A Father-Daughter Journey through AVC and Birthright Armenia

Anna Hartooni

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Anna Hartooni has pursued two careers. Following the example set by her hardworking parents, she started to work when she was 14 years old. She went to culinary school and became a sous chef for well-known celebrity chefs in Toronto. After eight years of working in the kitchen, she took a leap of faith and pursued a veterinary career. “My heart always knew that I wanted to work with animals…even when I was a little girl,” she says. 

Hartooni grew up in an immigrant Armenian family from Iran. She was an active member of her Armenian community in Toronto, attending Armenian school and participating in AGBU and Homenetmen. Just like any Diasporan, she always dreamed of visiting the homeland. She learned about Birthright Armenia at the most unexpected time during her grandfather’s funeral when she noticed a pamphlet inside the church. Having just graduated as a veterinary technician and working two years at a clinic, she took a two month leave and joined the program—a decision that compelled her father Shahen to accompany her. 

Shahen Hartooni

Shahen Hartooni was born and raised in Iran. He was a history teacher and an accountant until the Iranian Revolution. He left Iran after a few failed attempts to work for reputable companies. His journey led him to Cyprus, then Italy and finally Canada, where it was difficult to find a job in accounting. Things were different for an immigrant in 1980s Canada, and going back to school was a far-fetched dream for Shahen. He eventually followed the advice of a Canadian couple and started a career in construction. He was a member of the Laborers Union Local 506 and Carpenters Union Local 27 until his retirement.

Shahen’s gardening jobsite

It was Shahen’s fourth time in Armenia. While he never intended to volunteer, he was inspired by his daughter to join the sister program—Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC). “For a person who worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week for 30 years, it was just impossible to sit at home. I saw the AVC as a great opportunity to make a positive impact in the community,” he explained. He joined Green Lane to help improve the agricultural, environmental and socio-economic situation in Armenia. Concerned by solid waste management in the country, he shared his experiences as an eco-conscious citizen of Canada. Now, he is intent on helping Armenia adopt Canada’s recycling methods to reduce the amount of waste production. To do so, he is working with officials in Canada as well as recycling companies. Moreover, he wants to invest in tree planting. Shahen believes that as an individual he may not make a huge change; however, he strives to set an example for others. The smallest changes make a difference, he says. More importantly, he wants people to know they can give back to their communities anytime regardless of their age. “If you have faith in yourself, your country and your identity as an Armenian, you have to take action. No excuse is accepted because as long as you are alive, you can make a difference,” he thoughtfully said.

Anna Hartooni at Paws Pet Medical Center

His daughter, on the other hand, worked for Paws Pet Medical Center as a veterinary technician. Her presence was of great help to the clinic; the staff placed great trust in Anna, allowing her to put her knowledge into practice. Anna dedicated her undivided attention to volunteering. To end animal cruelty, she believes in systematic changes to raise awareness. “There is this misconception in Armenia that street dogs are aggressive. Most of it comes from older generations telling their kids to scare the street dogs without realizing that by scaring dogs they just evoke more fear in them, consequently causing them to attack,” says Anna. On her next visit to Armenia, Anna wants to join programs that will allow her to visit schools in the country and talk to children and their parents. She wants to underscore the importance of respecting nature and animals. “If humans were to disappear from the face of this earth tomorrow, Earth would completely renew itself, animals would be fine, and everything would keep going better than before. But if the world starts dying tomorrow, we will all die along with it,” says Anna.

Living in Armenia as a volunteer gave Anna a new perspective on both Armenian and Canadian cultures. Now she realizes that both countries have a lot to learn from each other. For instance, Anna appreciated the strong bonds among her coworkers at Paws Pet Medical Center. “In Canada, I have coffee while working whereas, in Armenia, the entire staff takes coffee breaks every two hours and has lunch with everyone around the same table. Taking breaks together has brought us closer to each other and when I go back, I’m just going to say, ‘Hey, let’s have coffee together,’” she said cheerfully. 

Now, the father and daughter are grateful for the time they spent together in Armenia and how it strengthened their relationship. “Programs like AVC and Birthright Armenia that carry out the same mission can grow people close to each other,” acknowledged Shahen. “At the end of the day, we sat, and the curiosity to know what each of us did that day opened to father-daughter conversations,” he reflected.

Shahen and Anna Hartooni
Annie Nazari

Annie Nazari

Annie Nazari was born and raised in an Armenian family in Tehran, Iran. She graduated from the University of Tehran with a degree in classical music, performance. Passionate about foreign languages, she started a career in teaching English as a foreign language in 2017. She joined Birthright Armenia in 2021 and repatriated upon becoming an alumna after eight months of volunteering. She wrote articles and taught English during her time with Birthright Armenia. Lately, her interest in creative writing has persuaded her to enter the world of content writers. She enjoys transforming the stories of those with compelling narratives into written words.

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