You will read ...about how impossible the job market is here. And many more [blog] posts detailing diasporan struggles to find work. All those stories are probably true. But so is mine. Armenia is a country with its challenges, but you can help conquer them.
In life, you just have to use the tools you were given, the skills that you have, keep an open mind, and pray for the best. Volunteering is no different. Do it. It is a reward like no other.
Volunteering at the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia has allowed me to get some understanding of Armenia’s tourism sector challenges, of the dynamics of business development in Armenia, and of how ministries, NGOs and businesses interact in this context.
I've been hired part time as a Wildlife Conservation Consultant for SunChild and will be helping them on many projects from here in the U.S. This will also include some business trips back to Armenia in the near future. This truly is an amazing opportunity and one that I would have NEVER been offered had I not come to Armenia through AVC and Birthright Armenia.
AVC volunteers turned spring into a season full of community service, complementing the service they already bring as part of volunteering in Armenia.
Early this spring, AVC volunteers helped paint a classroom and hallways at the middle school in Nor Kyugh, a village just outside of Yerevan where students from the SOS-Children's village attend school. Volunteers and students from the school also helped clean the school grounds. This community service project helped beautify the areas where the children spend their time, both indoors and outdoors and provided an opportunity for volunteers to give back and learn about the SOS-Children’s Village and their involvement in the community.
“I enjoyed learning about the SOS-Children’s village by painting with fellow volunteers, students from the school, and staff from the SOS-Children’s village,” said Vicken Muradian from France, who took a three month break in between jobs in China and France to volunteer at the National Competitiveness Foundation. “This was a great way to compliment my main volunteer service.”
In early April, volunteers helped clean the gardens at Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Education Center in Gyumri, an AVC volunteer placement site.
“I enjoyed helping the Center with some spring cleaning and preparation,” said Dawn Huckelbridge from the United States, who volunteered in Armenia for two months, splitting her time between the Women’s Resource Center and the International Center for Human Development “It was especially meaningful because we had an opportunity to learn about the Center and the work it does in Gyumri.”
On April 27, volunteers joined the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (also known as SunChild) for the second year in a row to help recycle the flowers laid at the Tsitsenakaberd Armenian Genocide memorial on April 24. The flower petals are used to make recycled paper which the Genocide Museum uses for invitations and cards.
“Recycling flowers was a meaningful experience for me,” stated Meredith Derian-Toth from Michigan. “I was happy to help an organization that is forward thinking in their approach towards recycling. I hope this is a small step in the direction of a country-wide program." Derian-Toth is spending three months volunteering with Bars Media and the Seda Ghazaryan Memorial Foundation.
But that isn’t all.
During a May excursion to Artsakh organized by Birthright Armenia, AVC volunteers, alumni, and Birthright Armenia participants spent the day painting classrooms at the Daniel Ghazaryan Music School in Shushi. Volunteers painted three classrooms after which they challenged some of the students to a game of football, basketball and other games.
“Painting classrooms a warm orange color at the school in Shushi was very rewarding. It really meant a lot to me because I was able to do something tangible for the Artsakh community in a small way,” stated volunteer Nathalie Demirjian (USA), who volunteered at Knyazyan & Partners, a law firm specializing in intellectual property. “The children at this school are the future of Artsakh and Shushi, so making sure they have a warm learning environment is really important!”
Serving Armenia through volunteerism and enhancing a culture of service in Armenia is AVC’s mission. Volunteers do this not only through their specific volunteer placement but also through organizing and participating in community service projects.
In observance of International Volunteer Day, on Saturday, December 5, the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) organized “One Day for Yerevan”, the first of a series of community service projects bringing together volunteers who give one day for various projects throughout Armenia.
One hundred volunteers came together to clean Tsitsernakabert Park and the surrounding areas. Tsitsernakabert Park includes the memorial in remembrance of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, a significant landmark which attracts many tourists and foreign diplomats, but also an area of Yerevan that has historically been polluted with common waste.
Joining AVC volunteers in “One Day for Yerevan” were volunteers from a wide range of organizations including the Brusov Linguistics Institute, Armenia Caritas, Professionals for Civil Society and Aquatics Armenia. Volunteers cleaned throughout the day ending at the Pyunic Association for the Disabled, where a Christmas tree was put up for Pyunic’s beneficiaries. In support of efforts to protect the planet, the Christmas tree was potted and will be re-planted in the spring.
One of the first questions any newcomer to Armenia has to answer is ‘why are you here?’ This question is not asked to make small talk, as it might be in any well-traveled tourist destination of the world; on the part of the asker, an Armenian from Armenia, the question comes with sincere curiosity.
