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: .

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Building a better society

Vana Urartu Agopian
(USA, 2012)My volunteer post was off the hook! I was placed at Ghoghanj Childrens Center… AMAZING! The center helps children from broken homes gain higher educational skills, social skills but more importantly, they assist children/adolescent expand a sense of self-worth which in return help them become positive and productive members of society.  The organization was started by two women, a mother and her daughter; they began the project out of their apartment on the outskirts of Yerevan. Overtime, the two ladies were able to collect enough funding to open a small center in the heart of Yerevan. The children come to the center after school and receive the attention they may not be able to receive in their homes. As for my own personal volunteer work… I joined the children on excursions, took them on field trips and really connected with several of the staff. However, the real work had started by a volunteer before me, she had started a program called Side By Side (a mentor ship program) a replica of Big Sister Big Brother in America, but tailored for Armenia. Side by Side assists in bonding young educated professionals with children from the Ghoghanj center. The goal of the project is to connect for example: a child who may be overly egotistical with a mentor of a more humble character, but share the same interests. Overtime the two begin to bond and balance while the child begins to grow with positive individuality. The program has shown wonderful results for the center. I helped them cultivate this particular program. I visited several businesses in Yerevan fund raising for the program; specifically, I met with owners of café's and restaurants, presented them with the goals of the mentor ship collecting gift certificates for the mentor/men-tee couples to use when spending time together. Side by Side mentor-ship program is a wonderful example of the difference a chain of volunteers can make when picking up where one left off. But I’ll leave you with this…The work being done at Ghoghanj Children’s center is absolutely angelic and through the chain of volunteers from Armenian Volunteer Corps. we can do our part and help them reclaiming a sense of social progress and build a wonderful healthy society for our planet. I hope you will get the opportunity to get to know these ladies and the kids.

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My Armenian experience...

Vanya Garabedian
(USA, 2012)

When I completed graduate school in May I found myself with a gap in time before I started my new job. I realized, Armenia, now is the time. I knew I wanted to go for an extended period of time and learn as much as I could. I wanted to spend my time with the locals and experience every day life. I started researching online and found Armenian Volunteer Corps. I read the website, filled out the application and the process began. The date was set, the ticket bought, I was going to Armenia for two months! I couldn’t believe it.

The first week was a whirl wind, being taken, literally by hand, from one place to another. My fears of getting lost and not being able to communicate with locals came true. All of it was exciting, exhausting and good. I was placed at Prkutyun, a day treatment facility for developmentally disabled young people. I was asked to train their staff in Art Therapy.

My goal: To teach them the skills of how to find their own solutions, to think outside the box and recognize nothing is concrete, everything is fluid and subjective. How to help the individuals learn about themselves and express themselves to facilitate their own growth. Needless to say my goal constantly changed and evolved to be more in line with the Armenian culture and ideas.
My first training was exciting; I met a group of young women who were excited and open to learn what I had to teach them. My second training, not so much; it was terrifying. I was in a room with older women who were arguing in Armenian for 20 minutes. I did not understand what they were saying, but understood they were not happy that they were in this room with me. When I asked my supervisor what was being said she simply said. “I told you they would be difficult, they are being difficult.” 

My supervisor tells me to share what I know and not worry about what they learn or do not learn, what they believe or do not believe. She believes they will come around. This comes up against my own belief system of wanting to work within their system and beliefs. I am not an expert, I do not know more. They are more knowledgeable about what will work and not work within their own culture. Then I realize how much of this is another opportunity to practice overcoming my own challenges.... Assertiveness and self confidence are constant challenges for me. How to be assertive and not shrink away or force things. How to stand in self confidence and trust what I know. So I kept moving forward, doing my best to find a balance between my desire to help and understand Armenia.
Right when I believed I was not making progress one of the women makes sure that I have bread at lunch. Another woman goes out of her way to say hi and another makes sure I do not miss out on the coffee break. My supervisor shares with me “They do not want you to go back to America, we will find you a husband so you can stay here. We will lie about your age, no one will know you are 40.”
Then it happened, I let go, I relaxed. I got to know the other volunteers and the women and beneficiaries at my work. Language no longer seemed as big of a barrier. I learned how to be quiet and more attentive on a deeper level than ever before. I discovered that the more I relaxed and trusted the more everything worked out. My relationships deepened, I was only getting lost once or twice a week instead of everyday. I began to understand some Armenian and was able to communicate a litte. I began to connect with people and barriers began to dissolve.

Success does not look like what I thought it might, me bringing new knowledge to Armenia.  Instead it looks like me being stretched outside of my own preconceived ideas and being challenged on professional and personal levels that I have never been challenged on before.

I can honestly say I can not imagine coming to Armenia any other way than through AVC. It was the perfect combination of support and independence. It is the most challenging thing I have ever done, both personally and professionally. I had the unlimited support of the staff of AVC and Birthright Armenia. I would recommend, and have recommended, this as the only way to see Armenia to everyone I know and meet.

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