BY MARIA TITIZIAN
At the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation we host interns from different Diaspora communities. These young Armenians come to the homeland with an abundance of optimism, eager to learn, eager to listen, and are almost always more accepting of the realities of this country than their parents’ generation. They tend to take things in stride, acknowledge that the Republic of Armenia is still in its infancy as an independent republic and return to their respective communities, I hope, with a better understanding of the people and its customs. I believe it will make their journey through life as Armenians more fulfilling and rewarding and in turn they will contribute to our collective narrative with a maturity and dedication far beyond their years. Some stay for a few weeks, others for a few months. However long they stay, they leave a little bit of themselves behind. And not only. They begin making plans for their next visit. Some have decided to return next year to volunteer elsewhere, others to continue their education at the American University of Armenia, some of them want to move to Armenia permanently and some fall in love, marry and plant their roots here. Thanks to organizations like Birthright, Armenia Volunteer Corps, AYF Youth Corps, AYF Summer Internship Program and AGBU, a new generation of engaged Armenians are flocking home to take part in the rebuilding of Armenia and its institutions.
The knowledge and experience that Diaspora interns gain is immeasurable and extremely beneficial for the local interns and staff. They begin to develop an acute understanding of their respective challenges both in Armenia and the Diaspora, they share their concerns for the future, and they begin to communicate and appreciate and comprehend one another on a level that would not have been possible before. While the Diaspora interns learn about the daily challenges of living in a post-Soviet country, the local interns understand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the border. And as a result, both local and Diaspora youth learn from each other. This is how we need to build bridges and this new young breed will map out a future Armenia which is inclusive, tolerant, accepting and they are the ones who will reconstruct the faulty foundations that have distorted not only the vision but the existence of such a homeland. Of this, I have no doubt. We only need to give them the opportunity, the platforms, the voice and instill in them the belief that nothing is impossible.
When we first started hosting interns at our Foundation, I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes I was just as confused as they were because we were taking our first tentative steps as a civil society organization and didn’t have a clear vision of what we wanted to do. Over time, the vision crystallized and the projects started coming to fruition and as the projects expanded so did the number of interns. We began by adding an extra desk and then another and then more computers and more desks. Some days it was pandemonium, other days were calmer and over time we established a routine. While they became acquainted with Armenia, I got reacquainted with the realities of the Diaspora, which had become a fading memory. While they learned about life in a developing country, I learned about their dreams and aspirations. They not only helped realize ongoing programs, they also took part in conceptualizing and developing new ones. Their commitment and dedication to the Foundation was beyond measure. Together we overcame some sticky situations, met deadlines, were thrilled when we were able to secure funding for a program that meant a lot to us, and shared in a few good laughs.
It is no surprise therefore that we developed a bond. I sometimes took upon myself the role of mother hen, most days I’m sure, against their wishes by telling them not to stay out late partying or to wear a hat and scarf on cold winter days or to refrain from drinking coca-cola while they taught me how to use Mailchimp and Dropbox. When I couldn’t figure something out I would ask them to remember that I was their mother’s age and to be patient with me.
So while I try to help the interns adjust to life in the homeland, give them tasks to complete, make sure they read the news, take them to protests or make them sit through a lecture, they in turn give me the opportunity to feel young again and so much more. I am sure that by the end of their internship, Armenia will have become a pivotal part of their lives. As for me… the only drawback to hosting them is having to say goodbye.