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, August 29, 2007

Mama Sveta and Papa Vahan

As my Armenian comprehension improves, I'm learning some interesting things about my Gyumri host parents.

Mama Sveta is warm, loving woman. Mama Sveta was trained as nurse but has been out of work for seven months. The two hospitals in Gyumri have consolidated resources into one surgery hospital (with the help of U.S. funding). Good for that hospital, but not for the people at the other hospital like my mama. I can tell she is depressed. She doesn't know what to do with herself at home. She has a really hard time getting up in the morning. She made me breakfast the first couple of mornings, but she has started not waking up in time recently. It's actually fine with me, because I'd rather grab a coke lite and a muffin at a local bakery than gulp down last night's boiled chicken and fried potatoes.

I've asked her if she could work at another hospital or maybe do something else, but she says the other hospital is too far away and she is not trained to do anything else but be a nurse. I can tell they are having a hard time. There is always enough to eat, but our food is very simple and plain compared to some of the meals other volunteers are indulging in.

Mama Sveta is always telling me to "Ger, Ger Katie Jan" or "Eat Eat". I could have eaten them out of house and home and I don't think she would ever be satisfied. Before one excursion, she stuffed fistfuls of chocolates and candies into my bag to eat on my excursion. Who can say no to sugar for lunch!

The shower situation has been interesting at the house. I took several bucket baths at first but now we have a semi working shower (thanks to the Birthright requirement). Papa Vahan installed the showerhead and pump but the shower is very tempermental. It usually is pleasant for 10 seconds and then get hotter and hotter until it is almost scolding. Then it turns freezing cold. I have razor burn on my legs and my hair feels gross from shampoo remnants! Mama Sveta is very concerned with my showering. Now that she is aware of the problems, having experienced them herself, she feels the need to pop into the bathroom while I'm showering to get the temperature update. I swear, one day she popped her head in three times. No shower curtain, by the way. I kept telling her it was fine, but she kept coming in! Sevana's mama insists on washing her hair for her. Luckily, it hasn't come to that.

Saturday, I washed all of my clothes by hand in the bathroom. It took about 2.5 hours! Mama Sveta enjoyed coming in periodically and asking if I was tired yet. Maybe they felt they had to prove to me that washing clothes was back breaking work. I really had no doubt that it was, but I guess it was good for me. After all of my clothes were out on the line, Julia pulled her friend out on the balcony to look at my clothes. I still wonder what they were snickering about. Were my clothes not bedazzled enough for them, were they laughing at my underwear with the monkies on them? Guess I'll never know.

Papa Vahan is not home much. He drives a truck for the Russian Army.He seems drunk a lot to me, but I never really see him drinking. He chuckles when i talk and he seems to make fun of his wife a lot for his own entertainment. I think it is harmless, but I think it annoys Mama Sveta. One day I came home and he was 'sleeping' on the living room floor. That was interesting. He finally woke up, laughed at me in his little stupor and waddled off to bed. At dinner, Vahan reminds me a little of my own armenian grandfather. He whines and talks like a baby to his wife...mama get me this, mama please get me that. I'm so hungry, it's so hot in here! The sun is in my eyes, mama! She puts up with a lot from him, but he is a good guy overall. Just a big kid in a mans body.

Julia is typical young adult. She is twenty. She just finished college and is going to a teaching university in the fall. She has more clothes than i do. Tons of bedazzled shirts, matching handbags and a cupboard full of lotions, cosmetics that she probably received as gifts over the years. She will not use them. I think it just makes her feel good to have them and smell them once in awhile. She does love her mousse though and her makeup. I'll have to post the picture of me after she did my hair of makeup. i'm a haystani beauty queen!

She texts on her phone a lot and dances to one horrible armenian song over and over again. She gossips a lot about her friends and neighbors. I think she wonders why I cut my hair short and why my clothes are so plain. I humored her on Saturday and went shopping with her after my laundry a thon. I bought some things to help me fit in. It was a fun day of haggling and exploring Gyumri on hot summer day. My new capri jeans say 'jeans' in little fake rhinestones on the left cuff. Shad Siroun.

Katie Riley

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dancing in Gyumri

Sevana Naaman
La Crescenta, CA

At the end of my first week of volunteer work at Pyunic in Gyumri, I had a clear cut goal of how I wanted to spend the following ten weeks of volunteer work. I was going to teach the children of Pyunic dance...Hip Hop and Latin American Dance. Pyunic is an organization serving disabled children, children who have disabled parents, and children whose families have a low socio-economic status. The Pyunic Center of Gyumri is a drop in center designed to provide the children of Gyumri a safe place to call "home," improve their talents, and social skills. At first, I felt that my position at Pyunic was replaceable and unnecessary but after two weeks things began to change. My dance class was scheduled three times a week from 12-2 in the afternoon...however, that soon changed to every working day. My students would show up an hour before class began and I would have to force them to leave. I taught my class of 15 kids, ages 6-19, four dances. The first was to Jennifer Lopez's "Let's Get Loud," the second was a Hip Hop dance to Chris Brown's "Run It," the third was a modern ballet to Dave Matthews' "Satellite," and finally one last Hip Hop dance to Timbaland's "The Way I Are."The most important part of this experience for me was noticing the evolution in my students. For example, the first two weeks of class my students would not smile, would not enjoy the music, and seemed like they were being forced to dance. But after some long classes, that at times seemed never ending, my students began to actually have fun. I think they began to trust themselves and finally trust me. Soon after, my students would often brag to me about how much they practiced the dances the night before at home and sometimes they would show me short combinations that they had created. One student's mother found me on the street on my way home from Pyunic and explained that whatever I was doing was really working because she had never seen her daughter so happy and excited about life. We held a dance concert at the end of July. Pyunic gained news coverage and lots of praise. My students felt like superstars... however, I always knew they were. They started to walk around with pride but most of all with smiles...something that the new generation living in Gyumri truly needs.My background is in Social Work, specifically working with youth and in an organization like Pyunic where the struggles of youth are plentiful, fun is what was needed. And through dance and music and humor, fun is what these kids got.I never expected to make a large impact in Armenia. I never expected to change the way the country works. But I dreamed that I would make one child smile. I dreamed that my presence and my work would bring a sense of normalcy to a child. I feel that I did create smiles. I feel like I have instilled a sense of pride in my students. I know that I accomplished what I wanted during my stay. And I know that I will return to Armenia.