YEREVAN—Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once said, “No matter how big and powerful government gets, and the many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers.” President Barack Obama recently concurred: “The need for action always exceeds the limits of government.” The Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) wholeheartedly agrees and apparently so do the volunteers who come to Armenia from all over the world.
Forty-three volunteers, from 21-55 years of age, came to Armenia this summer from Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Greece, United Kingdom, France, Jordan, and the United States. They served in governmental, private and non-profit sectors including, but not limited to, the Gyumri IT Center, Historic Armenian Houses, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets, Gyumri Healthy Center, Caritas Armenia, Civilitas Foundation, Manana Youth Center, TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, Erebuni Hospital, ReAnimania Yerevan International Animation Film Festival, National Competitiveness Foundation, Journalists Club Asparez, Shirak Regional Museum of Archeology, Center for Health Services Research, American University of Armenia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic, and the list goes on.
Shogher Demirdjian-Jabrayan, 30, and Nayiri Panossian, 28, both teachers, spent their summers here in Yerevan teaching English. Shogher spent seven weeks at the Mascedan Foreign Languages Educational Centre and the Pyunic Association for the Disabled teaching summer school, while Nayiri spent six weeks teaching a class to AYB Educational Foundation students and volunteered at a summer youth program. In addition to their specific volunteer placements, they jointly organized and facilitated a “Building Thematic Units” workshop for Armenian teachers.
Twenty-three-year-old Amaras Zargarian, a 2008 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, volunteered at the State Hygienic and Antiepidemic Inspectorate, the Shirak Competitiveness Center, and the Artsakank kindergarten in Gyumri. In addition to her volunteer placements, Zargarian organized all of her fellow Gyumri-based volunteers in a day of beautifying and cleaning the Artsakank kindergarten to prepare for the start of the school year. Volunteers cleaned the grounds, planted flowers, and painted the children’s playhouse.
Amaras’s brother, Amasia Zargarian, 22, a graduate student at Stanford University, served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR), where he worked on, among other things, a project to bring diasporan youth in closer ties with Artsakh.
“Karabagh has a lot of potential but can also benefit from hands on assistance,” says Amasia. “As an unrecognized state, the NKR misses out on much of the benefits that other countries enjoy, and therefore, an individual’s contribution can be of much more significance. By attracting diasporans, Karabagh can fill in many strategic gaps. To this end, volunteers like me establish a connection with the place that will bring us back later when we have more to contribute, while older more experienced professionals can bring the expertise and skills that are vital for Karabagh’s development. The challenge lies in identifying what these crucial needs are and matching them with the individuals who can help. AVC put my skills to good use in Karabagh.”
Twenty-two-year-old Alexandra Achkarian from Toronto volunteered with Armenian Caritas in Gyumri where, among other things, she helped develop a volunteer guidebook. She found that volunteering extended beyond the doors of her placement. “My work experience was not just about gaining skills in my area of expertise and lending a hand to my workplace but it was a give and take between peers who were learning about each others’ culture and way of life,” Alexandra says. “My experience was more than I expected and could have asked for. It was humbling and rewarding while it also changed my view on volunteerism at the same time. There need not be a material outcome from your efforts as a volunteer; it may show itself as a change within you, a change within someone else, or simply a learning experience. Mine was a bit of all of those.”
Nouny Benchimol from France, 21, is an agronomy student. She volunteered at the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD) visiting farms around Armenia to help small farms increase food production. Nouny, who had volunteered on a farm in France last year, decided to volunteer in Armenia to study the animal breeding practices in Armenia first hand. But, this was also an important journey of self discovery-her grandfather is Armenian. “I have always wanted to learn about my Armenian origins,” says Benchimol.
Alis Nini, 27, of Greece, and Jirair Garabedian, 21, from Vancouver, both volunteered with KASSart Studio helping to prepare for ReAnimania’s Second International Animation Film Festival held earlier this month. Alis helped with outreach and Jirair put his animation background to use.
Rebecca Kandilian, 22, a PhD student in pharmacy at the University of California at Santa Barbara, volunteered with the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC). For eight weeks she traveled across Armenia with FPWC staff on a “Green Bus.” Actually, the bus was white covered with colorful children’s paintings. But the bus was fixed with environmental educational materials and the team, including Rebecca, helped to raise awareness for conservation and recycling by setting up children’s activities in villages throughout Armenia.
Twenty-seven-year-old Selin Sookiasians is a special education teacher in Los Angeles. She spent seven weeks volunteering at the Endanik Youth Creative Center and the Huys orphanage in Gyumri. “Maybe I shouldn’t have had any expectations, but this experience was beyond any expectation that I ever had,” said Selin. “Volunteering and being exposed to so many experiences was simply amazing.”
In addition, this fall, AVC launched a Teach program. Talin Aghanian from the United Kingdom will be teaching English to middle and high school students for one full school year in one of Armenia’s schools. Talin arrived in August to participate in three days of training which included an opportunity to meet and talk with local teachers.
AVC was founded in 2000 to serve Armenia through volunteerism. Almost 300 volunteers have served in 200 organizations throughout Armenia. The organization’s volunteer program is completely flexible. Once accepted, volunteers determine their time and term of service. AVC accepts applications 365 days per year from individuals at least 21 years of age. For more information about AVC, visit www.armenianvolunteer.org.