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, June 30, 2010

Civic Advocacy, CASP, and Silva

Silva Boghossian
Toronto, Canada

My first day as a volunteer at Civic Advocacy Support Program (CASP) a division of Counterpart International Armenia, a co-worker of mine showed me to my desk and gave me a tall pile of documents to read in order for me to understand what CASP was all about. After reading through the pile of documents I still didn’t quite understand what CASP was so I asked my co-workers. My co-workers explained to me that the goal of CASP is to strengthen advocacy NGOs and in order to achieve this they help local organization build on their advocacy skills, organizational development and want partners to have the proper skills to lobby issues and cooperate with the government. CASP also works on public awareness campaigns, elections, CIVICUS and many more projects. I have worked for CASP for the last 3 months and while I have been here I was given a few projects. The one project that got me to truly understand and learn the names of Armenia’s cities and villages was when I was mapping out the impact Counterpart’s funding gave to these communities and how far it reached out in Armenia. I can truly say that I believe in this organization and they have done a lot of good work for Armenia.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Recap With SunChild Rebecca

Rebecca Kandilian

It has already been a couple of days since I’ve been back in Yerevan and I’m just starting to acclimatize to the life off the green bus. Life in some ways has become a bit uninteresting and slow as I’ve been accustomed to going to at least 2 villages a day, meeting a wide array of people and laughing a ton. At one point, my coworker Satenik and I laughed for three minutes non-stop—a result of identical sense of humor and tiredness. Heck, life is too short so why not laugh through it right? Easy thing to say now but there were plenty of days and instances on the bus where even the silliest and funniest occurrence would not have made any of us crack a smile. Having lived in Yerevan for a bit one might start to forget the absolute horrible conditions that almost the entire Armenia is in. I went, I saw and I have since not been able to sleep well.

I would now like to write a bit about a place that, in retrospect, left a mark on us--not in a good way I must say. Debetavan--The last village hugging the Georgian border. 20 kids and 3 teachers. No visitors for the past three years. Kids with just as much depth and understanding as any other kid but far from having the tools to receive the best possible education. After spending some time with the kids, we sat down with the teacher and had a little chat. I started to look away as I did not want to distort my ‘tough’ image. The kids had 40 year old bowling pins that they played with. The teacher had told them that those things are a part of a game and she would do an exercise where the kids close their eyes and imagine playing. Right then and there, my mind wanders off to a lot of kids back home that so often have so much yet complain about insignificant things like not having the right brand of shoes. Life is truly not fair. Then, I feel blessed and lucky to have lived in conditions better than those of the Debetavan kids. But, I still cant get over the fact that these kids are just as worthy of a decent education as any other.

To end on a good note, I hope to put a proposal together that will make the kindergarten more than a just a house with a bunch of kids. But, a place where children learn the first lessons about life, reading, writing and decision making. FPWC cannot do this without the help of other organizations or donors. I must now invite anyone and everyone interested in helping out in anyway to email me at

I just started doing my laundry today and tonight I will stuff my backpack and hop on the green bus to go to the Lori region tomorrow morning. I leave without much expectation to safeguard myself from disappointments...

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunday Recap with SunChild Rebecca

Rebecca Kandilian

On Wednesday, three of my coworkers and I said our farewell to the rest of the staff and hopped on the green bus (which is a misnomer as the bus is white and not green)—on our way to the Tavoush region; on our way to provide environmental education to Armenia’s youth one region at a time.

A typical day-- 7:00 AM our clocks go off and after having a meager breakfast we head out to a nearby village. There, we ask around and find the village headquarters. Thus far, they have been extremely supportive and they provided us with a native to lead us to the nearby school. There, we set up everything to show a short film or two on littering, deforestation etc. Then, we TRY to lead a discussion, ask the children to write a fairy tale with nature as its theme and for the artists an opportunity to paint on the green bus. Clean up and to another village. Around 5-7, we head back to Ijevan where we screen a movie (Avatar, Wallee and Home). The number of people that came to the movie increased exponentially each night. If we had stayed there for a week, I am pretty certain that we would have had a full theater.

Our day officially ends around 10:00 PM. Unofficially, 1:00 AM and I am already deep asleep at 1:02—that tired! I must say, our days on the green bus truly feel like a week as we seize every second of our day to educate and raise awareness for the innumerable environmental issues that Armenian is faced with. Overall, during the past five days we’ve visited 5 villages (Achajour, Khashtarak,Lusadzor, Yenokavan and Sev Kar) and have become celebrities in Ijevan.

