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, February 24, 2010

Wednesdays with Tatevik - February 23, 2010

Tatevik Revazian

I cannot believe that I only have one month left! Time is passing by so quickly and everyday is special. I want to extend my stay for 3 more weeks. I would stay 3 more months, but I have to go back home and write my bachelor project for my university. But I will be back.

I have slept just a bit more this week as I promised myself. I have started to learn to write Armenian and I can read now, which is fantastic. Of course the level is like an 8 year old, but it’s quite good. I can actually play “alphabet games” with my niece and help her and it is quite fun for me too. I started piano lessons a couple of weeks ago and I am learning very quickly. I played when I was younger, but I haven’t touched a piano since, but it is all coming back to me.

Yesterday I went to a private bar and saw a funny film with Robin Williams. This is the first place I’ve seen a film in English. In the cinema, all the movies are in Russian – even the American ones.

Other than that I’ve enjoyed my time walking through the city and I am enjoying the wonderful weather. We had 18 degrees (Celsius) a couple of days ago. It felt like late spring. So I am quite happy while my family and friends are struggling with the snow in Denmark. Apparently this is a historic warm winter in Armenia and a historic cold winter in Denmark. Lucky, lucky me.

The most memorable experience this week was my first walk alone through the “shuka” (market). I was the only buyer and they were all saying: “kurik jan (sister, dear) come and buy some fruit from me.” I knew that I didn’t have any experience in this area. I was very polite which made me feel a bit obligated to buy something from everyone. Half of the things they showed me I had never seen before. Different kinds of fruits, spices and more.

They found out that I wasn’t from Armenia, which resulted in a huge interest in my talking about the far away country in Europe. And as always I had to answer the question “where do you like it most.” I kind of hate that question because it is impossible to answer. You can’t really compare two completely different countries. I feel at home in both places and comfortable in different ways in both countries.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesdays with Tatevik - February 17, 2010

Tatevik Revazian

This week can be defined briefly as the entertainment week.

Friday was Deannas birthday (congrats again☺) and sadly Brandon’s leaving party. We started at Deannas friends house and continued the party at different places. What a night!

Sunday was an amazing day!!! First my cousin got engaged so I experienced a real Armenian engagement. It is so much more traditional than in Denmark. Afterwards I went to a huge Valentine party. The brother of my friend (from work) was invited to this party organized by ABSOLUTE. It was a semi party/semi concert thing and we had lots of fun! We ended up at a quite fancy club at a special Valentine event. I was not ready to go home, but unfortunately work starts at 9AM).

Monday was one more day with meeting new interesting people! I spend most of the day with my friend from work, Olga. She took me to see her friend’s dance studio which was great. He started everything from scratch and they were all extremely motivated. It was wonderful to see!

Afterwards we went to a goodbye party for an Italian guy, Michelangelo, we met Friday night. Many of the volunteers were present and we had a great time eating home-made pizza.

Yesterday I had a great day at the Arbes child development and rehabilitation center. I was with the group with the youngest children – they are 3 and 4 years old. They don’t really speak, but one of the children tried to say my name. This really teaches me to be happy for the smallest achievements in life. I stayed there the whole day because the President’s wife visited the center (Rita Sarkissian). I was allowed to take a picture while she toured around the center.

In the evening I had Armenian classes and I took Michelangelo with me.

Although he only had one night left in Armenia he was very motivated to learn the Armenian alphabet. I was really amazed how fast he actually learned – especially given that he does not even speak Armenian!

After two hours he actually ended up reading short sentences.

Next week my goals is a bit more sleep!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesdays with Tatevik - February 10, 2010

Tatevik Revazian

This week my mum visited me from Denmark which was really amazing! We visited family members and went to the theatre. I would really recommend seeing the comedy “Don Juan.” It was a wonderful piece! I really did not expect it to be that good ☺.

Saturday we went to Ashotsk village which was an AMAZING experience.

I tried to ski for the the first time in my life. I have bruises everywhere now and it feels great. I was stubborn so although I fell really hard I continued. Next time I have to learn how to stop – it might be a huge help. It was so much fun to see everyone struggling to climb the mountains and as a result then falling.

While I was buried in the snow a guy helped me up and apparently he was from the team who might be going to the World Championship from Armenia. He gave me lessons and I improved very fast. Skiing is wonderful! The view was also fantastic. Being surrounded by mountains all covered in snow while the sun was shining would improve anybody’s mood.

Monday we went to the SOS Children’s Village. Most children living there have parents, but they were living under socially difficult conditions. The government does not support the Village, and the biggest sponsor is FIFA. These children have all the possibilities they could think of to be able to take care of themselves. SOS is willing to pay for any university they want to enter in the world no matter what the costs. But these children are not interested probably because what they need is a family and if they can’t have that, they don’t want anything. 6-7 children live in one house with an SOS aunt. All the employees at SOS are called aunts and uncles. These houses were in really good conditions. One of the children sang Armenian songs for us and it was just breathtaking.

