Friday, April 29, 2016

Reminiscences: Arina Zorhabian

Arina Zohrabian (2002)

Today I sat celebrating the birthday of a very close friend of mine. One I met and volunteered with 14 years ago when I first moved to Armenia to join the Armenian Volunteer Corps. As she blew her birthday candles and we went around offering her the traditional Armenian “kenatses” (toasts) of success, health, and more, I realized the major impact that AVC has had on my life and the need to offer a toast to the organization that played the largest role in changing my life.

AVC. A truly new way of life. 

After leaving the comforts of my home in the United States (and stints of living and studying in Iran, Canada, and Spain), I moved to Yerevan on June 1, 2002. I typically have a very bad memory – but one memory that continues to stay with me is the sheer excitement of stepping off the plane onto the tarmac in Armenia for the very first time. 

Fast forward 14 years and I have now lived more of my life in Armenia than elsewhere. I have learned to put things into perspective and truly feel I understand the important things in life. I have learned to enjoy life and to not take for granted the many advantages.

I feel immensely blessed having also started a family and serving as Mom to two wonderful daughters. I have made amazing friends who day in and day out continue to show that they are ready at a moment’s notice to “tsavers tanen”. And finally, I have built a successful career in the field of education where I continue to be blown away by the commitment of Armenia’s youth, a more and more engaged Diaspora, and international students who thrive in this city.

So to AVC I wish you continued success and an abundance of volunteers who visit Armenia equipped to not only change Armenia one pebble at a time, but who are ready to embrace the most positive change awaiting them, as well.

Arina Zohrabian is currently the Director of Admissions at American University of Armenia (AUA). She was previously Executive Director of International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). Arina has received higher education in Marketing at McGill University. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Reminiscences: Antoine Terjanian

Antoine S. Terjanian (Canada, 2002)

Several times during my lifetime, opportunities opened up to me and in some cases I followed my intuition, sometimes taking a chance on something that was not fully tested.

Such an opportunity presented itself when, after a near-death experience, I decided to go to Armenia and see for myself how I could help. Like everyone else, I had heard and read so much bad press about our Hayrenik, that I was disgusted. I didn't even want my children to go.

My near-death experience motivated me to try something, and it changed my life.

The Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) was born in 2001 when they had their first group of volunteers. I asked friends of mine about the founders and got positive reports and decided to join.

I spent one of the best years of my life volunteering in 2002-2003 in Armenia. My original intention (in the beginning still influenced by all the bad press) was to stay one year, and, having 'served' my Hayrenik for a year, return permanently to Canada. But my experiencing first hand our homeland made me change that original decision.

Yes, AVC has evolved and can now accommodate everyone's personal constraints. I hope that you too can experience the kind of feelings and personal development that I have. 

Best wishes to all of you. 

Inspired by their successful volunteering experience, Antoine Terjanian and his wife Sheila, who also volunteered with AVC, promptly sought more long-term and sustainable opportunities to contribute to Armenia's development.  They decided to spend half the year in Armenia and chose the beautiful town of Yeghegnadzor as their new home-away-from-home.  In the ensuing years, they have helped develop a B&B network that they oversee, providing training and guidance to the hosts.  We can attest that he B&B accommodations are excellent as are the meals and personal attention of the hosts, having used their services during our very first Southern Discovery trip in 2015 -- and we plan to stay there again in 2016!

Read more about Antoine and Sheila here.
Learn about the Yeghegnadzor B&B network here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Moviendo y Cuidando Montañas

Cuando mis padres se mudaron a Armenia, no sabía ni que pensar! Ellos siempre han sido nómadas toda sus vidas pero esta vez se estaban yendo a un país de lo que muy poco había escuchado.  Pero igual, era una oportunidad única y como mi tiempo en Brasil se estaba acabando, decidí seguirlos para conocer a este país exótico.

La primera cosa que hice fue consultar con mi amiga Ani en Canadá. Yo no solo quería ser turista en Armenia; quería ayudar al pueblo y contribuir al desarrollo sostenible del país. Ella me comentó que la mejor organización para alguien como yo sería Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC). Soy sincero cuando digo que involucrarme con AVC ha cambiado mi vida.

Desde el inicio me ofrecieron la oportunidad de trabajar en mi área de especialidad, el medio ambiente. Trabajé por 4 meses en el Centro Ambiental Acopian de la Universidad Americana de Armenia y fue una experiencia muy beneficiosa porque aprendí mucho sobre los problemas ambientales en el país pero también conocí a la gente trabajando fuerte para encontrar soluciones en estos temas.

Ser un voluntario con AVC te permite conocer a muchos jóvenes armenios e internacionales y además te da la oportunidad de viajar a distintos regiones del país y verdaderamente conocer a la cultura, la gente y la historia de este magnifico país! Yo recomiendo AVC a cualquiera que esta interesado en conocer una cultura anciana y contribuir al desarrollo de Armenia a través de su propia especialidad.

Oscar Alvarado
Canada, 2014

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Experience of Lifetime

I was born in Beirut, Lebanon and reside in Montreal, Canada.  My roots are from Western Armenia, from the region of Ourfa. There has not been one moment in my life that I have not felt my Armenian roots, from the moment I was born till present day. Surrounded by my family and community, being Armenian is a way of life.

After a few trips to Armenia, I noticed the tremendous fast pace change that was occurring and I could not keep myself out of it. I needed to chip in, to give back and share my knowledge and expertise with the country and its people in any way I could.

I already knew somewhat of what to expect since this was my 4th visit to Armenia. I wanted to learn something new, experience how a landlocked country is thriving and is working to make itself better every day. I wanted to expand my network, meet new people try a new cuisines, and see a different landscape…

I decided to go out of my comfort zone and do something completely different from what I'm used to. Green Lane is the NGO I worked for; we grew organic crops. There is an educational center for sustainable agriculture for those who want to learn how to grow their crops chemical free and be able to sustain themselves.

I was actually impressed how understanding and patient my colleagues and co-workers were. I was pleasantly surprised by how simple communication was; the way they transmitted the information to me was very easy to understand. 

My experience here in Armenia was one that I will cherish forever. I met so many wonderful and interesting people from all around Armenia and the diaspora. It was a great learning experience. I have now added to my portfolio a new skill which is organic agriculture -- never in a million years would I have thought of doing something in this line of work! The culture and life here was very easy for me to adapt to;  I enjoyed it all so much so that it came naturally.

It’s the experience of lifetime! You should not doubt it for ONE second. This is the place to be, to grow, to learn, to explore and to enrich yourself with history, landscapes, music, arts and culture.… You will not be disappointed for one moment!

Harout Ourichian,
Canada, 2015

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