It is now time for me to vent a bit. Driving through the untouched beauty of our nature and going all around Armenia to educate the children sounds pretty ideal right? Don’t get me wrong, the experience so far has been absolutely amazing and the project touches on almost all of my personality traits and interests. But, it’s only fair that I state the ‘downers’ as well. My co-worker Satenik tells me, I (her too) look visibly saddened every time we hop on the bus after visiting a village. The truth is seeing those kids, knowing how much potential they have and at the same time realizing and seeing that the potential is absolutely not being nurtured just breaks me to pieces. No, we can’t choose where we’re born (it’s one of those human conditions) but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that these kids are in dire need of independent thinking and a better education. We ask these kids what their thoughts are about the films and they just look surprised—no one has ever asked these kids about their OWN opinion. They just look for a way to agree with us and say exactly what we are saying. To end on a good note, we loved those kids, they loved us and as a wise person once said it has been a big love fest.

We just left Ijevan this morning and are now in Noyemberyan. I must say it is already evident that Noyemberyan is a couple of years behind Ijevan in the littering and environmental awareness department.

A reasonable happy but with a dash of sadness SunChild thanks you for reading...

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Teaching and Learning

Zepur Simonian

In seven weeks, I have learned and grown so much more about life than for the past twenty-one years. I have witnessed three car accidents – one fatal, one badly injured, and one o.k. (so he seemed). I have met the very poor and also some quite the rich. I have encountered the best people in the world, and perhaps the worst scums of this earth. I have experienced very euphoric days – days when I want to share my happiness – and days when I just question the purpose of my life – wanting to dwell on my lonely thoughts. Pretty much my Armenian experience has been whiplash after whiplash after whiplash, but for some odd reason, I have never ever wanted to leave Armenia. In fact, I feel like there is this magnetic force that literally pulls my heart out and places it on my sleeves. I become so vulnerable and so emotional about Armenia, and for what? Honestly, I have asked myself – why do I care so much about this country when it does not even really belong to me? But of all things Armenia possesses - scenery, culture, corruption - Armenia’s youth is the only thing that keeps me sane, hopeful, and makes me want to live here for quite a while. In fact, my interaction with Armenia’s youth has changed my negative perception of Armenia and it has completely changed my life’s priorities. For this reason, I hope to use this one and only blog of mine to encourage volunteers to teach the youth. Teach them anything, and when you teach, you not only help the future leaders of Armenia (I don’t care if this sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth), but you also learn from them and become a better person.

Currently I teach 12-16 year old students how to write a five paragraph academic essay in Armenian. This may not sound exciting, but honestly, it is just as important, if not more than volunteering in NGOs or other facilities for research, etc. And I know I could say this because I also work for an NGO and am currently writing a research paper about channels of communication between NGOs and the government. For this paper, I interviewed NGOs and government officials, and my hope does not rest in civil society – my hope in Armenia’s future rests in the youth. Unfortunately, these brilliant minds need teachers.

Imagine if American high school students were never taught to write an academic paper. How in the world will they succeed in college? More importantly, how in the world will they succeed in life? Writing, other than oral communication, is by far the most important and powerful skill in life, and imagine, these children only know how to write creative essays. Essays, that will not bring forth scholastic achievement. Besides the fact that they lack the concept of academic writing, the biggest problem is that they have beautiful minds – very philosophical and profound – but they cannot effectively express their thoughts because they lack organization and they are told how to write and what to write. Their minds are subjugated to think and to write a certain way when writing is having the freedom to express thoughts on a paper.

Consequently, freedom was their main topic. Students were given two poems, by Michael Nalbandian and Medzarentz, and they were asked to write an essay about the poems’ connections, their definition of freedom, and the importance of freedom. Knowing that these kids lacked any understanding of a five paragraph essay, I created a word cluster diagram, an outline, and gave a detailed explanation of each section’s structure and purpose. (Oh, and most importantly, these kids love to plagiarize, and I know that this is a problem for college students, so if we as volunteers teach them now how to avoid plagiarism, then we can solve cheating in education and perhaps, it can transfer to their lives in general). Anyway, these students have come a long way – imagine a twelve year old boy keeping up with a sixteen year old girl. These students could not even write a thesis. I made them write their theses at least four times – each paragraph three times. At one point, they were about to give up. But today, they have a fully structured five paragraph essay. These children are absolutely brilliant, and they are the only reason I look forward to going to work. Armenia has so so so much potential – I cannot say it enough – but that potential exists in the youth. And by the youth I mean pre-schoolers to thirty year olds max.

