AVC Professional Corps: Getting to Know Armenia through Service

YEREVAN—In her application to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC), Connie Koumjian, 59, wrote, “The desire to serve the people of Armenia came to me gradually.” After many years in New York City, Connie had just started to attend the Armenian church, where she also sang in the choir, and this awoke her interest in Armenia, the land and the people, the culture and traditions. It didn’t take long for her to decide that she needed to learn more, so she signed up for a volunteer trip to Armenia through the Fuller Center for Housing.

Connie Koumjian and other AVC volunteers recycling flowers at the Dzidzernagapert Genocide Memorial on April 26, 2013, as part of the annual program spearheaded by the Fund for the Protection of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC).
Connie Koumjian and other AVC volunteers recycling flowers at the Dzidzernagapert Genocide Memorial on April 26, 2013, as part of the annual program spearheaded by the Fund for the Protection of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC).

Connie spent one month in Armenia in the summer of 2011, working on a house-building project in Vanadzor and then discovering the art of iconography in Yerevan. But it wasn’t enough. Back in New York, she realized that the trip had given her great joy and that learning about her heritage had been a very enriching experience. And so the decision was made: She would return to Armenia for a longer-term stay to live and work with her brethren, this time through AVC.

Connie went back to Armenia in March 2013 with a keen desire to serve her homeland. Over the course of 10 months, she was able to experience life as a resident of Armenia. For the first two months, she lived with a host family, but once she was acclimated and confident that she could get by independently, she moved into her own apartment and began living like a “native”—paying rent, shopping and cooking for herself, chatting with neighbors, making friends, and, of course, going to work.

Work in Connie’s case involved multiple volunteer placements. Based on her background as a social worker in New York City, where she had worked in a variety of settings with disadvantaged and immigrant populations, as well as her extensive volunteer work, AVC was able to arrange service opportunities that would benefit from her years of experience.

In Yerevan, Connie spent part of each week helping at a soup kitchen and a center for the elderly. She admits that at times the work was quite hard, but it was always fulfilling. “The workers at the jasharan (soup kitchen) were very warm and kind. I developed rewarding friendships there with both the staff and the guests and had many interesting conversations—and they helped me practice my Armenian! I was welcomed at the dzeranots (senior center) and made some very meaningful contacts there. That experience gave me interesting cultural insights into Armenia.”

Connie also volunteered at Real World Real People (RWRP), a non-governmental organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV and their families through social, psychological, and legal support, and improved access to treatment, care, and prevention. Although Connie’s Armenian skills limited the amount of direct consultations she could have with beneficiaries at RWRP, her extensive experience enabled her to focus her efforts on program development, specifically working on developing and implementing a 12-step recovery support group for people recovering from substance (alcohol/drug)—a first for Armenia. Through her global network of contacts, Connie was able to secure and deliver the necessary books and training materials to Armenia.

In her free time, when she wasn’t studying Armenian or out exploring, Connie found time to pursue her love of iconography/miniature painting through weekly classes, lots of independent practice, and meetings with some of the best iconographers in Armenia today.

“As a Christian, I have always considered it important to serve,” she said. “I enjoy sharing with others their experiences, learning about their needs, and being in a caring relationship with others. Serving in Armenia was extra special for me as it afforded me the opportunity to know the country and culture of my heritage more intimately. I am proud to have served as an AVC volunteer in Armenia and to have been able to share my love, concern, skills, and time.”

Connie is now back in the United States where she has resumed her work with the marginalized and less fortunate. Before she left Armenia, Connie promised that she would practice her Armenian as much as possible and, more importantly, that she would return very soon!

Founded in 2000, the Armenian Volunteer Corps is Armenia’s premier volunteer placement organization. AVC invites individuals 21 years of age and older, of all backgrounds and from across the globe, to volunteer in Armenia for two weeks to one year. In addition to placements, AVC provides all logistical support from airport pick-up, to host family living arrangements, Armenian language classes, and more, in partnership with its sister organization Birthright Armenia. To date, more than 550 volunteers from 34 countries have served in hundreds of organizations throughout Armenia. For more information, visit www.armenianvolunteer.org.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for writing this article, whoever you are. I am now living in Armenia and have become an Armenian citizen. I worked with Warm Hearth for a year after arrival 2020-2021, now continue to paint icons and am a consul for two InterNations groups in Yerevan: Yerevan Hiking Group and the newly organized English Language Learners Group. A friend from InterNations from Iran helps me with the English Language group. I also assist in church as lector in Nork Marash, a part of Yerevan where I live. My Armenian is better, and I still take classes. I also am a member of an International Women’s community where Spanish is the language we use. I am the only English speaking member.

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