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: .

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"I didn’t expect to find an exact fit"

Dawn Huckelbridge

I came to Armenia with few expectations. I knew I was eager to immerse myself in the culture and learn as much as I could, especially since I had not previously had a great deal of connection with my heritage. I knew I wanted to try my hand at learning the language, that I hoped to work with community based organizations, and that I wanted to conduct some of my own applied research to try and better understand the political and social environment. Beyond that, I didn’t really know what to expect and what, if anything, I could effectively offer.

After two weeks in the country, this experience has met and far exceeded any expectations I had. My professional and academic background is in gender and policy, particularly women’s empowerment and political leadership. I didn’t expect to find an exact fit for my interests and skills in terms of my work placements, but AVC managed to do just that. I’m currently splitting my time between the International Center for Human Development and the Women’s Resource Center Armenia.

Coincidentally, the week that I started work at ICHD, they were drafting a proposal for a project to promote women’s leadership within the national political parties. I immediately jumped into the project, using some of the research I had done prior to my arrival and also resources from my Master’s thesis. I was able to provide the written rationale for the project, which was submitted this week, and if it receives funding I’ll be able 9to take part in its implementation. The Women’s Resource Center has been equally gratifying. During my first week, the Center was holding a press conference to discuss their work to amend sexual violence legislation in Armenia. I asked if I could help with international press outreach, and was able to connect the organization with Trust Law, a division of the Reuters Foundation providing pro bono legal assistance and press for women’s rights initiatives. Trust Law is now writing a feature story on the Women’s Resource Center and their work and wants to offer legal resources. Additionally, I’m able to use some of my skills in strategic planning and development to work with the Center on monitoring and evaluation, planning, fundraising and outreach.

These projects have fit perfectly within my own professional niche and have afforded me the opportunity to build my technical skills and experience and also to actively take part in the work being done here. On top of this, I’ve continued my independent research on gender and political systems in Armenia, which has been fascinating and really enjoyable - everywhere I go I meet interesting people who can contribute and are eager to speak with me over coffee. I hope to continue this research when I return home to the States, and to do what I can to continue my relationship and work with the organizations and activist movements here.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Serving Armenia's Competitiveness

Sylvain (Vicken) Muradian

Volunteering at the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia (NCFA) with the tourism development team has been a great chance for me. I have had the opportunity to contribute on a wide variety of issues including:

- The preparation of a business plan for the project to turn one little known geological wonder into Armenia’s first show cave

- The benchmarking of Visitor Information Centers in the Eastern Europe, Middle East and Caucasus regions

- The collaboration with a consulting company to improve the Armenia Southern Tourism Corridor development framework

- The feedback of NCFA to the government on the new tourism law under discussion

- The analysis of the impact on tourism of the potential launch of a large scale mining project

Volunteering at NCFA has allowed me to get some understanding of Armenia’s tourism sector challenges, of the dynamics of business development in Armenia, and of how ministries, NGOs and businesses interact in this context. The team considered me as a real resource, taking me to meetings and asking for my advice. They also involved me in their after-work activities, and I have become very good friends with some of them. It was a real pain to leave after 3 months of good work with them. I really felt I was part of the team.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Volunteering - the Other Side

Nathalie Demirdjian
(Florida, USA)

I knew I wanted to come to Armenia to “participate” as it is called around here, but I had no idea where my job placement site would be. I was ready to help wherever I could, but I think I had a slightly unusual request - to volunteer as a legal intern. I imagined this was unusual because people might wonder what kind of impact a legal volunteer could have, especially when I am just starting to learn the rich language. What was I thinking? Well let me tell you, I was ecstatic. I had tasks to do even before I arrived. In AVC’s great hands, I knew that everything would be fine no matter what. I already felt that this country is so welcoming, safe, and helpful, there was nothing to be scared of or worried about.

So what could I possibly do here? Well the people at the Armenian Volunteer Corps are truly wonderful because I have been perfectly placed at my jobsite, Knyazyan & Partners Law Office. The managing partner, Sarkis Knyazyan is a great boss. He’s very progressive and forward thinking. He takes the time to explain his work to me and makes me feel important. AVC has access to a vast network, so that anyone can tackle any kind of project they dream up - REALLY. And I have a zillion opportunities to do all the typical volunteer activities too, like painting a school, planting trees, and teaching English, but this opportunity is helping me realize my personal dreams too, as I get to contribute to and help advance intellectual property law field in Armenia. Truly, I really feel like I’m making a big impact!

For example I’ve done some web site designing to host the first intellectual property rights moot court competition in Armenia- (this is most similar to a Jessup Moot Court Competition), which will benefit the universities, lawyers, the Armenian government and public at large. It will bring in international best practices and educate the next intellectual property lawyers, government officials, teachers, and students through mock trials, seminars, and extensive research. This competition will help Armenia counter piracy and counterfeiting, foster a more friendly business sector, and lawmakers that are aware of international standards. These are the practical goals of this international moot court. And when I’m not web-designing for that I’m doing legal research for a new website that will be an easy to use and highly resourceful IP legal site for anyone that needs it. These tasks are fairly new to me, yet I because I am open to learning and experiencing new things I am having fun and accomplishing significant things! (=

I truly feel that I am giving back and learning so much at the same time about myself, the country, and the legal field. There are endless opportunities to contribute, to explore, to learn, to have fun and to experience the culture - It is astounding how much I can do here. I hope that from my short blog post you know that whether you are an artistic person, medical, business, or legal, there – are plenty ways that you can give and receive here!

The photograph is of the Knyazyan Team (including Nathalie second from left) at the offices of Knyazyan & Partners.

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