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 29, 2009

"When we read we begin with ABC. When we sing, we begin with do re mi." When we browse, we begin with HTTP.

Mandy Ani Messer
Livonia, MI (USA)

After I finished Grad School, in 2006, I made my first trip to Armenia with my 3rd cousin who is one of the few people in my family who speaks the Armenian language. We were the first ones in three generations to come back to the country. I fell in love with so many things here during that trip, and I made a few promises to myself at the same time. I fell in love with the way that people are connected to nature and the weather, the passion that the community has for the arts, the way that everything from the colors of a dance costume to a tombstone has meaning, and the drive of the local Armenian youth that I saw. I met countless people who speak 3+ languages, talented musicians, people hustling and ecstatic to meet me and get to know me and show me around. This is not what you’ll find in the average U.S. city.

The 2 biggest promises I made to myself during that initial trip was to a. come back to Armenia and volunteer, and b. learn the language so that I can speak to locals and connect with my culture one-on-one, on their own turf. So I worked for 3 years and saved. Now, with my stuff stacked in boxes in my parents garage, I’m living, learning and growing each day here in Armenia. Six months into my stay, I can easily say that this experience has been richer than I ever could have imagined it would be.

In between jumping off waterfalls, hiking through mind-blowingly beautiful gorges, asking questions to the Minister of Economy, stumbling through conversations in Armenian with local families, store attendants, and taxi drivers, I manage to find time to dedicate 30 hours to my volunteer placement. I quickly realized that going to work is very different here than in the States. It’s a transfer between one form of family to the next – people care about you. We eat lunch together around a picnic table everyday, and coffee breaks are doses of time dedicated to joking or catching up with the people around you. This is even reflected in the vocabulary – “unkutyun” is the word for “organization or company”, and it literally translates to “friendship”, “gords-unkerner” means “co-workers” but literally translates to “work friends”.

Finding a good fit for a volunteer placement was very important to me since I’m at an early point in my professional career. I had been working in web design for 5 years and don’t want to put the brakes on this. At the same time, I aspire to turn my career toward an international direction… it is very important to me not to stay cooped up in the U.S. for my adult life. So, after a bit of pro-active networking and researching, I found a perfect fit for myself with TUMO. TUMO is an educational organization, aimed at teaching technology and art to high school students in Armenia. TUMO embraces innovative ways of teaching and learning, and will offer a learning environment that will nurture creativity and teamwork in the student body – two things that are not available in Armenia’s current education system, still a carcass of the Soviet Era.

Web development education is taught differently at every education institution. Just in the last 2 years, a movement to standardize the education of web development in the field has begun. I’m involved in this movement now, in an environment so close to my heart – working to benefit Armenian kids – in Armenia! I’m taking a brand new curriculum framework being worked on now by the movers and shakers of the web design field, and adapting it to meet the needs and vision of TUMO. I’ve defined the skills that the students will need to learn, how those skills group together to accomplish learning goals, and I’m writing a collection of activities to teach specific skills to the student body. Many students here will not have been exposed to computers before, and their English language skills may not be strong. So we’re using a lot of images and visuals to teach the skills, and basic concepts to teach terminology. We’ve visited schools and had students come in to test the activities. I’ve gotten the chance to be a part of this innovative education project from the beginning and I’m so lucky for that.

Technology is a sector with a lot of potential in Armenia because Armenia is not rich with natural resources like other countries, so it is key to tap into the creativity of it’s people. TUMO is investing in society’s people right now, it’s intellectual capital. TUMO will give students the opportunity to get hands-on with technology and art, leaving them with a portfolio of work to have as their own. Students who are inclined to continue on and compete in the digital design world will have a strong base to do so. Others will have these skills under their belt to add value to any organization that they’re working in – be it to work on their website, produce video work to spread information, work on presentation or marketing animations, etc. The bottom line is, my work has meaning, both for me and for students and for society.

I have to agree with what one of my fellow volunteers said when I showed him all the things we’re working on – “This is the type of work that you simply can’t find in the U.S.” I whole-heartedly agree. Armenia’s current social fabric offers an opportunity for a massive innovative endeavor such as TUMO. The energy of the young high school students here are just going to eat this up. And the actualization of this vision can thrive in the social fabric of Armenia in a way that it never could in the U.S.

Needless to say, after being here for this extended period, I’ve made more goals for myself. My life ahead has a growing list of “to-do’s” with a flexible itinerary. I can’t wait to drive down these new roads I’ve discovered.

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  • At 7:57 PM, November 10, 2009, Blogger Mark Gavoor said…

    very nice piece. i was delighted to see you were from livonia. i went to stevenson hs and have been to hayasdan twice. upon full retirement i would love to volunteer as you have.

    all the best


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