Armenia? Where is that?
This was my first thought when in the summer of 2011 we started our family holiday to Israel in the old city of Jerusalem. Why would there be an Armenian Quarter in the Holy City?
Later, back home in the Netherlands, the matter was quickly solved through a bit of internet searching. The history of how Armenia became a Christian nation, the first in the world, made the link with the old city of Jerusalem plausible. Interesting to know. Question answered.
That could have been the end of our interest in Armenia. However, curiosity to know more about this ancient Christian nation, and its fortunes through the ages, kept nagging. How would the ancient church have survived the Soviet era? Are all these monasteries only ruins for tourists or is there still life among the ruins?
Our family is all about travel and living abroad – we have previously lived and worked in Mozambique as a family – so why not go to Armenia and find out what things are like today? Two of our three adult sons immediately supported the idea. But how to organize such a trip and make contact with a monastery? We had no idea. Armenia could have remained an illusive dream.
It was with the help of an Armenian internet blogger that we were able to make contact with the monastery community at Tatev. Our newfound blogger friend knew the abbot at Tatev, phoned him and asked if they would receive three pilgrims from the Netherlands. “Gladly so”, was the answer. With that response, our dream had turned into a plan.
From Pilgrims to Volunteers
The plan worked out. In August of 2015 we went to Yerevan and straight on to Tatev, staying there for five days as pilgrims. The experience was life-changing. To be part of the monastic community and experience the reality of what the Apostolic Church is going through at this moment in history, was such a privilege. We felt accepted and made friendships that would prove to last. In 2017 we went back and were welcomed as returning pilgrims. We felt a connection growing, to Tatev and to Armenia.
In 2019 we started planning a new trip to Armenia but then the Covid pandemic happened and the world stopped. When in 2022 we started thinking again about returning to Armenia, I came across an article about volunteering with AVC on an English language Armenian news site. A new plan was born: why not go to Armenia as volunteers, for a month instead of a week, and try to contribute something? This time the boys couldn’t come, but my wife Ineke would not let this opportunity pass, so we decided to apply together for a month of volunteering.
Making a Difference in Armenia
When the volunteering plan came up, we thought that pulling weeds at the botanical garden, or maintenance of hiking trails, would be interesting and nice ways of contributing. But quickly it became clear that AVC could link us with projects and organizations working in our respective professional fields: water management and home care nursing. When we were accepted as volunteers, we both received a mail with no less than ten suggestions for our appreciations, each of which would have been great. We ended up choosing two. Ben contributed to the water strategy of the Gagarin Project and supported an analysis of the Armenian water sector conducted by the American University in Armenia, the Acopian Center for the Environment. Ineke worked with Yerevan Home Care and the Alzheimer Center. We both had a great time and felt much appreciated by the teams that we worked with. And we much enjoyed the ‘esprit de corps’ at AVC, with lots of activities and great weekend excursions.
We ended up doing everything that we had hoped to do: reconnect with old friends, make many new ones, contribute something to the country, and had a lot of fun and excitement through it all. Thank you AVC. You are absolutely amazing!
And of course, we hope to be back!
Ben and Ineke Lamoree
Ineke Lamoree is an experienced nurse, working in home care in the Netherlands, mostly with elderly people. It was her first visit to Armenia, together with her husband Ben, who had visited twice before. Yerevan Home Care asked her to share how home care in the Netherlands functions with respect to client–caregiver interactions, while AHAOP (Association Healthcare and Assistance to Older People) asked her to introduce the client care system called ‘Omaha’.
Ineke joined AVC’s senior program.
Ben Lamoree is an independent water management and climate change adaptation expert with over 30 years of international experience, working for the World Bank, the United Nations and the Netherlands’ Government. He traveled to Armenia in 2015 and 2017 with two of their sons.
Serving with AVC’s Professional Corps, the Gagarin Project by the DAR Foundation asked Ben to support the development of the water strategy for their project. Next to that, Ben worked with the American University in Armenia’s Acopian Center for the Environment, sharing international best practices to support their analytical work on the water sector of Armenia.