Monday, December 07, 2015

Volunteer in Armenia: Garo Avakian

I volunteered as a teacher in Armenia for two months.  My placement as a volunteer teacher was organized by AVC.  AVC secured placement for me with the Children of Armenia Fund which in turn organized teaching for me at two rural schools: one in Lernagog, where I taught Creative Writing with English; the other in Hatsik School, where I taught English.  My teaching experience at these schools was very rewarding.  I had one session a week with each group. 

The students at Lernagog were 14-16 year olds and all of them quite eager to practise writing creatively and to improve their written and spoken English.  In our sessions we worked on producing creative text – mainly prose fiction – as well as working on using English grammar correctly in written work. 

By contrast, the learners at Hatsik School were all adults.  They were all teachers who taught in Hatsik School.  Our lessons took place after their working day and, despite how demanding a long day’s teaching may have been for them, they still participated and contributed positively in all of the sessions we had together.  The classes were always lively, full of humour and learning. 

Overall, I am quite pleased with my experience as a volunteer and very grateful for the opportunity.  On those days that I was not volunteering, I spent most of my time touring around Armenia on my bike either on my own or with a group of other cyclists.  I really enjoyed doing this as it enabled me to see much more of Armenia than I would have if I had gone sightseeing in a car and it also made it possible for me create a new network friends in Armenia that shared a common interest in cycle touring.  

These trips and new associations made it all the more easy and enjoyable for me integrate into Armenian culture and society and left me with experiences and opportunities. I will never forget and would hope to return to again in the near future.

Garo Avakian
Canada, 2015


Friday, November 13, 2015

Армения выбрала меня

Говоря об Армении, мне трудно удержаться от волны эмоций, которая накрывает меня своим позитивом, стоит лишь мне вспомнить мой первый волонтерский опыт в этой прекрасной стране. На самом деле очень сложно выделить всего лишь несколько аспектов волонтерской жизни в Армении и рассказать о каждом из них. Если бы у меня была возможность адресовать мои слова благодарности всей Армении, всем ее людям, которые делают эту страну такой какой она есть на сегодня, всем тем, кто живет вне Армении и хранит ее в своем сердце, скучает и помнит, всем тем, кто приезжает сюда в качестве волонтеров, чтобы привнести частичку своего тепла в этот большой красочный котел культуры, быта , истории и древнего наследия под названием Армения…Если бы у меня была такая возможность, то я написала бы это письмо:

Спасибо тебе, дорогая Армения!

Спасибо тебе, за эти два лучших месяца в моей жизни, которые ты подарила мне! Спасибо, за то, что с первого дня моего пребывания я чувствовала себя как дома, благодаря заботе и гостеприимству твоих людей! Спасибо за то, что ты предоставила мне возможность встретить таких глубоких и замечательных людей, которые доказывают, что творчество не имеет границ, что история лишь сделала твою душу еще шире и я смогла дотронуться до нее. Всему тому причина ты- Армения. Спасибо за то, что как и на улицах Еревана так и средь скал бурлит поток жизни, стоит лишь увидеть истинную красоту твоей природы, вдохнуть свежего воздуха и насладиться сладким абрикосом. Пусть всегда цветет твоя земля. Спасибо, за людей с которыми я работала, я уверена, это было лучшее время и место для нас встретиться и работать над чем-то важным для тебя, Армения. Спасибо за твое безграничное искусство и культуру, спасибо за Гюмри- культурное сердце и место воспитавшее не одно поколение гениев этого мира. Спасибо за, что ты такая разная, древняя, христианская, советская и такая современная.  Спасибо за  кусочек зеленого рая – Арцах, за его гордых и статных жителей, которые показали мне истинную силу веры в себя, способную двигать горы. Спасибо, тебе Армения, за мечеть в Ереване, спасибо за твою толерантность и уважение к другим религиям.  Спасибо за то, что за эти два месяца ты научила меня терпению, когда я и ты только притирались друг к другу. Спасибо за то, что теперь у меня есть друзья по всему миру и нас всех объединяет любовь и восхищение к тебе. Спасибо за то, что  ты окончательно приняла меня. Спасибо за то, что когда-то Ты выбрала меня.

Диляра Сейсебаева
Казахстан, 2015

Monday, November 09, 2015


Last year, my (not-Armenian) husband and I went to Armenia for three weeks as tourists.  We took day trips near (Garni/Geghard) and far (Sanahin/Haghpat) and followed maps and guidebooks around Yerevan.  We connected with old friends and made new ones.  It was a wonderful time, but merely an hors d’oeuvre before the delicious entrée and dessert to come.

As for so many before us, the journey whet our appetites to return, not just to see more, but to do more – to be involved and make a contribution beyond our annual check-writing. 