We volunteers are obviously accomplished people, but we have reached this point in life because of the education we received from our teachers. Yes, other people and environments have influenced us as well, but imagine if we did not have teachers who cared about us – who showed us a path – who taught us to recycle, reuse, reduce – who showed us the difference between right and wrong – who reprimanded us for our wrongs and praised our rights – who taught us dance, music, art – who taught us sports – who shared with us a marketplace of ideas. Imagine not having competent teachers. Imagine living in America and reading papers that are filled with grammatical errors and disorganization. Imagine living in the streets – fooling around in the summer because there was not a school or a program that would keep you out of the streets. We are who we are because of our education, and sadly, Armenia is losing its education and brilliant, talented minds are suffering. Armenia is experiencing, or so it seems, severe brain drain. For this reason, I just hope my overly cheesy thoughts encourage volunteers to teach the youth in any way possible.

Zepur volunteers with Professionals for Civil Society.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sunday Recap With SunChild Rebecca

Rebecca Kandilian

No more itching—Check!

Out of Yerevan and onto the Green Bus—No Check.

Punctuality—Negative Check!

Punctuality is next to Godliness to me. I genuinely get happy and almost euphoric, especially nowadays, when someone is on time. Prior to coming to Armenia, I knew that time was a bit of an issue as there are a lot of challenges-- It’s a developing country etc etc. But, I didn’t know it was an utter epidemic. For the past week, for all of my appointments, the 9 has been 11-12 and 12 2-3. Whereas my 9 is 8:50, my 12 is 11:50 and so on. I don’t mean to boast about myself. No, that is not my intention but why say 9 when you know, realistically, you can’t make it before 11? This train of lack of punctuality, among other things, has put me in a bit of a sour mood. I wish I didn’t care about it and I wish it didn’t affect me but I can’t help it. So, the million dollar question at work and out has been “what’s wrong with Reb?” What do I say? But, you always have this charming smile they follow. But, we all have our off days I say in my head. Ok, now that I have vented, I shall stop here with my rant and get onto the more exciting stuff.

This week, in between editing texts, I went to Tilijan (an hour and a half away from Yerevan). For all those who have some appreciation of the natural world, this is the place to visit. It’s almost like walking through a picture book of beautiful sceneries—very calm, quiet and green! There, I visited the local eco-club. Eco-clubs are established all over Armenia by SunChild and serve as a supplemental place where children and young adults gather to learn English, environmental issues, film making and journalism. These children take an oath to become the stewards of their country’s natural world and strive to raise awareness for nature protection in their communities. One of their yearly projects is the production of a short film that focuses on an environmental issue. So, when I went to Dilijan on Wednesday, the children and I went around town and got some footage for their short film on mud slides. Although I only knew one of the kids from that eco-club, we quickly become acquainted and spent the day hiking around, picking fruits and getting some footage for their film. These films are later screened at many international film festivals and one from another region (Garni/Goght region) was recently chosen as a finalist for the Panda Award at ScreenWild Festival in UK (very impressive).

Thanks for reading…once again, I hope to be on the Green Bus by the time I write next Sunday but I never know.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Non-Sunday Recap with SunChild Rebecca

Rebecca Kandilian

I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries this week about what my days are usually like. So, I must enlighten. Now, it is perfectly normal and totally understandable to not want to know about my daily routine. But in the rare chance that you do, I ask that you read on. Here it goes…

7:30 A.M. – my phone (i.e. my alarm) goes off. I stumble as I get up, wash up and start thinking about what to wear (not that there is a whole lot to choose from). Meanwhile, hearing that I’m up, my host mom gets up and as I finish getting dressed she yells out “your chai (tea) is ready Rebecca”. We sit and eat cheese/bread/strawberry jam and I drink my chai as she drinks her coffee.

8:00- I’m already out and walking to work. I walk and walk some more on the quiet streets of Yerevan for about an hour to get to our office (i.e. the SunChild Office) around 9. Let me briefly describe our office as it is more like a house than an office. As you walk through the metal door, you are met with a bed of stairs which lead to the main office where all of the computers and such are. There is also a ground floor where the kitchen and the bathroom are located with a little backyard behind them which is actually quite precious to me as you will later find out.

