By Meghri Dervartanian
I never imagined that I could fall in love with this program and the Armenians of Javakhk more than I already had been, but this summer proved me wrong. This summer I had the opportunity to participate in Camp Javakhk for the third year in a row.
First off, I am beyond honored to be part of the dedicated youth that travels to Javakhk year after year to organize jampar (camp) for some of the most amazing kids I’ve become so attached to.
When I found out that I was going to be a counselor in Tsalka, I was extremely eager because Tsalka held a special place in my heart; it was where I was a counselor for the first time. During my first year, I had been a Camp Javakhk counselor in the village of Nardevan in Tsalka. Unfortunately, we were not going to Nardevan, but instead to Darakyugh. Regardless, I was excited to see how the children of Darakyugh would react to camp’s being held in their village for the first time. Children from neighboring villages, including Kushi and Ashkala, also participated in the camp in Darakyugh.
From the moment we stepped into Darakyugh, we were treated as celebrities. It had taken us five hours to get to Darakyugh, and we were all exhausted; but as soon as we met with our host tatik (grandmother), everything was again easy, as if I felt the comfort of my own tatik. She hugged each of us and couldn’t wait to host nine Armenian Americans who had come to her village that week to organize camp.
Alarm clocks were unnecessary: Roosters woke us up every morning. Meanwhile, tatik had already been awake milking her cows and preparing breakfast for us prior to camp. Although it was my third year of camp, I still had butterflies in my stomach on the first day. The first day tends to be the most hectic and craziest, since we do introductions and familiarize ourselves with the kids. I also had no idea what to expect, since we had never done camp in Darakyugh before. As we made our way to the school where camp was being held, we noticed dozens of children already standing at the steps impatiently waiting to meet us. At that moment, the butterflies in my stomach and any nerves I had disappeared. I knew that this week was going to be one I wouldn’t ever forget.
The children of Darakyugh were like sponges, literally soaking up all the information we were throwing at them. It was the first time in their lives they were meeting Diasporans from America, and it was clear they wanted to make sure they learned as much as they could. They picked up the dancing quickly and listened quietly to any lectures on Armenian history. As the principal of the school mentioned, Darakyugh didn’t have a dance teacher, so these dances were completely new to them. In addition, the schools in Georgia do not teach Armenian history. To be able to teach them various aspects of our culture and to explain to them the meaning of the songs we sing and the dances we dance was truly a privilege. I must admit that my group of kids was rebellious, constantly fooling around and a bit crazy, but they had this fire in them that I knew was never going to burn out. They walked into class every morning ready to learn, ready to sing, and ready to dance. They sang with pride and danced every dance with their heads held high and smiles on their faces. These kids cherished every single moment of jampar!
More than the participants of jampar, the entire village was excited that a group of nine Armenian Americans was visiting their village and volunteering. We were greeted with huge smiles and warm hugs everywhere we went. We were thanked every second of the day as they would praise us for leaving our comfortable lives in America to come all this way to Darakyugh, where there are chickens running around, cows walking to and from their homes, limited water, and so on.
However, in reality, I’m the one who should be thankful. They might be living in such conditions in Georgia, with most of them having husbands who work abroad to provide for their families, but regardless of that, they are doing everything in their power to be Armenian and to raise their children Armenian.
Our work in Darakyugh has given these kids hope. It has also given these kids strength, and has shown them that they are not forgotten. What these kids don’t realize is that they have given me the same in return.
Saying goodbye to my campers and the people of Darakyugh I grew so attached to after a week was almost impossible, but I knew that this wasn’t a goodbye. Instead, it was tsdesutyun (see you later) because I know I’ll be back. The Camp Javakhk experience is something that I will forever cherish, and I honestly can’t wait to see how much this camp grows in the future.
Till next year, Javakhk Jampar.