I have been living in Armenia for 2 months now. Indeed time flies when you are busy or having fun, I could've never imagined such a packed, adventurous stay prior to my arrival. I suppose this is the secret sauce that keeps the Birthright engine fueled, we all come here for different reasons. For someone like me, this is the fifth time in my homeland and yet I've got so many projects on my roster and so much undiscovered wonder to explore that I neither feel the passing of time nor could I ever become truly content. Even our excursions, most of which I have done before, still mean the world to me because I get to explore those historic and modern sites with my new friends, my sidelines volunteering all over our beautiful country. I could spend a long time talking about the fascinating volunteers we have here from all corners of the globe, but in short, I will say this is a great linguistics experiment! :D
Exploring Armenia as a Local
You could say that I'm hungry for knowledge, perhaps also for personal gain. I think it's safe to say, majority of current volunteers are either here as a result of Covid-19 affecting our careers or as a response to this devastatingly unjust war, more accurately a mixture of both. My days in Gyumri are full of conversation. I think that talking with taxi drivers, hotel staff, colleagues, host families, business owners, etc is my greatest tool for change. I find that this helps me form holistic perspectives on delicate matters but also shows the locals I'm interacting with that I care about. I care to listen to how they feel, even the most mundane topic right through to the difficult stuff. If I could encourage anyone reading this to come to Armenia or to just focus on one task here, it would be that. There is a wealth of information we just don't have the ability to learn from our homes in the diaspora, so it really pays to get out of your own head and learn some vital truths.
Volunteering Opportunities in Armenia
What am I looking for, as a 28yr old Birthright volunteer, fluent in the language...most of the time I can't articulate the answer. I'm looking to add to my purpose. I'm looking to learn what it is that I can do, in a world where we are clearly changed by the pandemic, forced to reconsider everything that we know to be real and truly innovate with whatever remains. Further, I'm looking for what I can really do to change the status of my severely damaged ancestral home. What the majority of our diaspora does isn't cutting it. We know that the step after donating is a call to action, yes we can support from afar with money but as the proverb says, you're better off teaching someone how to fish than cooking them a meal. This is where the disconnect has been for much too long, and the war really made me see that I can't put off my volunteering role any longer. So I find myself 2 months in, teaching young women everything I learned at university about patternmaking and constructing garments, challenging them to consider textile arts as more than a hobby but a creative business practice. I'm figuring out ways to support local fashion businesses so that they can expand, employ more staff and create more revenue. I'm completely invested in the success of my volunteer placements! I'm sometimes teaching English which is unexpectedly really hard to do!! In everything I notice that there is a way, there is a road where the diaspora and the local Armenian can work together, not above nor below each other, to reach outcomes that will truly reap a reward. As much as every day here can bring new questions and disruption, it can also bring new fruit - a fresh discovery, and the new Armenia we are forever forming. I look forward to telling more of my story and the stories of the people who are helping shape not only my experience here but our collective goal to prevail against all odds.
Birthright Armeniaprovides young Diasporan Armenians of age 21-32 an opportunity to connect to their ancestral homeland. Our program participants commit to at least 30 hours of volunteering per week for the duration of minimum 9 weeks and a maximum 1 year. For 25+ participants employed full-time, we offer Birthright Liteprogram, which entails volunteering for 4 weeks only.