So, as I walk in, I run upstairs (I’m not sure why I run but I do), turn on my computer, and first check the news (LA Times, CNN, NY Times etc.)—I do have to keep myself a bit informed on the affairs of the world. Then, I check to see what I need to get done for the day—usually editing writings written in English. At times, it’s more like rewriting than editing but regardless I do both gladly and with lots of joy. You may find this a bit quirky but I do take a lot of pride in editing writings—taking something that is ‘all over the place’, understanding what the writer wants to say and presenting it all in a clean-cut-trimmed-terse manner.

Around 1 or 2 in the afternoon, the whole office heads down to have lunch. I find this a very bonding and stress relieving period as we all gather around a big table and eat/laugh/talk away. And, coming from a particularly CHOOSY eater I must say there has yet to be a day that I have not liked the food prepped. I guess this is a good time to thank Digin Anahid for making me feel a bit at home with her wonderful cooking.

After lunch, we usually head back up and continue our work and the schedule for the rest of the workday will usually depend on that day’s work load. If it’s a particularly ‘heavy’ day, I will keep working until 5-6 with occasional brief visitations downstairs. On the ‘lighter’ days, I head down to the backyard around 3 and enjoy the tranquility while I take a brief nap on the orange colored hammock—we or I call these my ‘creative’ naps as they recharge my writing.

What do I do after work? As you can imagine, by the time I leave work I am a bit tired and brain-fried but NO I can’t call it a day. So, I usually call a friend or a friend will call to meet up, have dinner and explore the city. Some days, I must gather with the other volunteers for a forum or some sort of a get together. Then, there are those rare days that I am just totally and utterly exhausted in which case I walk home, cook myself a bite to eat and sleep not waking up until I hear my phone go off—back to square 1.

Overall, I try to make the most of my day because as they say life is just too short!
Now, should you have any questions or topics that you want me write about (perfectly fine if you don’t) I will gladly do so. You ask, I write—very simple!

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Technology Leap

Nigel Sharp
United Kingdom

Sitting here staring out at another hazy, slow and sunny Armenian day it’s easy to forget that my previous life was in the heart of London with all the towering glass buildings and historical bridges. The change of pace is still taking its toll on my body clock, I have a bigger project to work on here than any I’ve done before but I have to work at a much more entangled pace because of the inherent hardships present in everyday actions…

Sending an email waits for the phone line wrapped around a tree to momentarily provide us with broadband internet, The office day starts when people feel like coming to work and the commute to work is at the mercy of the minibus driver’s mood.

Nevertheless, the added challenge is part of the reward of being here, every achievement although maybe never acknowledged brings a sense of personal pride because you’ve done something out of the comfortable western style work environment.

My job is now the Technical Project Manager for the Tumo project, it’s a fantastic project on a fantastic scale, the impact this project may have on future generations of Armenians cannot be understated. We struggle with the basics like an office email system, yet we are designing a cutting edge technology centre which will put similar endeavors in Europe and America to shame, we are building something at least 10 years ahead of its time, and in Armenia the leap could almost be considered as the same jump from smoke signals to 3G communication.

AVC placed me in what I can only describe as a dream project, doing a dream job, I feel very fortunate to actually be able to use skills and my work ethos to have a beneficial impact on a project (especially of this scale).

The initial interaction with workmates was easier than I imagined because English is spoken in the office, and when the occasional switch to Armenian occurs, it’s still quite easy to follow the conversation.

Okay time to stop staring out of the window, the exciting stuff to see is the work on the computer screen in front of me.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sunday Recap with SunChild Rebecca - June 6, 2010

Rebecca Kandilian

Don’t itch. Self-control Reb!!. Put some alcohol on it. Your blood is just way too sweet. And, the best line I’ve hear this past 24 hours, compliments of my host-mom, “you look like you have some sort of a skin disease.” Thanks host-mom--very kind. No, I don’t have a skin disease but yes it does look like I do as my entire body is covered with golf ball-sized red spots thanks to a slew of mosquitoes. I guess that’s what I get for feeling way too comfortable out in the wild and laying down on the grass with just my little short-igs.

