Posts Tagged ‘armenia service program’

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: Lake Sevan.

July 22, 2010

By Arman Ayrapetyan

Nothing on this three-week trip has topped the excitement of climbing the mountains around Lake Sevan. Together our group scaled the steep mountainside along with Tigran, our tour guide. It felt as though we would never make it to the top, and I had some thoughts of calling it quits, but I forced myself to finish the climb. As we got higher, it started getting colder, our ears started to pop, and for me, it became increasingly harder to breathe.

At the top of the tallest mountain we climbed, sat what we thought was a lightning rod, surrounded by a wide field. Lake Sevan was a great view from the top, and our hotel was as small as a fingernail.

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Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

To our surprise we heard thunder, and not too long after, it started to drizzle. After taking our pictures, we started working our way back down. The mountain became increasingly slippery and I found myself falling on sharp plants. Due to the poor traction of my sneakers, I was the last one to make it to the bottom. We then bypassed an angry dog and finished the climb with a victory picture.

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Credit: Arman Ayrapetyan

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: Visit to Khor Virab.

July 21, 2010

By Paul Derderian

On July 18, we visited Khor Virab, the pit where St. Gregory resided for 13 years before healing King Drtad through prayer.  Khor Virab truly surpassed our expectations.  Mt. Ararat was the first thing we saw as we pulled up to the parking lot.  It was the closest view of the mountain we had seen yet.  I was instantly in awe of the beautiful sight — our motherland.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

After we climbed the stone steps leading  to the church at Khor Virab, we participated in Badarak.  The Divine Liturgy was held in a church across from St. Gregory’s chapel, which contains an entranceway to the infamous pit.  The liturgy was beautiful; the choir had a full angelic sound, providing bass, alto, and soprano sounds for each hymn. A Der Hayr said the confession during the singing of the “Der Voghormya,” instead of after the hymn like we are used to.  This had such a powerful effect on all of us, as it emphasized the fact that we were asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness of our sins.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

Following Badarak, we descended into the actual pit that St. Gregory was thrown into.  As we went down the ladder, the feeling of his prayers and faith overwhelmed each of us.  It made us reflect on how strong one’s faith must be in order to stay sane in a place like that for a couple of days, let alone  years.  In that pit, we realized how necessary a strong faith is in life.  St. Gregory proved that with strong faith in God, anything is possible.  The trip to Khor Virab inspired all of us to keep our faith, traditions, and culture alive.

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Credit: Paul Derderian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 9 – Temporary Shelters in Gyumri.

July 20, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

The earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988 left 25,000 people dead, and thousands homeless. Today, 22 years after the disaster, many families are still waiting for the government to provide those who lost their homes with an apartment. In the wake of the disaster, the government distributed metal containers to house the homeless. Although they were supposed to be temporary, they’ve become permanent staples in Gyumri’s landscape. Thousands of families have made their homes in these metal bins, and an entire generation of children has grown up in Gyumri’s sprawling shanty towns.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

FAR’s Gyumri staff took us on a tour of one such area. We weaved in and out of metal containers and makeshift yards.The roads are unpaved and dusty. We stopped and talked to people who live there. In true Armenian fashion, one couple invited me into their shelter for coffee. Armine Stepanyan and her husband Harutyun Amirkhanyan have lived there for five years. They have one son, Garlenchik. According to Armine, her in-laws, who were victims of the earthquake, did receive an apartment from the government, but they were forced to sell it to cover medical bills. This is a familiar story in Armenia, where most people cannot afford to visit the doctor or pay for their medicine.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Like many men in Gyumri, Harutyun is unemployed. His family survives on disability payments he receives because of an injury he sustained while serving in the army. The disability payment, or monthly toshak, is 20000 dram (roughly $55 per month). With that money Armine purchases a gas tank for cooking, and flour to bake bread. Although they have running water, the family uses it infrequently. Armine saves water in empty soda bottles and leaves them out in the sun. When they warm up, she uses the water for washing dishes or showering.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

Armine and Harutyun’s story is one of many in this sprawling patchwork of rusting bins and containers. As important as it’s been to tour Armenia’s museums, monasteries, and national monuments, it’s also been important to witness the realities of daily life.

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 8 – The Group in Garni.

July 17, 2010

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Credit: Lisa Zaroogian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 7 – Embracing Armenia.

July 14, 2010

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Credit: Lisa Zaroogian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 6 – Zvartntoz Tachar.

July 13, 2010

ASP-ers posing in between columns at Zvartntoz Tachar

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Credit: Lisa Zaroogian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 6 – FAR’s Soup Kitchen.

