Archive for the ‘Why Do We Visit Armenia?’ Category

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[Why do we visit Armenia?]: Karinne Hovnanian

September 17, 2009

By Talene Baroyan

Karinne has been to Armenia three times.  She visited in the summers of 2004, 2005, and 2006.  She traveled to Armenia for the first time in 2004, as part of a family vacation. Karinne saw all of the tourist sights, but she also witnessed the plight of a nation in need.  She knew she had to go back to do her part in helping.

In 2005, Karinne visited Armenia through ASP, which is the Diocesan Armenian Service Program organized by the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America. During this visit, Karinne worked with Armenian children at a summer camp in Yeghnadzor.  Karinne was training to be a music therapist, and she loved the possibility of applying her skill to Armenian children in need.  Karinne had a great experience through ASP, and she saw the next summer as another opportunity to travel to Armenia.

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In the summer of 2006, Karinne traveled to Armenia with Birthright Armenia, and spent time working for MHF (Mental Health Foundation) and Orran, which is a center for socially vulnerable children.  At Orran, there was only one child psychologist, and 60 children to take care of.   Karinne vows that she will go back to Armenia at some point later in life, and will continue to help these children.

One of the most profound changes Karinne saw in Armenia over three consecutive summers visiting was the gradual increase in openness of the Armenian people.  Over the three summers, Karinne was able to see that people of Yerevan became more willing to ask for assistance, and happier to hear another perspective.  Karinne believes that as the Armenian people continue to embrace change within in their country, the will find new hope for their future.

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[Why do we visit Armenia?]: Teni Hovanissian

September 2, 2009

By Talene Baroyan

“I didn’t know I could experience such an intense love for something that was not living and breathing.”  These were the words Teni Hovanissian used to describe Karabakh.

Teni first traveled to Armenia in 1998, on a Homenetmen (Armenian Diaspora sports and scouting league) camping trip.   Why did Teni go to Armenian?  After attending Armenian school in Los Angeles for most of her youth, she had read a great deal about the culture and monuments of her ancestral land, and she was curious to see them firsthand.

During that first trip to Armenia, Teni developed what she herself described as “a deep love and appreciation” for the Armenian culture in its purest form.  Although the culture is rich and the country beautiful, Teni saw a lot of poverty in Yerevan in 1998, especially in children. Since then, organizations like the FAR’s Children’s Support Center were established as a direct response to the problem. The situation has improved greatly but although FAR has made great progress with respect to targeting child poverty, there is still much work to be done, especially outside of Yerevan.

Teni visited Lake Sevan on that trip in 1998.  While she was on the beach, she filled an empty sprite bottle with water from the lake, and kept it on her desk at home in Los Angeles for seven years, to serve as a reminder that she would have to visit Armenia again.

Beach at lake Sevan

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Credit : Celine Kaladjian

In the summer of 2006, Teni decided to go for it.  She organized a young professional’s trip to Armenia through the Armenian National Committee (ANC).  Teni shared many thoughts with me about this second trip to Armenia.  What sticks out in my mind, however, is her description of her trip to Karabakh as “life-altering.” When Teni was eleven years old, she remembers hearing about the Karabakh war on television, but it seemed like something taking place on the other side of the world.  But when she visited Karabakh in 2006, she saw the poor Armenians living in the region and thought “how did these people fight?”  The terrain was unforgivably mountainous. In Shushi, there were still bullet holes everywhere, and it appeared as though the war ended yesterday (although by most accounts it ended in May 1994).   In the midst of this miserable post-war scenery, Teni found the people of Karabakh to have such hope, optimism, and a sense of resolve.  They had a clear vision for Karabakh, and Teni was thrilled that they shared it with her.

Teni first visited Armenia to see the things she had learned about in childhood textbooks.  She later returned to the country in order to continue her discovery of this foreign place she had fallen in love with.  Teni is an executive at a large pharmaceuticals company in Los Angeles, however outside of work, she is very involved in the Armenian community.  I was proud to introduce her to FAR (though she first met us through Facebook!), and she was excited about FAR’s programs in Karabakh, and FAR’s effort to help those still recovering from scars left by Karabakh war.

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[Why do we visit Armenia?]: Tarra Kalian

July 28, 2009

By Talene Baroyan

A few summer ago, Tarra Kalian traveled to Armenia with the Armenian Service Program (ASP).  She spent a few weeks traveling around Armenia, and a few weeks volunteering at Camp Siranoush in Yeghenadzor, which is about 2 hours outside of Yerevan.

