BY MELENE AGAKANIAN
Baghanis is a small village in northeast Armenia, merely 1.5 miles away from the border of Azerbaijan. For those unaware of the situation between the two countries, Azerbajian is currently one of Armenia’s biggest enemies. There are continuous disputes between the two countries which sometimes result in gunfire that can be heard all throughout this border village. Unaccustomed to the sound of gunfire, our group was completely oblivious to when and where this was occurring.
One morning at camp, a group of my campers ran up to me and asked if I had heard the noises of gunfire the night before. Oblivious to anything having happened, I asked them more and they answered in a very nonchalant manner saying the firing had begun around 7 p.m., while they were playing soccer in the field. I was incredibly shocked, not only to be hearing the campers say that there had been gunfire shared between the Armenians and Azeris, but more so that the children in Baghanis reacted in such a “no big deal” way. How someone could have such a reaction to the sound of gunfire was so beyond me. I personally was afraid for the children, afraid for their future and afraid that they would grow up being numb to threats and violence. It made me sad that they were so used to hearing gunfire and living in a place where war and safety are an everyday concern. But there was something else about the situation that made me happy and proud. The children continued their game because they weren’t afraid. They are aware of the instability of their safety but don’t let the fear of hearing gunfire on the border stop them from having fun and living their lives. There was such a strong lesson in this realization and I am so grateful to have experienced it.
What amazed me most about Baghanis was not the beautiful mountain scenery, or the fact that there were animals roaming the streets freely, but the children. These kids not only live in a small, desolate village, with one main road and homes that lack running water, but are on the border of Armenia’s current enemy. Yet, they are happy and full of life. They came to camp every day with a HUGE smile on their face, eager to learn and be a part of something more. Camp gave them an opportunity to not only forget about the dangers of what was going on around them, but to actually talk about their challenges and express their feelings.
These kids helped me see the bigger picture; that it’s not about how comfortably you live in your home, or whether or not you have access to water and electricity all day long, but it’s really about your attitude and approach to the hand you are dealt. They taught me that even though we may not live in the best conditions, there is still a way to make the best of it. For these kids, it was continuing their soccer game; for me, it’s finishing this program knowing I made a difference in over 100 kids’ lives.