Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website www.armenianvolunteer.org, follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Armenianvolunteer or drop us an email: info@avc.am .

Friday, December 22, 2017

My 307 words to describe Armenia

Sandra De Castro (France)
Service Civique in Armenia from 05/03/2017 to 10/27/2017 
at FPWC & Wedzig

Travelling always gives you something different than what you've been looking for in the first place. And having the opportunity of trying several job positions in different working fields is what I've really appreciated about volunteering in Armenia.    

I came to Armenia with a Master's degree in Marketing and the will to volunteer in social media. However, when I arrived in Yerevan I got the opportunity to work as a photojournalist for the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural asset (FPWC), taking advantage of my already existing passion for photography. Finally during my last months in Armenia I ended up volunteering as a Graphic Designer at Wedzig - a marketplace for wedding products and services targeting Californian market - and this is the job that makes me the happiest today. 
Volunteering in Armenia was a great challenge because I didn't know much about the culture nor the living conditions of the locals and my Armenian language knowledge was basically nonexistent. Taking a step back now I can say this experience has been one of my proudest accomplishment on a personal level because I was able to adapt to an entirely new environment and dedicate myself to understanding a very different culture and language. Meeting unique people with amazing life stories in Armenia helped me further expand what I believe I can achieve in life. This experience has made me realize what I want my career to look like: outside of my home country to keep cultivating a true global perspective without being inherently limited and filtered by my surroundings.

I really can't tell how amazing discovering Armenia has been to me. And I have to admit waking up every morning facing Ararat Mountains didn't make me miss the trash can area view I used to have from my Parisian apartment even for a second. 



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What Lies Within?

Armenian Volunteers Corps (AVC) offers myriad opportunities in connecting volunteers from all over the world with various organizations, associations and institutions.  From publishing houses and educational centers to film studios and tree projects, each organization in its own unique way strives to face certain issues for the improvement of life in the community. Moreover, AVC’s motto-invitation, which at the same time is an open letter - “Come move Mountains” – is difficult not to accept. 

While doing research and reading the blogs of AVC and the sister organization Birthright Armenia websites, I came across to a graceful reflection from one of the program’s past participants from Denmark; to quote: “I am constantly searching for something, which is still a mystery, but I can feel it has a strong connection to Armenia.” Need I confess that I feel the same way, and that this is what essentially led my path to Armenia? 

Someone once has said: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” Regardless of who we may have been or may become, Armenia accepts us according to our heart’s content, discovered or undiscovered interests, the spirit of venture or familiarity, in short, what lies within each one of us at the present moment. 

It is this principle that during my one month visit to Armenia has given me the opportunity to do workshops on the profession of librarianship for Together4Armenia through Mission East; to assist with digitizing a multilingual collection of books for Masis Youth Center; to contribute in the creation of a database for a startup platform for Wedzig, as well as to assist with the archive digitization, transliteration and translation for the Public Radio. In having been given the opportunity to express what lies within me, I am kindly indebted to Armenia and to AVC.

David Turshyan (USA)
AVC Professional Corps Volunteer from July 7 to August 7, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Six weeks in Yerevan


Arooshee Giroti (USA, 2017)
University of Michigan, Class of 2019

Armenia is unlike any place in the world. From the Syrian restaurants decorated with Arabic letters, to the Hindi roots within the language, to the post Soviet infrastructure, after spending a summer in Armenia, I feel as though I’ve lived all over the world. I came to Yerevan because I was interested in learning more about the Armenian Genocide, fully aware that mass atrocities cannot simply be taught in the classroom because learning about facts and statistics do not adequately do a genocide justice. I went for the stories and the museums, so that I could better understand the dynamic sentiment and complex history. Though the genocide occurred over 100 years ago, and very few people can recall, first hand, what transpired, almost every family within Armenia today was directly affected by the tragedy at some point. 

So, I packed my bags and left my comfortable beach home in Florida to venture across the world without knowing a word of Armenian or a single person in the country. And I could not have had a better experience. From the moment I reached the airport in Yerevan, I felt comfortable in this foreign city. Thanks to the Armenia Volunteer Corps, I was placed in a challenging internship with the French Armenia Development Foundation where we were implementing a program for refugees to economically integrate within the country. Additionally, I was given free Armenian language classes, and matched with a wonderful host sister, who cooked delicious Armenian food, and who quickly became one of my closest friends. Before I knew it, we were laughing into all hours of the night, and traveling around the country on different adventures. In addition, I had the honor of meeting many Syrian-Armenian refugees, and hearing their stories about war, first hand. It showed me how much resilience and strength it takes to flee violence and uproot a life, and it enriched my passion to pursue a career in international law, to legally assist displaced people. 

