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: .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

From Australia to Armenia

Charis Tyrrel

Leaving Australia

It is June 2010 and over morning coffee in our home in Canberra, Australia my husband Anthony asks if I would like to relocate to Yerevan, Armenia? He had been offered a 6 month contract with UNDP and I rapidly think through the myriad of departure preparations but just as rapidly agree that this is an opportunity not to be missed and four weeks later we both arrive suitcases in hand in Yerevan and embrace the warm welcoming summer weather.

Looking for volunteer position in Yerevan

I have worked all my life and knew that I wanted to be gainfully occupied and to contribute in some productive way during my time in Armenia.

Firstly I knew that if I was going to volunteer my time and energy to an organisation or project there were several important criteria that needed to be met before I would be prepared to commit to anything. The organisation needed to be authentic, transparent, not for profit and with values and ideals that align with my own personal beliefs.

Secondly I am of not Armenian and only speak English so I needed to take this language barrier into consideration when looking for a suitable volunteer position. However I felt that my skills from working for 35 years in a range of jobs including horticulture, textile art/craft production, art/craft sales, art/craft teaching, gallery operation, art/craft conservation repair, museum conservation, office administration and project management could be put to practical use in Armenia. I have a degree in Visual Arts and a MA in Materials Conservation.

Thirdly I was open to any interesting volunteer projects that would effectively utilise my skills. But I was particularly interested in working/assisting women to extend/develop their textile production with a view to selling their items to increase their family income.

So with all these things relatively clear in my mind, I sat alone in the flat in Yerevan and began my search of the internet which I intersperse with visits to the local café for shots of thick, strong Armenia coffee to keep my mind focused!!

Armenian Red Cross Society

I had previously done volunteer work for the Australian Red Cross so I organise a meeting with staff at the Armenian Red Cross Society (ARCS). I was unsure exactly how I could contribute to this organisation but was open to any project and felt that my English language skills may be valuable. I was asked to assist with the Armenian Red Cross Society Project “Don’t Judge by the Cover”.

The basic aim of the six month project was to help reduce prejudices amongst the Armenian population towards foreigners by conducting a series of innovative and interactive “Human Library” (HL) discussion groups for university students and refugees with the results collected from these meetings to be used as recommendations to prepare the Republic of Armenia to deal with national cohesion policies.

Further detailed information on the project can be found on the ARCS Population Movement Department web site:

My tasks were clearly set out. I was to provide English editing assistance in the development of project materials and report writing and to attend and participate in workshop sessions and provide feedback to the project team.

Initially I was a little apprehensive about the project as I had not previously done this type of work. However I found the HL project extremely interesting and was very surprised to find that many of the prejudices expressed in Armenia are similar to those expressed towards refugees in Australia. AlthoughAustralia has refugees from other countries this is the first time that I have been directly involved with refugees and had an opportunity to hear their stories and learn how they adjust to life in a new country. Involvement in this HL project has most definitely made me more aware of the difficulties that refugees face and has made me more understanding and sympathetic of their situation.

Armenian Volunteer Corp

I was aware that my volunteer role with the ARCS would only be part time so I continued to search the web for other positions and came across AVC who miraculous had a position advertised in exactly the area I had wanted to work in!! The project was “Working with rural women to develop, produce and sell craft items thereby increasing their family income”. The position was with the newly formed “not for profit organisation” Homeland Handicrafts (HH) and I immediately submitted my details and met with AVC and commenced work shortly afterwards with HH. I believe that the planets had aligned in my favour with this volunteer position!!!

Homeland Handicrafts is a purely voluntary grass-roots organisation whose goal is to create jobs through a new generation of Armenian handicrafts, using traditional materials and techniques with the specific focus on women in rural locations.

Further detailed information on the project can be found on the Homelands Handicrafts web site:

The HH team was extremely creative and operated in an organic and egalitarian style.

My tasks were to help provide feed back on product designs, provide practical advice on product improvement, develop craft product prototypes, provide detailed instructions to accompany the prototypes, and source materials for prototypes and samples.

Returning to Australia

I will share my volunteer experiences with others when I return to Australia and am currently investigating the possibility of talking with several Armenian communities in the major Australian cities with the idea of promoting the AVC and Birthright Armenia programs.

Other – on a personal level.

I formed a close friendship with a young women who spoke an impressive four languages putting me to shame with my ability to communicate only in English! She was keen to improve her spoken English skills and we had fun chatting over coffee and visiting the art galleries and museums together. Through our discussions I learnt a lot about Armenia culture and history. It was also joy to see how much her understanding and ability to express herself in English improved over our months together, bearing out my belief that it is the little things that count in life.

I had contact with an Armenian family whose grandmother was unable to walk after a major medical operation. The family was desperately looking for a wheel chair and through a serendipitous set of circumstances I visited the Punick Disabled Centre in Yerevan who had just received a shipment of brand new wheelchairs from a USA donor. The family contacted the Punick Disabled Centre and was able to acquire a wheelchair without incurring any cost. I know how much this meant to the family and it was very humbling experience for me to have been able to make this connection for them. It was very much about being in the right place at the right time.


The volunteer role with the ARCS was not at all what I had initially envisaged but I embraced the challenge, shared peoples life stories, learnt a huge amount about the Armenian society and culture, and had the privilege of working with intelligent young women on this valuable humanitarian project.

I have to say that the role with HH provided some of the most stimulating, interesting and creatively challenging work that I have ever been involved in. I and am very grateful for this opportunity!

Through both my volunteer roles I met and worked with some very interesting people, learnt an enormous amount and was fortunate to travel extensively in the Armenian countryside and experience the people and culture in a very unique way. My only hope is that Armenia gained as much from my volunteering services as I gained from this experience!!!

By the way: I always received prompt and excellent support from AVC on any questions or requests I had during my volunteering. I have great admiration and respect for the enthusiasm of the AVC staff. I recommend this volunteer organisation without hesitation, even for a non Armenian such as myself!!

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