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, July 20, 2010

This Armenian Life: In Volunteers We Trust

This Armenian Life: In Volunteers We Trust

By Edna Baghoumian
Reprinted from

What Is The Armenian Volunteer Corps?

I Googled the above and the following result appeared: “Armenian volunteer units or Armenian volunteer corps were Armenian battalions in Russian and British armies during the World War I. “Armenian battalions” [a perfect title for my subject] – “an army of volunteers that organizes change” which could not be a more appropriate description for all the volunteers who come from every corner of the world to Armenia to help.

But this new “battalion” or “army of volunteers” which is headquartered here in Yerevan at AVC, was founded in 2000 by the visionaries Jason Dermerjian (now Der Hovnan Dermerjian), Thomas Samuelian and Tamar Hajian.

“We have over 300 AVC alumni – individuals who served Armenia via volunteering in schools, non-profit organizations, public foundations, institutions and businesses,“ said Sharistan Melkonian, AVC’s director, “but we need more – this is a call for more adult volunteers.”

AVC acts as a volunteer’s “job shop.” Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age. There is no upper age limit, so more mature volunteers who are fit, healthy and willing would be warmly welcome to apply. If one wishes to be considered as a volunteer, you would need to commit to serve in Armenia for at least one month or for any period up to 12 months. Dependent on your skills and personal interests/preferences, you would be placed with appropriate organizations wherever these organizations may be in Armenia. Volunteers work on a wide variety of projects – from working with children or young people to giving “hands on” assistance to conservation projects or to campaigns for the protection of the environment. Volunteers make a vital contribution to all aspects of community life. The diversity of opportunities for voluntary work is limitless.

Meet the Pro at the Command Center

Sharistan Melkonian has been the Director of the Armenian Volunteer Corp since 2009. She moved with her family to Armenia from Boston to be part of this remarkable new wave of repatriation.

Shari says, “Volunteers can do almost anything!“ and “We need you!”

The Army

Twenty one year old health volunteer, Zack Dyer, is from the USA and is AVC’s poster child for being a unique individual with a keen passion to serve Armenia. He is the son of an Armenian mother and an African American father. Zack said, “Volunteerism has always been very important to me and [I] decided to spend the summer volunteering in a place where it meant a lot.” He commutes daily by “marshutkas” (local minivan taxis) from his host family’s home to the Gyumri “Healthy Center”.

He is working on organizing first aid classes for children dealing with summertime first aid concerns and putting together CPR classes for adults to provide emergency help to those with cardiovascular problems. He is also involved in preparing a proposal for application for a grant to fund the building of a bigger building for the center. His supervisor explained how easy it has been to work with Zack even though he does not speak the Armenian language and described Zack as “an extremely intelligent young man we are honored to work with.”

The agriculture volunteer, Nouny Benchimol, 21, is an Agronomy student from Montpellier, France. She decided to volunteer in Armenia for personal reasons: 1) an important journey of self discovery – her grandfather is Armenian and speaks fluent Armenian – she always wanted to learn about her Armenian origins; 2) she wanted to study the animal breeding practices in Armenia first hand.

Working as an intern at CARD (Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development) and visiting farms around Gyumri to help small farmers to increase food production gives her the opportunity to apply her knowledge where it’s needed and to gain additional experience of different farming and food production methods that are in practice in Armenia.

Environment volunteer, Ohannes Markarian, 21, comes from Jordan. He is passionate about environmental issues.

He decided to visit Armenia as a volunteer rather than as a tourist. He works with different NGOs involved with environmental issues and is also busy writing a children’s book in Armenian.

Business development volunteer, Tatjana Crossley, 21, is a Senior at Rice University in Texas. Her mother is Armenian. She wants to learn about Armenia, devote her time doing voluntary work and to put her knowledge to good use where it may be needed most. She is excited to be part of the work being carried out on an architectural project in Gyumri called the Techno Park – working on the on-going research and development to make this important project come to life in the very near future.

Education volunteer, Saro Danalian, 21, is from Los Angeles. Saro is working with Armenian Young Lawyers Association in Gyumri as an interpreter and he also teaches English to the other employees at the office. He said that the idea to do voluntary work in Armenia was inspired by his Jewish friends most of whom left for Israel once they reached the age of 16 in order to help their country. He was keen to do the same for his country and made the necessary enquiries and learned about AVC and Birthright Armenia (Depi Hayk in Armenia).

Birthright Armenia (Depi Hayk in Armenia) is AVC’s partner organization which sponsors volunteers from many different volunteer organizations with the travel fellowship and host family living arrangements as well as organizing unique excursions, language classes, forums, and much more. This organization makes the experience of the volunteers worthwhile and rewarding. Depi Hayk strongly believes in global participation in Armenia’s social, cultural and economic development.

I have met so many dedicated volunteers, like Valeria Cherekian, 32, of Argentina, who recently completed her three months’ voluntary service in Armenia. As an accomplished singer, she decided to work with the Little Singers of Armenia and the Centro Hispano. She also fulfilled her lifelong ambition to record songs, here, in Armenia.

Another such volunteer is mid-career professional architect, Lilly Djaniants, 30, from New York. Born in Baku, she decided to return to Armenia after 18 years abroad and spend two months volunteering. She is currently involved with three projects: helping with the initial design and planning for a tourist information center in the heart of Yerevan with the National Competitiveness Foundation; assisting the TUMO Creative Technologies Center to design a children’s park at the edge of the city; and working with a team of architects and urban planners on the initial designs for a Techno-park in Gyumri.

Why Volunteer to Work in Armenia? Armenia needs you and public spirited people like you. This country also needs skilled people and volunteers from all professions to come here to help with the immense work that needs to be done and to help this country to grow and prosper. The volunteer organizations need you to come and be, for however short a while, a part of life here in Armenia. When you then return to your own community – be it in Los Angeles or Buenos Aires or elsewhere – the hope is that your experiences will be encouragement and inspiration to like-minded Armenians in your community to follow your good example.

Before volunteers leave Armenia to return to their respective countries of residence, they are asked if they have a complaint about their voluntary work experience in Armenia. The invariable response is a big smile and the words “I just wish I could do more.” What spirit!

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