So, we returned as volunteers, through the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC).  My husband extended his passion for paleontology into archaeology by working at the Karmir Blur dig site and I used my planning and editing skills at the American University of Armenia Acopian Center for the Environment.  Our feedback told us that we each made valuable contributions, confirming our primary reason for being there.

But our work took us far beyond finding a femur or adding a comma to a prepositional phrase.  We learned, as much as you can in two months, to live as Yerevantsis.  We got to know locals, had good and bad taxi experiences, walked, watched, talked and listened.  Volunteering, i.e., working in Armenia, gave us a depth of experience that tourism did not – could not. 

We now feel connected in a very special way and that connection has lassoed us into a return volunteer trip next year – and for as many years as our septuagenarian bodies and minds will allow.  That’s one of the great things about Armenia: Respect for age and the easy mix of old and young.  So volunteer - in your twenties or seventies, or any age.  You’ll be welcomed and rewarded!

Linda Shahinian
AVC Volunteer, 2015

Friday, November 06, 2015

Impressions from Artsakh

Our volunteers went to a 4-day trip to Artsakh in October. 
Kerri and Marie decided to share their impressions from the excursion.

Artsakh is a place full of interesting history and beautiful landscape. I had so much more to learn there than I thought I would. Artsakh is green and mountainous, plentiful with wildlife. While there, out group visited many beautiful monasteries and even an army base. Young men, mostly from Yerevan, address drafted to fight on the front lines to help Artsakh maintain its independence from Azerbaijan. The men we met seemed so young, but so proud of what they were fighting for. One man sang a song for us about his uncle, who had died in war years earlier. We were able to eat with these young men and ask them many questions about their work. So many care deeply about keeping Armenian ties strong in Artsakh, and its no wonder they don't want to lose it. We were also able to visit two Syrian brothers who are working on farming kiwi, pistachios, and other foods foreign to Artsakh soil. They want to show residents of Artsakh that the limit of foods they themselves could grow there is boundless. Later, we were able to go to a market in Stepanakert, where friendly vendors face us fruits and meats, and wanted to talk to us about where we were from. Finally, during our "wine mob," where each group offered a bottle of wine to a family, we were able to sit down and talk with the residents of Stepanakert about their lives in Artsakh. The trip brought us closer to the residents in Artsakh and led us to understand more about the present situation it is in. More than anything, I felt so much hope in the people I met for the future of Artsakh, and so much love for their country.

Kerri Fritz

Upon arrival, what is immediately obvious to me about Artsakh is that military conflict doesn’t come in “obvious” packaging. A running joke on our bus insinuated that many of us wouldn’t be able to shower all weekend, and that for some reason seemed to leave many thinking this might be a very rugged experience. While we were definitely not in Yerevan, this country that continues to exist unacknowledged, with armed forces on its boarders and a total lack of officially recognized statehood stands quite proudly with all the fixings of a fully functioning state (running water included). Even amidst greeneried ruins, continued conflict with Azerbaijan and all of the struggles therein, Artsakh is a vibrant and lively country despite it all. At the ‘wine-mob,’ where we ambushed an un-expecting family with wine and our fabulous company, it became clear that there is no denying the continued effects of the war that dissolved into this state of non-resolution. The father of the house had a disability from his time in the war and it became a quick joke that one of our party would soon provide him a battery-powered wheel chair from the U.S., “or else.” Despite what so many assume about living in an un-resolved and unrecognized ‘state’, the people are of Artsakh pretty much don’t need anyone’s official confirmation that they exist and that they live. While we didn’t see the frontline, it really required no imagination to realize the scope of the situation. What did take a certain level of thought, and what really struck me, was learning that neither conflict nor official boarders define a people.

Marie Panchesson

Monday, November 02, 2015

Acrostics by Tamar Arevian

Home away from home feeling instantaneously
Artistic expression and innovation flowing boundlessly
Yerevan's captivating cultural scene amongst the natural pink stone walls
AVC's unforgettable excursions taken off the beaten path while connecting you with locals
Surge of dynamic, creative energy from children and adults of all ages
Delectable gastronomic feasts with never-ending celebratory "genatz"es
Amazing archeological discoveries dating back to the Paleolithic Age
Natural beauty, ancient churches, and the majestic Mt Ararat set the stage

(*Hayasdan=Armenia; genatz=toast/cheers)

Girls and boys greet everyone upon entering and before leaving a room politely
Highly motivated to learn English through songs, movement , and hands-on activities daily
Outstanding field trips to art studios, museums and theatres to foster learning and promote creativity
Group of dedicated professionals utilizing the title Ungehr beyond just for identity
Homemade lunch and scrumptious snacks made with love by the chef, Ungehr Gohar
Appreciative parents ever so grateful that you've come to volunteer from afar
New friendships formed that will be cherished always
Joy, just pure joy, to know you have made a positive change in others' lives within days

(*ghoghanj=bell chime, ungehr=friend)

Photos by Tamar

Tamar Arevian,
Spain, 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Blanche Myiriam Shahbaghlian, citoyenne de France, du Canada et du Royaume Uni a 64 ans. Avec une expérience de 35 ans, elle est spécialiste de la consultation et de l’enseignement dans le domaine de la santé sociale. Blanche a fait du volontariat en Arménie avec AVC pour 3 semaines à l’ONG Real People Real World. Cette expérience a changé sa vie.

