Three weeks into my engineering placement at Shtigen, my BirthRight job coordinator offered me the wonderful opportunity to take a week’s break from my original placement and participate in AGBU’s tri-annual Armenians Come Together (ACT) program. This program is dedicated to humanitarian work in Armenia, including renovating school and community center rooms, distributing packages of food and essentials, and organizing recreational activities for area children. While I had absolutely no construction experience prior to this, I love engaging with children and felt that this could be impactful work for me to participate in.
I arrived at AGBU’s meeting room on Monday morning to a group of familiar and some unfamiliar faces. Some of the volunteers were fellow peers from BirthRight/AVC, while others had joined through different mediums. We found out that the classroom we would be renovating would be in a school in Araks, a border village in the province of Armavir.
Once we arrived, I shared a snapshot of the school on Instagram, ready to start the day. We started off pulling out nails in the walls (there were so many!) and covering the cracks and holes with cement. It was tiring, but very satisfying to see the progress we were making. By the end of the day, an Armenian lady I was acquainted with from Canada sent me a voice message in response to the school photo I had shared. She said, “Lucig, this looks like my school back in Armavir.” Bewildered, I replied, “Yes, this is the school of Araks, Armavir!” Discovering that this was in fact her school, the lady excitedly recommended that I meet her sister in Araks the following day.
The next day, as we were nearing the school, suddenly a man stopped our bus. “Where is the girl from Canada? Where is the girl from Cambridge, Canada?” he inquired. “It is me!”, I exclaimed, and we immediately agreed that I would be visiting them for coffee before my week’s work was complete. Until then, his wife Sveta, the sister of my acquaintance from Canada, visited the school several times to share cherries, drinks, and Armenian confectionery with all the volunteers.
As the week progressed, we coated the walls and ceilings with two layers of cement, scraped them, painted them, and performed a complete cleanup of the room. During that time, we became acquainted with several village children. We shared lunch with some of them, while a few older ones came and helped us with our work. We were told that the children would be painting a mural with our names on one of the walls, and I was touched.
On the final day, I decided that I would visit the family to get to know them and exchange joy and positive energy. I met the bulk of the bunch, from Sveta’s mother and mother-in-law to her daughter and two young grandchildren. We spoke of Canada and Armenia, had our coffee and sweets, and I sang a few Armenian folk songs for them. In an hour’s time we had become good friends, shared good wishes, and kissed each other farewell.
I am glad that the work my peers and I completed at the school will remain as evidence of the connection we formed with our homeland, and having met and bonded with many people- be it from the diasporan volunteers, to the children of the village, to the family of my Canadian friend- I was able to appreciate how interconnected we all are.