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: .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding Myself Through Volunteering

Ani Ishkhanian

Working in Armenia for AVC was a very personal transition for me. I had the pleasure of volunteering in Yerevan for three months and I don’t regret a single moment (as cliché as that sounds, one cannot escape from using it because it is the ultimate truth). I was placed at Ghoghanj Children’s Center and was looking forward to my time there, even though I kept reminding myself to not have any expectations. I went in on my first day with a blank mental canvas. I was sitting in the office and was waiting for my supervisor, until a little girl tip toed inside the room and began to speak Russian, thinking I will reciprocate. That’s when this little girl, Olya, entered my Yerevan life and I got my rough introduction to this little wonder of a place called Ghoghanj.

Volunteering at this center was the most interesting month-to-month transition I have ever encountered. My first month was the most challenging and stressful. I had all the common worries anybody might have. You hope to make a difference in people’s lives, you hope to be good at what you’re doing, you hope to not bore the children, you hope the kids like you, and then some. It was like being thrown into the wolves with no preparation whatsoever, and I cannot think of a better way to learn. An experience like this makes one incredibly resilient.

Next thing I knew it was my second month living in Yerevan and working at Ghoghanj. A new challenge proposed itself everyday along with old challenges, which was great because it gave me a chance to retry methods and learn from my mistakes. Again, that resilience. At this point I also started working at another site, a contemporary art NGO called Utopiana. Both of these jobsites were completely different worlds. Everyday I would go from a calm, work at your own pace environment (Utopiana) to absolute chaos (Ghoghanj), I loved the polar opposite worlds. It gave me a chance to experience firsthand different businesses and how locals would deal with specific issues.

As my third and final month trickled in I began to get much more comfortable with my abilities. I realized that I would not see the people I became close with at work everyday, all the mixed emotions naturally led me to self reflect. The amount I learned working at these places could not be summed up with an article. The entire experience has been awakening, inspirational, emotional, stressful, and incredible. AVC gave me an opportunity to figure myself out while being completely selfless. That in and of itself is an incredible gift. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I’m so happy and proud that I was able to do it.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, July 08, 2011

More Notes from Gyumri

Aleksan Giragosian

One of the volunteers here recently began his Armenian language classes. I asked him, "why are you taking Armenian classes, you speak Western Armenian just fine." He told me that the classes were conducted in Eastern Armenian and that he's taking the classes to expand his vocabulary. I laughed and said, "I'm trying to expand my Eastern Armenian vocabulary as well, that's why I'm taking a Russian language class."

All jokes aside, Russian is a hard language. I've studied English, Armenian, Turkish, and French, and Russian has sounds and rules that make it unlike any of the former languages. It has masculine and feminine. It has vowel harmony. It has pronunciations that I doubt I'll ever master. Never the less, if you are going to be in Armenia (or the region) it pays to know Russian. And why not? My classes only cost me about $4.50 per hour. That's at least 4 times cheaper than in the US.

Language isn't the only aspect of Armenian culture that's been influenced by Russia. Armenia's cuisine, its architecture, and its politics have all been permeated by a Russian, post-soviet culture. For example, the other day I walked to work where I passed billboards with Russian writing, I turned the corner and saw a Russian-style house made out of wood. At work, I spoke to my colleagues about corruption with the police department, the courts, and the universities. Apparently, you have to bribe your way into Armenia's best universities (bribery isn't uniquely post-soviet, but if you're in the post-soviet region, you're likely to come across some form of bribery). At my Depi Hayk forum I got to learn about how the mayor of Gyumri is super-rich and is buying up all the public spaces, like their central park, for what I would expect to be a bargain, to put it lightly. Finally, when I got home I got to enjoy the borsh dinner that my host mom made me. True story."

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Volunteering Changed my Life

Greg Bilazarian

AVC changed my life. This is my first and last blog post as an AVC volunteer so I’ve spent some time trying to channel my inner Hovhannes Tumanyan. But I think this time four words explain it, AVC changed my life.

Life is funny and unpredictable and expectations are often realistic. So after a four-year career as a television reporter in the United States, I quit to find salvation…in a developing country with a serious migration problem. Everyone told me to bring an open mind and no goals; I said OK and then wrote down all my goals.

AVC placed me with the Civilitas Foundation in their new online media project. It sounded like a perfect fit to everyone except me. I forgot to tell you I quit media because I hated it, passionately.

Day 1 at Civilitas was challenging, so was day 10, same with whatever day today is. But that’s why I love it. Civilitas is the best foundation in Armenia. Brief background, it was founded by Armenia’s former Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian. Salpi Ghazarian is the most dynamic leader I have ever worked for (I’m not kissing up and she’s too busy to read this anyway). Civilitas works in many sectors including microfinance, diasporan relations and now media. But here’s why it’s great…

It’s full of young, intelligent, multi-lingual professionals from Armenia. And if you have an entrepreneurial idea, you can implement it. So I’m helping develop an online media outlet while training reporters because a good story is a good story in any language. Most of the reporters are very inexperienced and we still need more infrastructure; but I have no doubt we will succeed.

Quick story about startups and challenges; I developed a Google Docs system to help organize the newsroom’s script writing. Change is not always easy and the first day we tried it things did not go smoothly. So we had a meeting and since my Armenian is not exactly great, I had a translator. In the beginning everyone was calm, so she translated. By the end, people were screaming, I occasionally heard my name, and then she stopped translating. Life lesson - when your translator stops translating, they’re talking about you – in a bad way. But most good stories have good endings right? We’re still using the script-writing program (with fewer struggles). One of the people most opposed to it told me the other day how much she now enjoys the program. Change is difficult but worthwhile.

You will read many posts about how impossible the job market is here. And many more posts detailing diasporan (btw, diasporan is not a real word according to Microsoft Word) struggles to find work. All those stories are probably true. But so is mine. Armenia is a country with its challenges, but you can help conquer them.

I came here speaking no Armenian. On the first day I was asked, “What is your favorite Armenian food?” I had no answer because I did not know the names of any of the foods. The vast majority of my friends in the United States are not Armenian.

And yet I came with huge expectations and a willingness to work. I have put in multiple 60-hour weeks (because Civilitas lets me and I want to) and have missed a few excursions to work on the weekends. Hard work pays off everywhere.

This is my first and last blog post as an AVC volunteer because I recently agreed to become a full time employee at the Civilitas Foundation. My title is producer; it might as well be “dream job”. Oh yea, I don’t hate media anymore. AVC changed my life.

Labels: , , , , ,