Je m'appelle Blanche Myriam Shahbaghlian et je suis du Canada. J'ai une maitrise en psychologie et une en éducation. J'ai travaillé dans les services de santé mentale ou j'ai géré des programmes divers.  Mes racines arméniennes viennent du coté de ma mère ; je suis « Vanetsi » (de Van).  C’est pourquoi j'ai profondément ressenti mes racines arméniennes au cours de ma vie, surtout à travers la musique, ainsi que l'histoire juive. 

J’ai toujours voulu contribuer quelque part et c’est pourquoi j'ai fait du volontariat.  J’ai choisi l'Arménie parce que je voulais être entourée d'arméniens. J'ai jadis vécu à Jérusalem, dans le quartier Arménien, et ai été entourée d'arméniens pendant les vacances d'été en tant qu'enfant, chez mes grands-parents, au sud de la France. Mais je n'ai jamais été vraiment plongée uniquement dans la culture arménienne. J’ai donc contacté AVC, une organisation intéressante et fluide qui prends vraiment soin de ses volontaires et qui fait son travail avec sérieux. 

Je ne savais pas à quoi m’attendre. Je m'attendais à être plongée dans l'inconnu. Quoique je m'attendais aussi un peu à être plongée dans une culture semblable à celle de ma famille arménienne.

A présent, je développe des questionnaires dans le but d'identifier si les gens qui ont le VIH ou le CIDA rencontrent la discrimination dans les services médicaux en Arménie. 
Je trouve que le peuple arménien, en général, est un peuple généreux, sensuel, émotif, qui vient essentiellement du cœur. Ma maman avait ces qualités et je n'ai pas réalisé à quel point elle reflétait sa culture avant de venir ici. 

J'ai réalisé pendant mon séjour que si je restais en Arménie pour quelques mois, je parlerais couramment. Je ne parle pas l'arménien mais j'ai entendu la langue chez mes grand parents, pendant les vacances d'été. Je ne savais pas que cette langue était imprégnée en moi avant de venir ici. Je sens que si je restais ici pour un bout de temps, tout d'un coup, je commencerais à parler. C'est ce qui s'est passé quand j'avais dix ans : je ne parlais que l'anglais. Mais maman me parlais le français à la maison. Quand nous avons déménagé de l'Angleterre en France, je n'ai pas dit un seul mot en français pendant à peu près 3 mois. Puis tout à coup je me suis mise à parler, couramment. La langue était imprégnée en moi à travers maman. Et maintenant je réalise que l'arménien est imprégné en moi, à travers mes grands-parents.

Aussi, j'ai découvert plus profondément que je suis arménienne et que je suis aussi plus que ça. Quelqu'un m'a dit cette semaine que le génocide continue quand les arméniens se marient avec des non arméniens, comme mes parents. Je comprends, c'est vrai dans un sens. Alors que je pensais à cela, je me suis rappelée que quand l'Arménie a déclaré son adhérence au christianisme, en l'an 301 EC, ce geste a rassemblé bien des peuples divers, qui ensemble s'appellent arméniens.

Alors oui, le génocide continue dans un sens. Dans un autre sens, tout comme en l'an 301 EC, il se passe en moi une intégration de plusieurs peuples: je suis arménienne, française, anglaise et canadienne. La réalité est que je suis toutes ces choses.

Pour moi, ce n'est pas que le génocide continue. Pour moi, c'est la réalité d'aujourd'hui, 100 ans plus tard. Pour moi, c'est la vie, pas le génocide. C'est la vie de toutes ces nationalités, de l'humanité en moi, dans me cellules. Je suis, comme bien d'autres, en train de développer quelque chose de neuf. C'est, je crois, une intégration qui se passe à un niveau mondiale, où bien des peuples s'intègrent.

Blanche Shahbaglian, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Volunteering with AVC has been a one in a lifetime experience

"There is such a variety of people that you will be involved with and build relationships with in a very short period of time. I now have a number of friends in Armenia, it has become my second home."

Time to explore


S.O.A.D. concert

And the panoramas begin...


DO IT! Not only will your time here be a new experience, unlike almost anything else that you will have done, but the people that you will meet and get to know will change your perception of the world forever.

James Glover,
UK, 2015