Today I had my first day at the child development and rehabilitation center before going to work. I must say I was amazed by the people working there. I admire their patience because it is challenging to take care of the children, who are almost all autistic. Although there were only 4 children and two 2 employees and me working with them, it was still difficult. The children require constant supervision.

I must say I really liked their method of work. The day started of with a “welcome song” during which every child was acknowledged, then games, and at the end cooking together. The staff involved the children in the cooking process which I think is incredible although it was difficult. I felt very welcome by the children although they could not express themselves vocally. This is going to be a challenge for me!

At Mission East I am still working on the communication plan. I had a good feedback meeting and I know what the next steps are in the process.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wednesdays with Tatevik

Tatevik Revazian

Work is still fantastic. I have started writing the communication plan for the project and it’s interesting starting to analyze the material I have. Hopefully the output of my work will help Mission East.

Last week two diplomats from the Norwegian Ministry came to Armenia. The director of Mission East decided to bring me along to their meeting, lunch and a visit to the Matenadaran (museum of illuminated manuscripts with impressive old Armenian books).

They were very happy to meet a Danish speaking person, me, in Armenia, and it was great for me to experience how the two cultures interacted. I could see several differences and small misunderstandings throughout the day. At meetings in Armenia it is very common that people answer phones, but in Scandinavian countries, you have to turn off your phone before starting a meeting. The meeting was not as organized as Scandinavian meetings are, and it was quite fun to see such a huge difference. More examples could be mentioned!

On Saturday we went to Dilijan and stopped by Lake Sevan. Both places are quite different in the winter, but it was still very beautiful to see. We saw a very beautiful church Haghartsin that had been renovated.

We also viewed an exhibition and I was very surprised at how cold it was inside, and how the employees managed to work there without even complaining.

Afterwards we went to a small shop where a family produced different things out of clay. People in Armenia are really good working with their hands. I am impressed! After the trip a lot of us went out to a bar. It was nice spending time together in a different way.

The last update from this week is my visit to the child development and rehabilitation center in Yerevan. I was amazed to see how well disabled children were treated there. There were many experts in different areas that worked with children with both physical and mental disorders including autistic children. I was very, very touched because this is not how disabled are treated in Armenia. Most are excluded from society because of lack of opportunities of education and medical treatment. And also because families are embarrassed to have a disabled person at home. This mentality is an outcome of the Soviet mentality where the system is built on the “survival of the fittest” concept. I asked if I could volunteer there a couple of days a week and they were very, very happy. I talked to my manager at he told me it would ok that for me to do some of my work at home, so I can help out! The center is closed on the weekends. The children there were amazing and I just can’t wait to start volunteering there!

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Back in New York

Tracy Serdjenian
New York, USA

I’ve actually been back in the United States for over a month and now I am finally writing! I am still thinking of the last few months in Armenia, and the people I met there, all the time…

I was in Armenia, for my first (but not last) time this fall. I split my time in Yerevan as an AVC volunteer between two organizations: Counterpart International Armenia and Women’s Resource Center Armenia. They happen to be right near each other, on the same street, which made my life easy. These volunteer placements were a great fit for me because both organizations related to my educational, professional, and personal interests – my background is in sociology, social work, and community organizing. Working at two organizations allowed me to do different kinds of work and meet a lot of wonderful people.

As part of Counterpart Armenia’s Civic Advocacy Support Program (CASP), which works to improve democratic governance, support the development of local NGOs, and expand civic participation, I worked primarily on the organization’s community development manual, editing portions of it, assessing what additional content might enhance it, and then developing an action plan and creating a list of resources to guide future work on the manual. I also reviewed reports on climate change to explore how community development and advocacy could be integrated into climate change mitigation and adaptation work. Additionally, I ate a serious amount of cake. At Counterpart, it seemed that almost every day was someone’s birthday, or they just got married, or had a child or something – which was fabulous, because whatever the occasion, it meant CAKE!

At the Women’s Resource Center, I worked with another volunteer to organize and facilitate a discussion group (in English) around issues impacting women. It was really interesting to be a part of the exchange of perspectives and experiences between women who had lived in different countries (Armenia, United States, Georgia, and France) while supporting people who wanted to practice speaking English. I also helped organize and prepare for, and participated in, a variety of events around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. I put up stickers with information about violence against women throughout the city, took part in a peaceful protest/march and candlelight vigil/open mic event, and gathered anti-violence posters from around the world for an art exhibit and film screening event.

People sometimes say that through volunteer work you get back more than you give. My experience working as an AVC volunteer was really special in that way, because while I contributed to the work of each of these organizations, I received so much more in terms of my own learning and also, most importantly, relationships. Being an AVC volunteer really allowed me to be a part of something in Yerevan. It was very meaningful to me that volunteer work wasn’t completely separate from the rest of my life in Armenia. I spent time with co-workers outside of work, and Counterpart co-workers, fellow Birthright/AVC volunteers, and other friends took part in Women’s Resource Center events and activities, which was so exciting. Even though I am back in New York, through these experiences and relationships, I feel more connected to Armenia now, and it doesn’t feel quite so far away anymore.

PS I kissed Sokho.

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