“If it wasn’t the best thing in the world, I wouldn’t have gone back three times.” My friend Ani’s words kept ringing in my head as I stood at the entrance to the educational and cultural youth center of Ninotsminda. My excitement and nervousness mingled together, creating a sense of anticipation I hadn’t felt before.
I felt overwhelmed by the crowd as about 120 kids barged into the center to greet this year’s Camp Javakhk counselors. Their eyes were wide with curiosity and excitement. The more extroverted kids started asking questions and immediately initiated conversations. The shy ones simply stared, smiled and walked away.
The participants were split into three groups—red, blue and orange—according to their age. Each group was paired with two counselors and a few local teenagers, or oknagans, eager to assist. Patil and I were co-counselors for the youngest group, ages 8 to 10.
During the daily schedule’s free period, I connected with participants from other groups. I sat on the stairs with the older girls and learned about their hobbies and interests. Their talents surprised me—one was a yellow belt in karate, another was a language enthusiast, and another was an adept bead maker.
Amid the excitement, kids tugged my arms, urging me to visit their impromptu “tattoo salon,” where they passionately sketched the Armenian and Artsakh flags, the iconic silhouette of Mount Ararat and a cross on my hands. In their vibrant strokes, I saw not only artistic expression but also a profound connection to our national identity and heritage and a shared love for our homeland.
In their vibrant strokes, I saw not only artistic expression but also a profound connection to our national identity and heritage and a shared love for our homeland.
We headed to a field near the center of the village, and despite the scorching sun, being with fellow counselors, oknagans and kids lightened the walk. The view of the field took my breath away, reinforcing my belief that I was in heaven. I immediately messaged my friend Ani: “You were right!”
As the days progressed, bonds formed with both the kids and my fellow counselors. Amidst the countless moments that wove the tapestry of our camp experience, a few stood out as favorites: the morning marzank, or exercise, which we always ended by playing “Gats” by Taline and Friends and dancing with the kids as our absolute silliest selves; our time spent at the field, embracing the breathtaking landscape and even learning some karate moves; dancing to Armenian music with the older girls, celebrating our shared heritage.
The late-night planning sessions and candid talks with my fellow counselors brought us closer together. We shared stories, laughter and a common purpose. Each counselor added something unique to the mix. Tania’s homemade tahdig offered a taste of tradition and love. Lorig’s thoughtful preparation ensured a cup of tea was always at hand. Aram became a companion in appreciating the beauty of Manuel Menengichian’s songs. Naira shared a sense of humor that melted away our exhaustion. Patil radiated sunshine with her optimism and good vibes. Isabel’s presence as the best roommate and confidant added warmth to every moment. These connections, simple yet strong, shaped an unforgettable journey at camp.
The campers’ reluctance to say goodbye was a testament to the bonds we’d built. Kids gifted us handmade bead rings and heartfelt letters, accompanied by the admonitions to “please don’t forget me.” Khoren and Hovo gave us persistent hugs and invitations to their homes. In those moments, I realized that being a Camp Javakhk counselor extended far beyond our five short days together. It was about leaving an indelible mark on their lives and carrying their stories with us, wherever we went.
As a Camp Javakhk counselor, I witnessed growth not only among the campers but also in myself. Saying goodbye to the campers, I realized I carried more than just memories. I was taking with me a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper connection to Javakhk and our fellow Javakhktsis.
The Javakhk region, with its rich history and cultural significance, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the Armenian people. This added a layer of meaning to the opportunity to immerse myself in this vibrant community. As I bid farewell, I carried the weight of this importance alongside the memories, a reminder of the responsibility we each held in preserving and cherishing the heritage of this remarkable region.