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, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Friday, September 22, 2006

Laurence Manessian

Name: Laurence Manessian
Age: 31
Place of Birth: Paris, France
Place of Residence: London, UK
Placement in Armenia: French Armenian Development Foundation
Length of Stay in Armenia: 10 weeks

I grew up in France, both my parents are of Armenian origin but I have never been really much involved in the Armenian community there. I work in finance in London, I have quite a demanding job. Last spring I felt the need to take a break from my professional and private life and to reflect on which direction I wanted my life to take. I obtained a 3-month career break from my work.

The choice of coming to Armenia came naturally. I had been there briefly 10 years ago, I had spent most of my time in a small village in the North of the country. Since then I wanted to go back, get to know the country more in depth and understand what it meant to me.

Through AVC I got a placement at the French Armenian Development Foundation based in Yerevan. They finance projects all over Armenia for the long-term development of the country. The types of projects they finance are: equipping hospitals, renovating schools or working with handicapped and deaf people to improve their living conditions in Armenia and help them find jobs. I help in the monitoring and co-ordination of existing projects and also in finding funding for new projects, asking for grants from international organizations.

I find that it is such an advantage to be of Armenian origin here. It makes the experience so much more profound. I was accepted as one of them from the start, I could really experience everything from the inside, and I never felt like an intruder.

I am so glad I came to Armenia, the experience is so much more complete that any I could have in any other country. I learn and see things on so many different dimensions.

Of course there is a linguistic and cultural dimension to the experience. I get to know the country, its history, its specificities and customs- who were Parajanov and Komitas, what is Borsch, who are the Armenian Navy Band, how to do a proper Genatz.

But I also find there is a very strong human dimension to the experience. You meet so many different people, have so many different interactions. You meet of course other volunteers, diasporans from all over the world with which you can share your experiences. You also interact with Armenians from Armenia. I found that they are very easy to talk to, they let you come into their lives straight away, they confide in you very quickly, tell you about their life, their problems.

I also found that there is a strong artistic dimension to the experience. Armenia is a country which is very orientated towards arts and I have never had such a close artistic experience than in this country. I met painters who brought me to their studios and explained me their arts, I met ballet dancers who took me to their rehearsals. It is so easy here and cheap to go to classical concerts, operas or ballets.

Somehow I also found my experience here spiritual, even though I am not such a devoted Christian. The journey through the forest to the Arekolov church, the frescos of Kobair and the sceneries from Gandzazar are all conducive to spiritual thoughts, I found.

Being a very city person, I found that my trip to Armenia brought me back to nature. Through various hikes around the country, I discovered its very diverse sceneries- the vast and dry hills of the surroundings of Yerevan, the green forests of Dilijan and the North East or the moonlike landscape of Aragatz.

Through my experience here, I have also discovered the world of NGOs and international organizations, a world much of its own, with its own rules.

I also found that this trip opened my mind to a number of issues and concepts that I had never given a proper thought before. Through the forums organized by AVC and Birthright, talks with people and my own observations, I got to think about a number of different world issues, such as: the influence and impact of communism, the place of Armenia in geopolitics, the economy of developing countries or humanitarian aid versus private investment.

All in all it is quite a complete and certainly amazing experience and one that I would recommend to any diasporan Armenian.


  • At 7:54 PM, April 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bonjour Laurence!
    n'ayant plus pu te joindre par mail, je me suis permise une vague recherche sur le net... du coup, quelle heureuse surprise d'avoir retrouvé ainsu ta trace!
    j'espère que tu vas bien et je serais contente d'avoir de tes nouvelles!
    bisous, Noula


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