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, February 09, 2012

The power of one

by Sanan Shirinian

Often, the history of my ancient people is reduced down to tragic, dispassionate statistics: 1.5 million murdered during the genocide, 25,000 killed in the earthquake, over a million emigrants in the past twenty years.  However, each of these numbers has a face, a family, and a story which make them human.  Although I was brought up thousands of miles away from Armenia, the plight of my people is never far from my mind.  Their stories shape what I value in life and propel me to work for a better future.  Throughout the years, my several trips to Armenia as a volunteer, had given me insight on the country’s unique reality.  After a mere 20 years of independence, the fledgling state was quickly changing. It seemed to be a growing organism in desperate need of public participation.  My passion for social justice and my eagerness to take part in Armenia’s growth process somehow led me to my current internship at the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation (HMF).

The Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation is a social democratic policy institute in Armenia committed to the development and advancement of public policy issues that espouse the basic values of social democracy through education, training, research, and regional and international cooperation. Its focus and aim is to encourage public debate and promote equality, freedom and democracy in Armenia and the region. The Foundation produces academic research papers, linking them to political decision-making and policy, organizes conferences and round tables, publishes studies on social democracy and conducts trainings for young political leaders.

Just as action is inefficacious without education, I believe education is squandered without action. This is precisely why I am so fulfilled with my work at the foundation. It is a professional environment where we critically examine multiple issues, upon which we make a plan of action to tackle them. Going into work each day, I receive practical experience and get a direct perspective on the social and national development of Armenia.

One of the first initiatives I successfully completed at the foundation was producing a groundbreaking documentary series about the challenges and achievements of women in Armenia. In cooperation with Yerkir Media, we prepared six television segments telling stories of women’s experiences with business, politics, healthcare, domestic violence, migration and the Artsakh Liberation Movement. The project opened my eyes to so many different realities women face in our country, and as a recent graduate of the Women’s Studies department at UCLA, I was all the more appreciative of this opportunity. Aside from this extensive project, my day to day tasks range from preparing preliminary research for policy change, applying to innovative grant opportunities, arranging conferences for political leaders, and much more.

Working at the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am challenged by the work put in front of me everyday and accomplishing even the most seemingly miniscule tasks feels like a great victory. Although many lamentable numbers can be attributed to Armenia's history, I believe the most important number is 1; the number of people needed to start making positive change for her future.  While I recognize that simple solutions to complex and multifaceted problems in our country do not exist, I am ready to invest the necessary time and effort to see Armenia move forward. Working at the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation means taking a small yet important part in that process.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Preamble to My Armenian Reality

by Anahid Yahjian(USA)

I didn't come to Armenia to try and make a difference in people's lives. I am 22, fresh out of college, confused, drowning in my own convoluted sense of self. I have no business entering any space--let alone one as mutable as the South Caucasian one--and announcing to the people therein,  "Let me help you help you."

I'm not here to try and find myself, either. To benefit from the dram-to-dollar exchange rate as I wander the pubs of Yerevan, explaining in between cigarettes that I'm just on a quest to figure out who I am, man.

I am here to learn. To struggle with language. To hand over my compass. To stand corrected when I assume too much. To fail, and to fall hard.

It isn't easy. There are days when I am nothing short of a burden to the people who have welcomed me into their homes and workplaces. I flounder through basic tasks, upset the order of things. But I am forgiven endlessly. There is deep wisdom that precedes any mistake I could possibly make; a level of compassion that is infinitely both nurturing and patient. For this, I am forever grateful.

And so I remain, a vestige of certainty and power, submissive to the mutability of this place, where people dance in the aisles, wax lyrical about dark pain and always, always remind me, jana, that this is where I need to be.

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