AYF Canada Camp Vanadzor: A Brighter Tomorrow

By Talia Bachekjian

It was 2010 when I was transferred from ARF Junior Organization of Canada to AYF Canada. I had heard all about this organization from my past counselors and I couldn’t wait to join and be involved. After almost 10 years as a badani, I had listened to countless lectures and participated in many workshops. It was now time to take the next step and put all that information to use. A year after becoming an AYF member, during the 2010 AYF Canada’s General Meeting, a decision was put forth to join AYF West, East and Lebanon by starting our very own summer youth corps program. AYF Canada’s youth corps program is set in Vanadzor, the third largest city in Armenia. Taking into consideration that the city of Vanadzor doesn’t have an ARF Junior Organization, our goal is to help the locals establish a new chapter by educating the younger generations about ARF history and by teaching them ARF songs. Besides that, the children get to learn English, do arts and crafts and play games. As soon as I heard all about this program, I knew that I was going to take part of it at some point of my AYF journey.

Let’s fast forward to 2015-2016 when I was re-elected as member of AYF Canada’s Central Executive Committee. Having been away from my homeland for over 4 years, I decided it was time for me to take on the responsibility of organizing, alongside my other executive members, 2016’s AYF Canada’s Youth Corps program. I am currently studying at University of Montreal’s “Early Childhood and Elementary Education” program and working with children is my passion. Therefore you can imagine how excited I was to run a summer camp in Armenia and meet the campers.

AYF Canada’s Youth Corps Camp Vanadzor program wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated members who decided to spend 2 weeks volunteering. As soon as we launched our promotional video, counselors started signing up one by one. Every time I received a notification of an application being filled out, I was eager to see whom it was. This year’s group was somewhat different than previous years. Alongside AYF Canada members from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, we had volunteers from Cairo, Jerusalem, Boston, and Los Angeles. It was truly an international team of youth coming together, believing and working for the same cause. Once our team was formed, we started organizing and planning the curriculum. We divided the counselors into different age groups. After a couple of Skype meetings, we were ready to head to Armenia!

I couldn’t wait for the FIFA’s Euro Cup final game to arrive but not for the reasons you may think. It was the same day that I was flying to Armenia! After long hours of travel, I was welcomed to my homeland by a breathtaking view of Ararat, the mountain of course. The following day, the group of volunteers united and got to know each other in our nation’s capital. The night before we went off to Artsakh, we organized a dinner with our friends from AYF Australia who were there for their very first youth corps program. The next morning we were on the road towards Artsakh. Although our trip was short, we were able to visit the famous landmarks such as “Mamign ou Babig”, “Ghazanchetsots” Church and the museum of our fallen heroes. We also organized a dinner with AYF West Coast on our last night in Artsakh. I couldn’t help but get goose bumps while we were singing patriotic songs together. The next morning we were finally on our way to Vanadzor. We spent our first day in the city shopping for supplies and setting up the classrooms.

It was the first morning of camp and you could see the excitement on the counselors’ faces. It was their first time in Vanadzor and as was mine therefore we didn’t know what to expect. As we were walking down the street of the school where our camp was held we could already see a big crowd. The parents, the campers as well as some locals greeted us. It was registration day. We had divided the tables by age group and I was keeping track of the registration forms. Once that was done, we started our day with the flag raising ceremony. My daily tasks were to type all the registration forms, visit every group and make sure they were on schedule and coordinating lunch hours. Before I knew it, the first week of camp was over. A parent was nice enough to bake us a cake to celebrate the occasion.

After a great first week, we had 2 days to rest and gather our energy. After hearing so many good things about the Tchrkan Waterfall by the previous group of volunteers, we decided to visit as well. Even though we had to stand in a pick up truck for an hour and walk barefoot on painfully slippery rocks it was completely worth it in the end. Trchkan Waterfall is truly one of the hidden treasures of Armenia. We were able to have a picnic and spend the day there.

The second week of camp flew by. It was already time for me to go over the leftover supplies for our inventory and prepare the going away presents for the campers. The groups were spending their final days preparing for our year-end show. On our last day, parents came to watch their children sing the songs, dance and listen them read poems that they had learned during their 2 weeks at camp. After an emotional goodbye, we parted ways in the hopes of one day returning back and rekindling the friendships we made. The unique bonds we created has got me reminiscing about the memories we created together every single day. I miss the group terribly!

As I think about what this experience has taught me, I remember the words of Karekin Njdeh to the people of Kharakilise as they prepared to defend against the Turkish invasion in May 1918: ”Straight to the frontline, our salvation is there”.

We also run towards the frontline in Armenia, for we know our only salvation is by being present in our motherland and helping it grow into a brighter tomorrow. I strongly urge all AYF members to part take in this life changing opportunity by participating in our youth corps programs and helping them grow bigger.

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