Located in a tumultuous region, Armenia remains a safe haven for travelers and scholars, yearning to experience life in a different way. If you are reading this, and perhaps you are unsure where life should take you next, please come to Armenia. I want the whole world to sit in the streets of Yerevan, sipping Armenian coffee, or to taste delicious lavash bread with herbs and spices. I want the world to hear the stories of the Armenian Genocide from the grandmothers, and visit the museums, memorials, and monasteries, to discover why the people here continue to smile so wide, and love with such generosity. 

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Friday, December 08, 2017

Open Your Heart to the Pulse of Armenia


(Dylan Whitman Waller, USA)

I knew before coming that Armenia would be a very special place to visit, but I could not have imagined beforehand how wonderful and multi-layered the experience would be.  If one is open to serendipity and a genuine engagement with the culture and people, one will discover more opportunities than are possible to pursue.

I came to work with a group of Armenian traditional musicians - the Gurdjieff Ensemble - and to study and research Komitas' music, and this basic intent has opened into many unexpected pathways.  Also, in the first weeks after arriving, I learned via AVC that there was an opportunity to record an English voiceover for a short Armenian film about the ancient petroglyphs found in the mountains of the Syunik region.  I went with another volunteer to offer our services, and became friends with the filmmaker.  When we went into his office, I saw a poster for the film, 'Sunrise Over Lake Van', which had been a film I had researched and looked for a copy of some months earlier when in Denmark.  The filmmaker saw me looking at the poster, and asked, "Do you know this film?" and then humbly added, "It is mine."  This serendipitous friendship has led me to working with historians, screenwriters, visual artists, composers, all of whom share a great depth of human decency in tandem with their aesthetic insights, something which I've never experienced anywhere as consistently as I am experiencing here.

AVC is an invaluable resource, a place to orient oneself upon arrival, and which can serve as a fulcrum thereafter for practical information, cultural expeditions, and as a place of familiar warmth, where one can meet and make new friends and connections, and know that one is welcome among caring, competent hands, an apt base and gateway for everything else that comprises an authentic experience of Armenia.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Of marshrutkas, slippery floors and lovely host families...musings of an Englishman in Armenia—a country with a big heart.

Stephen Brittain (United Kingdom)

I recently completed a couple of months volunteering with AVC and was asked to write about my adventure.  Naturally there are numerous thoughts about the experience. Below is a very personal view.

What comes to mind immediately is riding on a marshrutka (the local minibus) sitting in the back seat with a cylinder of ‘natural gas’ strategically placed under the back seat. No worry about safety there, then. And crossing the road with a green light indicating that it is safe for pedestrians to cross, even though left and right turning traffic also pass across the pedestrian’s path almost but fotunately not quite simultaneously. And almost always having to stand on the buses – they are almost always full, no matter what time of day you use them. And using the trolleybuses.... finding that they are half the price of the bus. Then realising why. They run much slower. And do not work when there are electricity power-cuts. (There were three power cuts in one period of two weeks I was there!). And do not work when the electrical connector falls off its guide-wire following a small explosion. (No worries there, the driver jumped out of the cab, armed with a spanner, and within 10 minutes had the vehicle moving again). 

And taking various shared taxies to and from Gyumri, Vanadzor and Stepanakert. Even then on one trip may be one hour was spent in various garages with the driver’s head under the bonnet. No idea what the problem was, my ‘hayeren’ did not rise to the vagaries of car mechanics. And another time stopping en route to one of the towns waiting for maybe one hour for an extra 2 passengers (could these passengers have come an hour earlier, when there were 4 other passengers in the taxi wanting to proceed?).

And being given a number to ring on arrival for my homestay in Stepanakert, but finding that my Armenian numbered phone needs roaming in Artsakh to work,  although the country code there is still +374. Problem ch’ka, somehow, despite the locals nearby not knowing English. 

And visiting a village near Armavir, finding the convenience was inconvenient.... down the garden. No problem though. Torch provided at night. And the convenience was similar at a local beauty spot with magnificent views of Azerbaijan and Armenia. And when conveniences are found in Yerevan malls they are so often closed for cleaning..... the ubiquitous cleaning lady armed with a mop indicates the status in no uncertain terms! Come to think of it, the lack of conveniences was so often inconvenient!

And shiny floors. Which look so wonderfully clean. But slippery.... very slippery. After some adjustment to walking technique, the foreigner can survive.

And separate saunas in sports centres.... for the different sexes. Why? When both sexes are allowed to swim together. And the necessity of a brief medical before being allowed to swim. Why? (Not to worry, I discovered that my blood pressure is so very low for a man of my age).  

Can an Englishman make a life in Yerevan only knowing English. Sure. I joined a swimming club, little problem. I went to InterNations, no problem. I went to a film club, no problem. I went Tango dancing, almost no problem. (The address I had was more than difficult to find!) And shopping.... the locals are so very helpful wherever you go. And many know English so well.  

