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AYF Youth Corps volunteer Nayiri Lori Khatchadourian with campers in Gyumri

BY NAYIRI LORI KHATCHADOURIAN

Six weeks passed and here I am sitting in my living room in Los Angeles. Previously I would have called this place “home,” but this summer with AYF Youth Corps has changed a lot of my opinions. I got off the Etihad airplane a different person: I look the same, sound the same, but I don’t feel the same. I feel wiser and more experienced, and I appreciate being Armenian more.

As soon as I took my phone off “airplane” mode I was bombarded with text messages from my friends, asking how I lasted six weeks in Armenia. Honestly, six weeks felt like two… I did not realize the time passing by because I didn’t miss “home.” Armenia became my new home, I felt so comfortable wherever I was, even when I was sleeping on the floor. Each and every participant felt like family, so I did not feel lonely either. I knew it was important to visit my homeland and give back, but I did not know this trip would provide me such a special opportunity to do so. I not only made new friends from my group, but I made new friends who live in Armenia. My campers and I connected and we all departed each camp with tears. The impact we left on these children cannot be explained with words, nor can it be explained with pictures. The impact us diasporan Armenians left on these kids can only be understood personally. I can tell you how Andranik from Gyumri made me a ring with beads, or how Elena from Artsakh gave me her nail polish to remember her when I leave, but you won’t truly understand the feelings I have for these children until you meet them yourself.

AYF Youth Corps volunteers in Gyumri

Every diasporan Armenian must go to Armenia, and not just Yerevan, but other cities and villages, too. Go there and meet these kids. Go there and make an impact, no matter how big or small. Go there and you will return changed. Return more patriotic, more resilient, and with more love for your country. Return wanting to go back, temporarily or permanently. Armenia is a beautiful place, not only because of all its churches and scenery, but also because of the people who live there. They are amazing, hospitable people, and they are your family. Leave and go see for yourself. Leave behind your friends for a couple weeks, or better yet take them with you. I promise you won’t want to return, because Armenia truly is our home. I wish I could rewind back to the first day of Jampar, to relive the memories. Instead, I want to fast-forward to the day I go again.

Nayiri Lori Khatchadourian spent the summer in Armenia volunteering with AYF Youth Corps. She is one of 4 recipients of the 2014 Sosé & Allen’s Foundation Youth Corps Fellowship.

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