July 13, 2010

By Katrina Shakarian
 
ASP-ers divided their time in Gyumri between assisting with renovations at the Ounjian school and FAR’s soup kitchen. Everyday four members joined the staff at the soup kitchen, where they helped prepare a meal for 100-140 senior citizens.  
 
The kitchen employs four people who prepare meals and clean the facility. The soup kitchen is run by FAR; it was established by benefactors Margarite and Nishan Atinizian of New Jersey.    
 
The average beneficiary is over 65, and lives alone in Gyumri. Many of their children have gone abroad. Some are orphans who were sent to Gyumri as teenagers to work in Soviet textile factories. Some lost their spouses during the war in Karabakh. Others are refugees from Azerbaijan or victims of the 1988 earthquake.  
 
Their only income is their monthly pension, which ranges from 15,000 to 37,000 drams per month. In the summer months, 20,000 drams covers roughly 15 days of gas and electricity. It is not enough for food, running water, or medical care.

FAR’s Soup Kitchen in Gyumri

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

 
I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Gor Simonyan, who supervises operations at the soup kitchen. I asked him to list things that they need to improve their services. He said the facility needs a refrigerator and freezer, an oven, tables and chairs, cutlery, and silverware. Gor hopes that one day Gyumri will have its own senior center to provide a range of services for the elderly.
 
The work done at FAR’s soup kitchen is truly God-sent. At lunchtime, ASP-ers passed out bowls of borsht and gretchka. We placed cups of colorful limonat on each table.  

However, the most important part of our time at the soup kitchen was mingling with the people, eliciting a smile, and lending a hand. We listened to their stories. The people who visit this kitchen built this country as teachers, doctors, and engineers. They are its backbone, its heart and soul.

Father Tateos and FAR Staff in the Soup Kitchen

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

 

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 5 – FAR’s Ounjian School and Soup Kitchen.

July 12, 2010

By James Balakian

Like every day in Gyumri, today was incredibly busy. Apart from our work at both the Ounjian School and the soup kitchen, we partook in the blessing of the Ounjian School. We also had the opportunity to meet an elderly woman, who walks to the soup kitchen every day. Respectively, these events brought me both joy and sadness.

First, Father Tateos blessed the Ounjian School. The presence of Doctor Ounjian, along with the governor of Shirak province, further added to the significance of the event.  As this school comes closer to opening, it allows some light to shine where there has been much darkness. Gyumri is a city that still struggles from the earthquake of 1988. There are still many ruined buildings, as recovery has been slow here. Yet, this event gives me hope for the city, since I can see that progress is happening. With advancements like this new modern school, the younger generation here will be given a life that was unattainable by their parents.

After working at the soup kitchen, we drove an elderly woman named Nuneh back to her apartment, located in central Gyumri. In her home, I witnessed but a sliver of the bitter poverty that exists here. This woman lives in a one-room apartment. Here, she has no plumbing, no electricity, and no heat. She has no family, and at 73, takes care of herself. Her main source of sustenance is provided by the soup kitchen, to which she walks daily.

Being with Nuneh in her home has only strengthened my conviction that charitable work is necessary if more improvements are to be made here. To conclude, this trip has been beyond words, and I believe it will take much more exploration and thinking to understand this place.

Nuneh in her home in Gyumri

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 5 – Gyumri Youth Center.

July 12, 2010

By Eric Ashbahian

Do as the locals do. That has been my credo as I have toured and worked in Armenia over the past week and a half. When the group visited a local youth center, one of the girls there said that some youth were gathering in the main square to read at 7:30 in the evening. At the time I did not know exactly why they were doing this, but I learned that the goal of the event was twofold: to try to show Gyumri locals that reading is not geeky and to bring the local youth together.

We read silently for about 15 minutes and then had discussions in groups of about 10 as to why we felt reading was important, as well as what our favorite book was and why. The participants asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing in Armenia, as well as what I thought of their country. They offered to take me on a tour of their city.

The people of Gyumri are extremely proud of who they are and the culture they have been able to preserve. I received an amazing introduction to Gyumri from the viewpoint of the youth. I will never forget my time with them; it is an experience I will carry with me always.

In and around Gyumri; the old district of Slabotka

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian

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[ACYOA Dispatches]: The 2010 ACYOA Armenia Service Program Day 4 – Gyumri & FAR’s Octet Music School.

July 10, 2010

In and around Gyumri; the old district of Slabotka

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Credit: Katrina Shakarian