We at Armenian Volunteer Corps have welcomed over 1,100 volunteers from around the world since 2005. Even though people of all walks of life have always been welcome, we decided to launch our own Senior Corps in 2022 creating a unique environment for Senior volunteers that are nearing retirement age or are currently retired. Senior volunteers often utilize their expertise and share their knowledge drastically improving and growing their workplace or industry. Other times volunteers choose to try new things and bring their wealth of knowledge to a new enterprise, which is exactly what Silva Bedian chose to do.
Silva would spend much of her summer vacations during her youth at her local library in London. After moving to the United States and settling down in Chicago, her passion for books continued, and manifested in her serving as a volunteer reader at her own children’s classrooms. That experience led her to shift her distinguished career in IT to substitute teaching. Upon visiting Armenia, Silva’s passion for literature took her on a journey where she decided to share her love for reading and books. Her path took her from being a parent to being a volunteer reader to being an educator and most recently, becoming a member of AVC’s Senior Corps where she would continue her work of passing on her love of reading and learning to others.
Silva chose to do something outside the realms of her career and the team at AVC matched her with the American University of Armenia’s Papazian Library. It proved to be the perfect place for Silva to thrive because, as she says, “I was very fortunate to be with a group of women who were hungry for new ideas” and her experience helped her realize that “for any organization, having someone new come in and give you new ideas is enlightening and nourishing.”
While initially, Silva helped with emails, training sessions, and presentations; the impression she left behind would last much longer than the days she helped commemorate. She created presentations for significant dates throughout the year, such as, International Women’s Day (which is celebrated for a whole month in Armenia) and of course the Armenian Genocide Remembrance day of April 24th. Her time at the AUA aligned her with the libraries outside of Yerevan and so she was able to volunteer with libraries in Artsakh, Goris and Meghri; and was able to bring the atmosphere of the AUA library to smaller communities.
Silva introduced many of the reading programs “western” community libraries have, such as courses for seniors on basic computer education and incentives for children to read. Similar to some of the libraries in the “west,” she incorporated the community by going to local businesses and asking them to offer prizes for reading a certain amount of books. The bakery would offer a free ponchik, the hairdresser would offer a free haircut, and so on. The hope was to establish the library within the community as a place to go and enjoy and not be looked upon as a dreary place.
She wanted to help people realize that a library not only had to be a place where people could go freely and explore books but she also wanted people to see the world of things a library can provide besides books. The goal soon became to establish the library within the community as a “community building place.” To Silva, a library can be a safe place for kids, a place where people can get help, create resumes or find a pathway to a job, instead of being looked upon as a dreary place. To that end, Silva set her efforts on libraries to make them more than just a library.
Silva’s volunteership stemmed from trying to do something different and evolved into encouraging readership. She believes that “you should read for no reason because, without realizing it, you learn about life through reading the books and the experiences that these books and characters have.” Her disposition towards the value of books is what ultimately helped her create community centers where the people of a community can thrive and have a place to learn, host events, and grow together. As Silva puts it “there is a world of things you can do in your library other than provide a book.” She championed the core message of AVC which is “Come Move Mountains” by coming to Armenia and helping transform libraries that were once places that simply housed books into beacons of life and culture in Armenia’s communities.
By Jack Hagop Baghumian