AYF Canada’s Youth Corps “Vanadzor Camp” program
AYF Canada’s Youth Corps “Vanadzor Camp” program –
By Alik Boulgarian
If you ask me what I’ve learned over the summer you would’t think I spent that period of my life among teenagers… I had the privilege of spend most of my vacation time in Armenia, among old friends and new friends-foreverfriends. In order for me to explain the immense power the last portion of my trip had on my life, I must begin with the first steps leading me towards my ongoing journey. Finding myself within them… my campers from the AYF Canada’s Youth Corps “Vanadzor Camp” program.
I grew up in a family where “Armenia” was never considered a dream. It was only a matter of time until we visited and perhaps even had the great privilege of staying. In 2002, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Armenia, as the first generation of the ARF Juniors Organization of Canada’s “Hayasdanaknatsootyoon” trip. Over the years, opportunities arose allowing me to visit my homeland on a consistent basis and as a result, permitting me to get more and more rooted to my identity. Recently, during the summer of 2013, I was fortunate enough, as one of two teachers, to accompany twenty students from L’Ecole arménienne Sourp Hagop on their trip to Armenia, organized by the school.
At the airport, before our departure, as I sat at the ledge of the window observing my students’ excitement, I thought to myself: “This is what it’s all about… this is why I’m here. This is why I spent those endless hours at our community centre working in various committees and planning events. This is why I chose to be a teacher at Sourp Hagop. This is where my journey is supposed to take me.” I took a step back from my own life, and all of a sudden everything became clear, like crystal. Being part of this trip would be the epitome of my career. Yes, I previously have had the chance to be in Armenia, but to go with the students I helped raise as Armenian in the Diaspora… now, thats what it’s about.
This past summer of 2014, I stayed in Armenia for the longest period of time-a little over a month. I got to experience Armenia as a “deghatsi” and not as a tourist. However, throughout this period, I wasn’t just roaming the streets of Yerevan… I was dancing on them, along with the Hamazkayin ANI Dance Ensemble of Montreal, Canada. Together, we put on a show seven times in Yerevan, Gyumri, Oshagan and Artsakh thanks to the “Im Hayasdan” cultural festival and Hamazkayin Cultural and Educational Association. Being able to perform for our soldiers, our people from Armenia and all over the world was truly an unforgettable experience. Living those moments with people I care about dearly made the memories that much sweeter; I feel honoured to be part of such a tight knit family.
At the end of the day, Armenia is all about the experience. Armenia as a country has so much to offer its people-on the physical, emotional, spiritual levels. When you go to Armenia, when a Diasporan travels to Armenia, we have a purpose: to soak up every little piece of our land as much as possible. Once in Armenia, we realize how much we’ve actually missed it. We miss it every day, but there- we know what we’re missing. A couple of months ago, I discovered how much I had been missing out on, in Armenia. I had been missing out on getting to know our youth… but not anymore.
The AYF of Canada pioneered a day camp program four years ago, for the children living in Vanadzor. This initiative was taken by the youth of our community-people aged from sixteen to twenty-six years old. Individuals who already knew how important it would be to cater to our upcoming generation’s needs from the present time- and not when it is too late. This project would give the young adults from Canada and the States a chance to visit Armenia and give back in their own way. The AYF East and West Coasts also have their “Youth Corps” projects: this means we were all reunited for a great cause, even from different parts of the world. We had decided to make a difference. Two weeks might not seem like a lot and it’s not, but it means more to the kids than we will ever know… It means more to us, than you will ever know.
As tradition has it, once volunteers apply to be counsellors at the camp, we begin our meetings-coordination, organization, implementation. We also work on fundraising events, something different every year, in order to accumulate funds which will aid in the budgeting of our summer program. Later, we purchase the material required for the curriculum we build based upon previous experience and interest. We arrive in Vanadzor, set up for a weekend, finalize registrations and we let it begin. The main issue this past summer was lack of resources-monetary, personnel, material, food. The interest in the camp was exponentially growing, at a rate which we could not anticipate. We were not able to accept all the children who showed up on the first day of camp. That was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life, turn people away.
The counsellors were seven in number: Nathalie Setian, Karina Nagiar, Hovig Tashjian, Sevan Apanian, Garni Tatikian, Nazeli Khodabashkh and myself, along with one camp director, our Central Executive representative, Levon Sarmazian. The ratio was one counsellor versus forty campers; you can only imagine the type of day we used to have.
Our daily routine would start with the flag ceremony, “Mer Hayrenik”, and we would quickly split up into our smaller groups. There were three groups comprised of children between the ages of nine and eleven. There were also, four groups comprised of campers aged between twelve and sixteen. All of the groups would be occupied with dance, music and arts activities. We integrated sports, social games and drama activities within our programs. Learning about the ARF and our Armenian history was an integral part of our teachings and we tried integrating those concepts throughout every aspect we presented, especially to the eldest groups. The most interesting part of my day was the discussion part. The topics varied from: what would you do if you were president to gender equality issues. The campers brought up topics related to the everyday life of a Diasporan and revealed secrets to us we never thought they would utter.
While being engaged in these discussions, I realized these kids have something to say… They’re not regurgitating what they hear at home, but they have already formed an opinion about their situation. They are already aware of their rights-they know what they deserve, they just don’t know how to get it. They teach you about life; they teach you how to deal with difficulties. As I stood there, I realized I have more learning to do from them than they have from me. At that moment, during our first discussion about being president of our country, I concluded that it was only then that I got to experience Armenia. After all those trips, it was only the last leg of my most recent trip I knew what Armenia was all about-because, I met the youth, i heard their opinions. The future of our country is bright and very capable of bringing a change, an evolution.
I am truly appreciative of having been able to experience this realm of Armenia. I am thankful to AYF Canada who continuously provides opportunities for our youth here to give back to our homeland. I truly wish everyone gets to see Armenia the way they should.