Sheila’s Extended Stay as a Retired Volunteer

In June 2022, after a long flight from California, I found myself standing at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, ready to embark on a one-year volunteer journey. Little did I know that this vibrant and captivating city would capture my heart so completely, leading me to make the life-changing decision to extend my stay.

 

Cultural Riches and Unmatched Safety in Yerevan

 

Yerevan, a small capital city, offers all the amenities of a larger city within a compact area. Culturally, there is an abundance of offerings, including excellent opera, ballet, a state symphony, theater (in Armenian and Russian), museums, comedy clubs, jazz clubs, concerts, and much more.

The most important aspect for me is the safety of Armenia. As a single female who has always been cautious about my surroundings, I have been able to let go of constant vigilance and walk with a sense of enjoyment. I cannot stress enough how safe it feels to be in Armenia, especially during an extended visit.

 

Immersing Myself in the Community

 

Over the past year, I have had the incredible opportunity to volunteer with the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC), an enriching and educational experience. As a retired senior, my experience has been slightly different from other volunteers. Instead of living with a host family, I decided to rent an apartment and immerse myself in an Armenian community. I have found my favorite markets, tailors, coffee shops, and more. As a regular customer, I engage in some conversations, sometimes in broken Armenian or broken English, with employees who often recognize me. I have also made acquaintances with my neighbors, who, like anywhere in the world, vary in their levels of chattiness; some are quiet and others are talkers. Yerevan has truly become my home.

AVC partners with an extensive list of organizations, more than 1,300 in total. This allows volunteers to find the perfect fit for their interests and skills. Like myself, most volunteers work with two organizations, and if one doesn’t turn out to be a good fit, there are alternative choices available. I chose to teach English and volunteer at the Women’s Support Center, both of which provided exceptional experiences that allowed me to learn, grow, and, most importantly, contribute. In conversations with fellow volunteers, I discovered that they too had similar rewarding experiences.

I cannot praise the Armenian Volunteer Corps enough. It is a highly organized program that includes regular check-ins during your service and numerous opportunities to learn and engage with Armenian culture. Additional support services, such as Armenian language classes, excursions, lectures, and community service opportunities, further enrich the volunteer experience.

 

Support and Enrichment through AVC: Beyond Volunteerism

 

From the moment I emailed for information to the completion of my online application, attending interviews, and receiving an acceptance email along with a volunteer booklet, the process has been swift and the communication thorough. I felt comfortable stepping into this new adventure.

As with any well-run organization, the success begins at the top with the Board and the leadership of Arina Zohrabian and her exceptional team. It seems as though Arina and her team work tirelessly around the clock, as they are always available. The organization’s vision of promoting Armenia’s growth through educating and engaging people from around the world presents an amazing opportunity for anyone seeking a fulfilling and rewarding program.

If you have ever considered volunteering abroad, I cannot recommend AVC enough. Not only will it provide a remarkable experience that enhances your life’s journey, but what you give to Armenia will be immeasurable.

 

Sheila Syracuse recently entered her fourth professional life as a volunteer in Armenia. After graduating from Furman University, she began her work life as an educator, then moved to the culinary world where she owned a catering and event planning business, and most recently working in the corporate world for 18 years. Upon retiring, she pursued her lifelong goal as a volunteer. The daughter of a Syrian-Armenian father and an American mother, Sheila’s journey with the Armenian Volunteer Corps was the perfect opportunity, allowing her to combine her passion for education, teaching English, and women’s rights, working with the Women’s Support Center to support women impacted by domestic violence.

 

July 31, 2023