Nearly six weeks ago, one of my closest friends asked me, “Gareen, why are you wasting your summer in Armenia working on a day camp?” and I didn’t have an answer. To be honest, I was completely going back on my decision of joining the program. I had just finished my freshman year of college and began having doubts because the typical college student would be spending their summer creating fun memories with friends and family. I had never spent more than a week away from home, and I don’t like being put into uncomfortable situations like sharing a small space with a large group of people. To sum it all up, I began having strong anxiety about my decision and started to doubt my ability to spend six week with strangers, working with kids and taking care of myself in another country so far from home.
My summer has passed and I am now confident in my reasoning for joining AYF Youth Corps. I knew in my heart that this was an opportunity for me to grow, but my definition of growing up has completely changed. I had imagined that growing up would mean changing who I was, becoming a serious person, with more responsibilities and less sense of humor. But now I know that growing up means many other things, lessons that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else, doing anything else.
Growing up means putting another’s needs before your own. I used to feel like my problems were so large and so overwhelming, as if it were the end of my world. Who was I kidding? The kids in Artsakh are facing a potential war in their backyard, which could change their entire lives. There were kids in Baghanis who could hear gunfire at night but came to camp every day with a smile on their faces, and suddenly my problems seemed irrelevant. I may have problems close to the heart, but these kids are full of resilience. In the six weeks I have spent with local Armenian kids, not one complaint and not one tear.
Growing up means being able to not only trust yourself, but others as well. Our campers open up to us with so much, and believe in us to teach them about Armenian pride. They express their vulnerabilities, talking about fears and dreams, and trust that we will take care of them and befriend them no matter what. They have taught me to trust myself in giving them all that they need, because they have never expressed anything other than gratitude.
Growing up means accepting yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Six weeks ago, if I had seen one of my campers back home, I would not have been able to see past their exterior. In Armenia, I have learned that it takes time to see people’s true beauty, inside and out. Not only were the kids comfortable in their own skin, but also my co-counselors and I have learned so much about the value of people and the definition of beauty.
Growing up means having more responsibilities and learning how to adapt to certain environments, and I have definitely gained that experience. But one important realization that was taught to me by my campers was that growing up and maturing has nothing to do with changing yourself. The children in Armenia and Artsakh brought back the child in me and I have been reliving my childhood with them. The happiness in winning a competition, the anger and disappointment in losing to a better team, the sympathy when someone gets hurt, the excitement of learning new English words, and finally, the innocence in feeling and being completely carefree.
Now I know that growing up means appreciating the beauty in life and being grateful for everything we have. I feel different than the person I was six weeks ago and am content and truly happy, in a mature kind of way. If someone were to ask me the same question now, I would have so many reasons to give and so much to say as to why I joined AYF Youth Corps.