Having arrived in Armenia recently, Serda Ozbenian, 29, from Takoma Park, Md., thought nothing special about her place amongst the other in-country volunteers. As an environmental activist and researcher, she was ready for her own journey of self-discovery like all others before her, and little did she know about her personal role in the chronology of the celebratory event that Birthright Armenia had organized to mark its 500th participant.
Nearly 80 in-country participants, alumni, honorary board members, internship partners, and guests of Birthright Armenia attended the program. Starting off with opening remarks from the country director, Sevan Kabakian, a video collage of other participants’ comments followed, revealing for the first time the identity of the 500th volunteer participant.
“It’s very exciting to be the 500th volunteer and to celebrate this wonderful milestone,” shared Serda. “I am very thankful for the amazing opportunity to live and work in my homeland, and I look forward to participating in Armenia’s development long after my time here as a volunteer,”
The evening’s program featured remarks from guests and supporters, celebrating the occasion. Ralph Yirikian, the general manager of VivaCell-MTS, an ardent supporter and member of the Advisory Committee, said, “It’s all about believing. From day one, you strived to strengthen the link of Armenian youth all over the world with their roots in our homeland. I trust you are achieving this objective every day you greet new volunteers. Nothing makes me more proud as an Armenian but to see young faces of Armenians from all over the world roaming our cities and villages, merging with their people, and volunteering proudly in their own land. I hope the 500 will be 5,000, and why not 5,000,000.”
A large banner adorning the office wall, featuring all 500 alumni, was unveiled at the ceremony. One of the highlights was musical performances from participant volunteer Sima Cunningham, as well as the magical “Little Singers of Armenia,” both adding the perfect artistic touch to an evening that celebrated an important partnership between Armenia and its diaspora.
“It all started with Edele Hovnanian’s vision and commitment back in 2004,” said Kabakian. “We’re still young and growing, and we’re committed to do our part in bridging the Armenia-diaspora distance by offering these unique experiences to the next generation. Birthright Armenia is a breath of fresh air that is so vital in today’s reality,” he concluded.
Nyree Abrahamian, a 2007 participant turned repat, put it best: “My five months as a Birthright Armenia volunteer was one of the happiest times of my life, and an absolutely life-changing experience. You really helped me find my way towards the exciting, challenging, and fulfilling life that I am leading in Armenia today.”
Birthright Armenia’s mission is to strengthen ties between the homeland and diasporan youth by affording them an opportunity to be a part of Armenia’s daily life and to contribute to Armenia’s development through work, study and volunteer experiences, while developing a renewed sense of Armenian identity. For more information, or to make an online donation, visit www.birthrightarmenia.org.