Then learning that the whole country is perhaps controlled by 40 ‘Armenian oligarchs’. One family has a monopoly on sugar and butter importation, another controls the import of bananas, another owns a well-known sweet factory, and one owns the largest supermarket chain. And one finances the building of churches. 

Having returned from my three provincial towns one comment was that I was ‘bold’. ‘Bold?’ – how can I be bold when I don’t speak the local language, have great difficulty in reading it, and have little idea how to determine the destination of each shared taxi. (I was always directed to the correct departure point though, thank you, Gohar). The secret was to rely on my host as a translator (via mobile of course) or a willing local taxi driver to stand me next to the correct intercity taxi.

How did I succeed with my AVC tasks?  Fairly well apparently. Folk in each centre enjoyed my English language presentations on food and transport in UK. And took part in discussions (in English of course) about doctors (the best are German, apparently – not UK sadly), and complaining, and mountains, and supermarkets. And I learned a little about Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Dorian Yates. And about Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Stepanakert, and the 13th century monastery at Hagartsin. (Thank you Stepan and friends from Vanadzor). And a country’s economy in transition. 

And my host families could not be more helpful. Even though there might be language difficulties. One was especially appreciative when I posted an English-Armenian dictionary from Yerevan (she was unable to get one in her own town). My Yerevan host took her telephone call of thanks, of course. I could never have understood her Armenian! 

And Armenian wives who never see summer – because that is the time they spend their days storing food in airtight jars for the winter. 

A fellow swimmer summed the country up very well..... a small country with a big heart. I cannot deny that!

And thank you AVC for the experience. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Remniscences: Nareg Seferian


The Imprint of Tpagrichneri Street on My Life
Nareg Seferian (2002)

I remember when I first heard about the Armenian Volunteer Corps. It was on TV, with a few AVC-ers on some morning talk show (accompanied by volunteers from the Land and Culture Organisation). This must have been sometime in the summer of 2002, late July, probably. It had already been a year since I had moved to Yerevan, and I didn’t have any plans before university picked up again in September. With some navigation through Tpagrichneri Street, I finally came upon AVC’s offices – and a lifetime’s worth of friends and adventures. No exaggeration.

My status as a volunteer was atypical: I was young – nineteen – already living in Armenia, certainly not planning for a year of activities, as was the norm at the time. Nor was I someone from the classic Diaspora or a non-Armenian looking for something different, perhaps an out-of-the-way international experience. I did want to try my hand at something, though, at anything. AVC placed me in Orran for a month, where I got to interact with children, helped out with English and in other activities. It was something rather fulfilling for me. I only just realise now, looking back, that the skills I require as a lecturer stem in part from my AVC experience all those years ago.

It is true that a month-long stint in the centre of Yerevan is most likely the lowest rung of the strenuous volunteering ladder. But my association with AVC and, later, Land and Culture as well as Birthright Armenia did not end there. I have spent many happy hours doing some leg work for the above organisations and certainly accompanying volunteers on various trips. I’ve taken on the role of translator and tour guide for many, whether on their first trip to Armenia, or those re-visiting memories. And I’d like to say that memories continue being made, even a block or two over from Tpagrichneri Street.
Nareg Seferian was born and raised in New Delhi and received his higher education in Yerevan, Santa Fe, Boston, and Vienna. His writings about politics and society, especially things pertaining to the Armenian world, can be read on naregseferian.com .

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Open Your Heart to the Pulse of Armenia

(Dylan Whitman Waller, USA)

I knew before coming that Armenia would be a very special place to visit, but I could not have imagined beforehand how wonderful and multi-layered the experience would be.  If one is open to serendipity and a genuine engagement with the culture and people, one will discover more opportunities than are possible to pursue.

I came to work with a group of Armenian traditional musicians - the Gurdjieff Ensemble - and to study and research Komitas' music, and this basic intent has opened into many unexpected pathways.  Also, in the first weeks after arriving, I learned via AVC that there was an opportunity to record an English voiceover for a short Armenian film about the ancient petroglyphs found in the mountains of the Syunik region.  I went with another volunteer to offer our services, and became friends with the filmmaker.  When we went into his office, I saw a poster for the film, 'Sunrise Over Lake Van', which had been a film I had researched and looked for a copy of some months earlier when in Denmark. The filmmaker saw me looking at the poster, and asked, "Do you know this film?" and then humbly added, "It is mine."  This serendipitous friendship has led me to working with historians, screenwriters, visual artists, composers, all of whom share a great depth of human decency in tandem with their aesthetic insights, something which I've never experienced anywhere as consistently as I am experiencing here.


AVC is an invaluable resource, a place to orient oneself upon arrival, and which can serve as a fulcrum thereafter for practical information, cultural expeditions, and as a place of familiar warmth, where one can meet and make new friends and connections, and know that one is welcome among caring, competent hands, an apt base and gateway for everything else that comprises an authentic experience of Armenia.


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