I approved. If I knew my approval meant that much I would have given it much sooner. I will remember many things from the summer of 2011, but this will definitely have a different place in my heart.
Back home, I am just a college student who makes little to no difference to my surroundings, but here, I am able to influence our youth. The future leaders of Gyumri, Armenia can be shaped during their participation in Jambar. These kids are far from ordinary, they are smart, talented and energetic beyond belief.
Before Jambar started, I really underestimated the influence of our program. These kids are not only having a good time at camp for a couple weeks, then going home to their usual lives. They are molding into better, more open-minded, and Hayrenaser versions of themselves.
My experiences thus far this summer, have already shown me that my career choice is the right one for me. As a teacher, I would give up anything to have this type of effect on my future students.