In terms of work, after last week’s hustle and bustle of filming and all, this week has been the calm AFTER the storm. The office has been terribly quiet and calm. But, we can’t relax too much as this week is also the calm BEFORE another storm (i.e. another project). So, let me tell you all about it. It is called the “green bus” project where an environmentally friendly bus equipped with educational tools (e.g. books, films, SunChild staff etc) will travel all over Armenia and make stops at different regions to educate the children of the region about various environmental issues. I, along with a colleague, will do a brief overview of marine biology and water pollution. After spending 7 days in a region we will come back to Yerevan to reload the bus and head out to another region or that’s the plan anyway. Now, the bus was supposed to leave about a week ago but as I have come to learn—nothing is for certain here in Armenia. So, I hurry up and wait for the bus to be ready so that we can start on the project. Believe me when I say that I’m not at all fond of uncertainty. I find it a bit unsettling but especially here in Armenia it is an inevitable part of life. So, I must learn to live with it.

Despite being a more of a ‘relaxed’ week, I still have had quite a bit of work to do mostly editing some texts. Or, as the director says I am quite good at ‘Americanizing’ any and all sorts of texts. At the same time, I wanted to have a day off this week to explore so I worked long and hard this week and took Friday off to explore. Where to? Well, last week, I had made a promise to a couple of the kids from the neighboring regions to visit them and Friday seemed like a good day to visit Symbad-ig—a sweet little guy. So, off I went to ‘Yeghegna-dzor’ to spend the day with Symbad and his family. There, we went swimming in the nearby river. Then, to the lake to catch some fish, cleaned the fish, cooked it and ate while I was being eaten by those lovely mosquitoes. Above all however, I was surrounded with beauty of our nature, churches and lovely people—a good way to spend my Friday.

Thanks for reading…I hope to be in the Tavoush region and not nearly as itchy by the time I write my next blog next Sunday.

Oh and don’t forget to recycle!

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sunday Recap with SunChild Rebecca

Rebecca Kandilian

First and foremost, I must apologize for posting this a bit later than I intended—totally uncharacteristic of me. Only in extreme/unusual situations do I fall short when it comes to making deadlines, promises appointments etc. I must also mention that I have not slept much these past couple of days—here comes another apology for the possibility of not making sense at times. Sitting in the office, next to my overstuffed backpack, wearing my now-faded jeans and Nike shoes filled with dirt with a red bump on every two-inches of by arms and legs (compliments of the mosquitoes and flies) I will try to sum up the interesting/fun/challenging/unforgettable four days I spent out in the wilderness in a region called “Urtsadzor” (Urdz= Thyme , Dzor= Gorge).

What was I doing there? In short, I was helping out with a SunChild project which involved filming a reality TV show where kids spend a weekend out in the wild trying to survive (very similar to the show “survivior”). Over the four days, I was surrounded by three things. First, the breathtaking beauty of Urtsadzor, the thyme filled gorges, rivers, ancient churches etc. Second, a film crew made of a dozen personnel filming every move as these six incredible kids spend an unforgettable three days in the wild hiking through gorges, churches, fortresses and Khosrove reserve all located in Urtsadzor.

The project, among other things, was organized with the goal of introducing the children to the beauty of the nature that their country has and to encourage them to preserve and cherish its existence. These six kids were selected from various eco-clubs, an establishment by SunChild where children gather and learn about different environmental issues and discuses solutions and their part in preserving the natural habitat of Armenia, located in different regions. On the very first day, before the start of their journey, each child was given a task: healer, archaeologist, pathfinder, cook etc. Each day the children equipped with an Ipad (how cool is that?) and a GPS went along from a starting point to their final camp site. Along the way, by following signs were places, riddles given, hints and clues provided that tested them both physically and mentally.

I suppose I shall thank the gal at our office for not being able to go at the last minute and my eager beaver-ness for agreeing to jump right into it. Being a bit of a nerd, I used my studying skills to learn and memorize all of the trails and activities with their minute details in a couple of hours. I also did not know much of the crew members or the kids—I had only been working in the office for 3 days. But, we leaned on our inherent commonality; I was Armenian just like them. But, I later learned, through our chats in between filming, we had much more in common than just that. And the kids, uhhhh the kids, what a joy to be around! Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to speak with them until last night after we finished filming but we instantly ‘clicked’ as they stormed me with millions of questions and asked me to write their names in Armenian to test if I REALLY knew how to write. It also did not take them long to divide up the clothes I was wearing (a dirty jeans and a t-shirt) amongst themselves—apparently they liked the things I wear. I promised to give it all to them after my 9 weeks of stay--I do need my belt and pants for the next couple of weeks!

Thanks for reading…I will be doing a really fun project for the remainder of my stay and will write all about it in my next entry.

P.S. The injured foot is as good as new—I have now gained a much deeper appreciation for my feet.

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