Why did Tarra go to Armenia?  The most honest answer was “because friends were going!!  This was an opportunity to travel to Armenia on a chaperoned trip with people who knew what they were doing, and where they were going.”  Tarra later had a moment of reflection and said that she had attended Armenian church every Sunday during high school, and wanted to see where all of the church traditions were born, as well as the place that her ancestors came from.

Upon arriving in Yerevan, Tarra was pleasantly surprised by how modern the city was. Yerevan was  cleaner and more organized that she expected.  It was less “developing” and more “developed.”  But Yeghenadzor was entirely different.  During the journey to camp, the bus driver told her group to lean to one side on hairpin turns, so that the bus would not go over the cliffs.  “Camp was rough,”  Tarra described.  There was no running water for the campers.  Water was obtained from a well, and the children were not able to shower.  The counselors had a shower to share, but it only had ice-cold water.   Every meal was bread and cheese, and the campers and counselors were given lentils on a good day.   Most campers had only one change of clothes.  Each counselor from U.S.A. had brought a box filled with stuff for the campers – makers, art supplies, stuffed animals, and other toys.   The children were thrilled to receive these things, and Tarra was thankful that she lugged the extra box from New Jersey to Yeghenadzor!

Exactly one year after leaving Armenia, Tarra took a trip back to Yerevan.  “I was soooo surprised to see the city’s amazing growth after just a year….how many new sidewalks were built, how many new shops were open.”  However, what left the greatest impression on Tarra was the difference in living standards between Yerevan and the countryside.  Through programs such as Continuing Medical Education and school rehabilitations, FAR works to increase the standard of living in the villages of Armenia.  With the help of our FAR supporters and all volunteers like Tarra, we will keep working to close the gap between life inside and outside of Yerevan.

Yerevan streets

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Credit : Celine Kaladjian

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[Why do we Visit Armenia?]: Ella Baroyan

July 20, 2009

By Talene Baroyan

Ella Baroyan had visited Armenia briefly in 1998, but a few years later one of her friends approached her with the idea of volunteering at a summer camp held at the Shushi Music School, in one of the ancient cities of Nagorno-Karabagh.  As Ella stepped off the bus in Shushi, she was surrounded by children.  The American counselors’ arrival was a big deal in town and most neighborhood children -campers or not – seemed to know they were coming.  Tugging at her shorts and grabbing her hands, most of them wanted pieces of dzamoon (chewing gum). At first this was a somewhat saddening experience, but it helped Ella to understand the situation she was facing in Shushi.

Over the course of the summer, Ella warmed up to Shushi and had a great time teaching campers dancing lessons.  Her bedroom was a sleeping bag laid out on a gymnasium floor.  However, in Shushi Ella learned that you should take nothing for granted – the sleeping bag was soft, after all!!  Aside from the typical camp activities like sports, music, and arts & crafts, these campers also received life lessons from their counselors (like how to brush your teeth!)

So why did Ella want to go to Armenia in the first place?  Two reasons:  1) She felt something inside of her telling her that the visit would help her understand what it was to be “Armenian.”   2) She felt connected, and she wanted to help.   Volunteering at the Shushi Music School Camp during its pilot year gave Ella a chance to make a difference in the community.   By the time Ella left Shushi, she had fallen in love with the place, and made a few friends on the way.

Ella and happy campers in Shushi

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Credit: Ella Baroyan

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[Why do we visit Armenia?]: Talene’s Baroyan New Column

July 15, 2009

By Talene Baroyan

So many Armenian-Americans travel to their motherland during early adulthood.  I think we do this not only because we want to learn more about our culture, but also because we want to give back to the country that has given us so much to be proud of.

Personally, I spent a week in 1998 interning at the Foreign Ministry in Armenia.  Following my brief internship, I traveled through Armenia as a tourist.  The experiences I had during these two weeks were quite eye-opening.  I fell in love with the gorgeous landscapes of the Armenian countryside and the enterprising spirit found in young Armenians freshly relieved of the old Soviet economic system.  When I first learned about FAR, I was so happy to discover the organization’s educational programs that give young Armenians a way to create sustainable businesses in the country.

Mount Ararat

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Credit: FAR Staff

Why do we travel to Armenia?   What do we learn about Armenia during these experiences?  I am Talene Baroyan, a FAR volunteer in New York City, and over the coming months I will be posting a few stories each month about young Diaspora Armenians who have traveled to Armenia to work in different volunteer capacities.   We want our readers to get to know Armenia the way we have, and we hope to entertain you along the way. Get ready for stories from young friends of FAR…..