Of course, many people come to Armenia to see the church at Etchmiadzin, to visit ancient sites and to bring their school books to life before returning home, happy to know that Armenia is real and independent and available for future visitation. Others come to stay a little longer and involve themselves in the life of the country.
Let’s take a look at some of the current AVC volunteers to construct one possible answer.
This was a great experience. Without a doubt, it is now part of my life and who I am.
Volunteering in Armenia made me connect with the Homeland on a deeper level. Sure, it's great doing the touristy stuff, speaking the language, enjoying the scenery, the food.. [but] lending a hand - no matter how small ... might not have seemed like much at the time, but it certainly aided me in realizing my place in all of this, and how I could possibly fit in.
I was able to live and work in Armenia for one and a half years...I am a better man and a better Armenian.
Spring really is a busy time of year here in Armenia!
AVC volunteers have been volunteering—but not only at placement sites.
During the month of April AVC volunteers dug holes, planted trees, swabbed mouths, and de-petaled flowers.
On Saturday, April 17, AVC volunteers and Birthright Armenia participants and staff traveled to Yeghegnadzor in the Vayots Dzor region where they joined the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets in Republic of Armenia (FPWC) in planting trees at School Number 1 for Earth Day.
This summer, I had the incredible privilege of living, working, and experiencing life in Armenia.
It was rewarding in many ways. I think I have changed as a person. I don’t take anything for granted. I appreciate what I have. I know my strengths. I know my limit. I have found what I was looking for, for so many years, like where I belong.
Just finished my volunteering service with AVC a few weeks ago and have just returned to Yerevan from London yesterday, Volunteering has helped me find a good job here in Armenia where I feel that a difference can be made.
I've been an AVC volunteer for a little over a month now, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.
So looking back on my experience, I would have to say that it was a good one… I learned a lot, I was able to see what the real Armenia is all about, I was able to live amongst the people and share their problems and joys, I was able to understand the culture better, and I was able to give something back, however small or large, to my “motherland”.
I realize that, regardless of where I come from, what traditions I grew up in, or how different I am, I go to sleep at night knowing that I have finally found my way back home.
And while AVC brought me here to "come move mountains," I didn't quite realize that there would a couple to climb before I got to the less stationary ones. Luckily I don't mind hiking.
I hope to return in a few years as a young doctor.
My experience was more than I expected and could have asked for. It was humbling and rewarding while it also changed my view on volunteerism at the same time. There need not be a material outcome from your efforts as a volunteer; it may show itself as a change within you, a change within someone else or simply a learning experience. Mine was a bit of all of those.
Forty three volunteers, from 21-55 years of age, came to Armenia this summer from Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Greece, United Kingdom, France, Jordan, and the United States.
They served in the governmental, private and non-profit sectors at organizations including, but not limited to, Gyumri IT Center, Historic Armenian Houses, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, Gyumri Healthy Center, Caritas Armenia, Civilitas Foundation, Manana Youth Center, TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, Erebuni Hospital, ReAnimania Yerevan International Animation Film Festival, National Competitiveness Foundation, Journalists Club Asparez, Shirak Regional Museum of Archeology, Center for Health Services Research, American University of Armenia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic, and the list goes on.
AVC volunteers participateed in the launch and work of an innovative new coalition working to support and sustain Armenia’s artisans.
Launched in 2010, Homeland Handicrafts is an entirely voluntary organization which focuses on helping artisans develop and promote products, primarily creating jobs for women in rural communities. The nonprofit was established by Timothy Straight, the honorary consul of Finland and Norway in Armenia, who is also a product developer for a women’s cooperative in Sri Lanka.
Homeland Handicrafts helps Armenian artisans create marketable handicraft products by drawing elements from samples of the artisans’ work and providing feedback on colors, design, materials and construction. The products are promoted through Facebook, the Homeland Handicrafts’ website, outdoor festivals and fairs.
In observance of International Volunteer Day, on December 5, 2010, the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) organized, “One More Day for Yerevan,” a partial Yerevan city clean to help keep the city clean and enhance a community of engaged citizens.
Joining AVC volunteers in observing International Volunteer Day were volunteers from a wide range of organizations including the Armenian Red Cross Society, Eurasia International University, Professionals for Civil Society, and the Manana Youth Center—where AVC volunteer Sima Cunningham (USA) was serving.
Sima spent three months utilizing her musical talents to creatively teach English at the Manana Youth Center and she encouraged her students to spend the day volunteering with AVC.