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: .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Handicrafts in Gyumri

Anush Mirbegian, 26

It came as an absolute surprise to me as the tears started to roll down my checks during my last day at the women’s handicraft workshop where I had been volunteering for the past ten weeks. All of the lovely Gyumri ladies I had come to know were too looking at me with teary eyes. I had not realized until this moment how they had become part of my life and I, part of theirs.

I arrived in Gyumri at the beginning of July and started working at the handicraft workshop for women, a project created by Armenian Caritas to provide a place for women who are victims of domestic violence, girls from orphanages and poor families to learn skills like sewing, knitting and beading.

I have been working in the fashion industry for four years in New York City, freelancing in design, styling and research. Last winter, things started to feel a bit dull and I was in need of some inspiration, so I began a getaway plan for the spring and summer. By a mere accident, I happened upon the Birthright Armenia website, just browsing on wikipedia. Things started to unfold, I found AVC through Birthright and three months later, I was in Gyumri.

The women at the workshop were students of Nelli, one of the best seamstresses in Gyumri and I was there to assist her and attempt to bring something to the table that they had not previously learned. I racked my brain and decided I had the opportunity to inspire these women to think a little bigger and brighter than they had before. This proved to be one of my biggest challenges during my time in Armenia. I brought in art books, photos and clothes, whatever was inspiring me at that particular moment and shared it with them. I gave presentations about working in New York, like how to design a line and what happened on fashion magazine photo shoots. I managed to create an open forum and encouraged them to share what inspired them and they did. They presented me with sketches of their ideas, books on ancient Armenian costumes and things they had created during the beading and knitting classes. It felt like a truly unique experience because we were all sharing our inspirations and work and learning from one another and from the different lives we lead.

I worked individually with each of the women on their specific projects, which gave me the chance to get to know all of them on a personal level and this was invaluable to me. I fondly think back on our intense discussions about life in Gyumri, meals shared and all the laughs we had.

Toward the end of my time at the workshop, Zhanna, the Caritas project manager came to me with a new idea. She wanted to create a set of Armenian dolls that would be produced and hand worked on by the women of the workshop and then sold in Armenia and she asked me to give a hand in designing them. I was so pleased to be part of the beginning of this project and my desire to be involved in its evolution will bring me back to Armenia in the next few years.

Anush currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She is working on a number of projects including designing menswear, styling for Italian Vogue, art directing a new magazine and researching and reporting on fashion and lifestyle trends.

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