By Annais Assatourian, member of the AYF-YOARF Washington D.C. “Ani” chapter and a 2017 Camp Javakhk counselor
A few months ago, as I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I saw one of my friend’s posts about applications for Camp Javakhk of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS). Immediately, I was intrigued and decided to apply, since I was finally old enough to participate. I had heard such good things about the program, and all of my friends and acquaintances who had participated throughout the years spoke very highly of it.
After months of anticipation and waiting, finally the day had come to go to Javakhk. I couldn’t sleep the night before, since I was nervous to see what was in store for the two weeks ahead.
On early Sunday morning, all 18 of us packed into a small van and headed to Georgia. We made a stop along the way in Gyumri, where we ate delicious ponchiks (an doughnut filled with various fillings) and got to see the Holy Savior’s Church in Gyumri’s Vardanantz Square. Holy Savior Church was one of the churches that was severely damaged during the 1988 earthquake and has been under renovation since 2002.
Finally, we arrived in Georgia, where we made a stop to eat at a local restaurant before heading to our campsites. We dropped off the first group in Ninotsminda, then headed to the region of Tsalka, where we were hosting a camp in the village of Daragyugh.
Going into the program, I did not know what to expect, but I entered it with an open mind. As we were driving to Tsalka, night began to fall and I started to second-guess my decision on participating in the camp. The roads were getting bumpier, there were no lights outside, and it was completely, pitch black. I tried to hold myself together, but being the youngest made it difficult. I had never left the country alone and traveled this far to a gyugh (village) that was so remote.
When we arrived to our house, we were greeted by our host mother, who eventually became our tatik (grandmother). She hugged each one of us and welcomed us with open arms into her home. From that moment, I started to feel better, especially because our tatik reminded me of my grandmother back home.
In the morning, I woke up to the sound of roosters. Anxious and eager to begin the day, we headed over to the school where we held camp. Walking to jampar (camp) we ran into a bit of a traffic jam—a herd of sheep were crossing. We were greeted by parents, campers, and the principal of the Armenian school in Daragyugh.
The campers were split by age into three groups: red, blue, and orange. I was fortunate enough to have the red group, which consisted of the youngest campers. Every day, the numbers of our group would increase and I kept thinking to myself: the more, the merrier.
The children in my group were so full of energy and cheerful. Every day, the kids would come in with the brightest smiles on their faces and eager to learn a new song, dance, poem, or whatever came their way.
After camp was over, we would go home and relax for a little until our helpers came and took us out on excursions throughout the region. We had the opportunity to go on a hike to Dashbashi canyon, which is a beautiful waterfall in Georgia. These excursions not only brought us closer with the deghatsis (locals) but also with our group of counselors. There’s no doubt that the memories we made during these excursions—especially during the hike—were unforgettable for us all.
On the day of our hantes (closing ceremony), parents and children gathered at the school to watch what their children had learned throughout the week. It was the talk of the town, since it was the first time diasporans had come to their village to conduct a program like this.
We took many pictures, danced, laughed, and cried. Saying goodbyes proved to be the hardest.
Camp Javakhk surpassed my expectations. One of my campers even wrote me a note and gave it to me on the last day. It is absolutely incredible how much of an impact we left on these kids. I will never forget them, and I know they’ll never forget me.
I left a piece of me in Javakhk and I cannot wait to return in the coming years. Sometimes you do not realize the smallest things you do can have such a big impact on these kids.
Camp Javakhk was an unbelievable experience for me, and it was one of the best two weeks of my life. Lifelong friendships were created, and I grew closer to a part of my homeland with which I wasn’t familiar. I thank Camp Javakhk and the people of Daragyugh for giving me that opportunity.