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, 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.

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