We know you love reading our volunteers’ stories about their experience and stay in Armenia. Here is a piece from Tom Hunt, from the United Kingdom, who volunteered with AVC in 2019. Tom’s interests were quite diverse, ranging from community development to marketing and PR, and he was able to contribute his skills and knowledge to the success of projects initiated by local organizations. Read on to see what our volunteer Tom has to share!
Arriving at Zvartnots International Airport on an early hot June afternoon, I was picked up and chauffeured through Yerevan straight to the homestay I would be living in for the next month. The apartment block in which they lived did not look the most appealing of buildings, but as soon as I stepped into the flat, my perception instantly changed. A woman welcomed me with open arms, helped me with my big backpack, and led me into their small yet inviting apartment. It had a cozy, comfortable feel and would be the perfect place to shelter from the sweltering temperatures to come over the next few weeks.
The mother, who had a 32-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son, treated me with a delicious array of Armenian food each mealtime, cooking tasty vegetable-filled grape leave parcel dolma or the unbelievable Arabic meat-topped pizza lahmacun always accompanied with the wafer-thin staple lavash. Tasting these foods not only helped me understand how the country’s superb authentic gastronomy is cooked and served but also kept me full!
Starting as a Volunteer in Armenia
On the first day of volunteering, my host mum, Astghik, rushed me through the bustling streets of central Yerevan, weaving in and out of other pedestrians and past shops selling food, jewelry and clothes to the Armenian Volunteer Corps office where I got introduced enthusiastically by the AVC staff and introduced to some of the volunteers who had joined from abroad for the summer break. It was really cool to get to know people on the program who had traveled to Armenia from countries like Argentina, India, the US, Lebanon, and Australia to connect with Armenia. The office had an immediate air of warmth, inclusion, and positivity. I looked forward to spending my time there meeting other volunteers and understanding Armenian culture.
Over the next week, I was introduced to companies where I could choose to work for the next month. In the end, I decided to blog for tourist website Armenia Discovery, taught one-to-one English lessons to children and adults at Yerevan French University, and helped garden at Agricultural Assistance NGO Green Lane. Each placement was valuable in its own right giving me some much-needed skills and experience and the opportunity to interact with the Armenian people directly, which I feel enhanced my time there.
The Armenian Volunteer Corps office provided a perfect base for me to socialize with other participants, relax, and enjoy the company of other volunteers from the Armenian diaspora while also allowing me to write my blog posts on the available computers.
Exploring Armenia with the help of Excursions and Events
Saturdays usually consisted of embarking on trips to sites across Armenia with the group on the infamous Birthright Armenia-Depi Hayk bus. If I were to pick a favorite one out of all of them, it would have to be the trip we took to the OLA summer camp above the country’s primary ski resort Tsaghkadzor in northern Armenia. It allows underprivileged young children with often-challenging lives to enjoy a 16-day summer camp run by nuns who nurture and care for them in a safe, secure environment through nutritious food, developing their creative abilities, playing sports and Bible study discussions.
When we arrived, our group was given an incredible royal-like welcome from the children, who lined the steps to the school and clapped and sang as we hopped off the bus. It was an amazing moment, which will most definitely stay with me. In the shadow of the mountains and under crystal clear skies, we played football, dodgeball, and skipping for hours. My favorite memory of the whole day was the ultra-competitive relay race.
We split into two teams consisting of both AVC and Birthright Armenia volunteers and children and had to do a number of challenges like jumping through hoops and hopping with a football placed between our legs, which was fun but really hard work! We all wore our team colored t-shirts while lots of ecstatic children looked on from the side-lines, cheering and clapping the teams, creating an electric atmosphere, and increasing both teams’ sometimes-waning morale.
I also really enjoyed another trip to watch Armenia vs. Liechtenstein Euro 2020 qualifying football match at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan. Albeit in a small stadium, the home supporters’ raucousness gave me a flavor of how Armenians pride themselves on their football team, which created an amazing atmosphere. They were obsessed with their midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan who has scored 29 goals for Armenia and played 29 times for the English club Arsenal. I remember how every single home fan cheered every time he touched the ball or made a running move and the shrieks of joy that erupted around me when Armenia scored.
Finally, how can I forget the traditional Armenian dancing the volunteers (and I attempted) to do at every opportunity on trips, at the office, or on the streets. It involved a number of complicated steps and a swift movement to the beat, which looks amazing when performed correctly. I tried hard to learn the basics of the dance routines with the help of some more experienced, elegant dancers, but I usually ended up moving more like I do when I’m in the nightclub!
However, my most vivid memory was when I participated in the monthly outdoor mass dance lessons at the Cascade Complex with other volunteers on my last evening with AVC. Hundreds of people from all over the city danced for hours to the authentic Armenian music in almost perfect synchrony, regardless of age or ability, showing human unity and positivity. Taking part in the unique experience really allowed me to be immersed in and learn about the Armenian culture.
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