It was August 2021, in peak COVID lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, where I sat in my lounge room in silence. I knew I wanted to go to Armenia again. But this time, with a different experience. By the time 2022 came, lockdowns had ended, and it was my time to leave. The excitement was real! This was going to be my 5th visit there, but I wanted to experience being wholeheartedly immersed in life, not just spend another 4-week holiday. After feeling completely helpless watching the 44-day war in 2020, I knew I wanted to help our soldiers. This was a big motivator for me on this trip. Having worked as a strength and fitness coach and sports masseuse in Australia and Canada, I knew I could assist the soldiers in some way.
Ever since arriving in early July and beginning my service shortly thereafter, volunteering in Armenia has been a totally rewarding experience. To have the opportunity to dedicate my time to my people, my country, and to bring my knowledge to help build a better Armenia is truly an experience I will remember forever. What an amazing organization AVC is, as it facilitates people from all around the world to add value to this beautiful country. My time here has been split between three organizations, allowing me to make each day count.
The Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund is where I spent six weeks working in their rehabilitation clinic, assisting with exercises and massage. Since the war, many of the soldiers have suffered amputations and are relearning their ability to walk. This was a heartbreaking experience but also taught me the absolute resilience in our Armenian blood. These men have endured horror, but the camaraderie between them, to motivate and support each other in their training is truly commendable. Many are quite optimistic in the clinic and have learnt to physically adapt to their new lifestyle, however I’m sure there are wounds internally which may take years, if ever to fully heal. My heart is filled with complete gratitude to these men for all they’ve done for our country.
The Armenian Red Cross Society was my second placement where I trained their volunteers on various topics related to health promotion. Having studied this area at university and worked on various projects in the Australian government for seven years, they felt my experience would be of value teaching their volunteers. I presented on various topics including how to conduct an information session to the community, diabetes self-care and management, healthy eating, and life skills. The aim is to inform them, so they can then pass this knowledge onto their community. With Red Cross volunteers between the age of 15-22, I was amazed at how intelligent and attentive they all were. They were really interested to learn about topics such as ecology, mental health, the environment, and much more! It made me really proud to know that the young generation in Armenia is so ambitious and intelligent.
My third placement was with the Teryan Cultural Centre, where they make traditional Armenian costumes, headpieces, silk scarfs, embroidery and many other forms of art. For me this was a special experience that triggered bouts of joy and happiness. As a traditional Armenian dancer in the Azad Gharibian Dance Group in Melbourne, I love Armenian costumes and learning the traditions involved. I also felt this was a great place to balance the other two placements. Here I assisted in making the silk scarfs, learned to sew with the machine, was taught embroidery and also assisted to make some beautiful headpieces for the dance groups. What a magical experience it was!
Volunteering at these wonderful places wasn’t just what made my experience great—it was also the weekly excursions, the new friendships I’ve made, and despite the genocide in 1915, meeting fellow Armenians many generations later, in our homeland once again, mer hayrenik.
Written by Emie Boghikian, 32, is an AVC Professional Corps participant from Australia.