How Youth Corps Changed My Life

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AYF Youth Corps volunteers with campers in Armenia

BY MELENE AGAKANIAN

If you were to tell me at the beginning of this year that I would have to spend almost all of my summer in a developing country, traveling on rocky dirt roads to remote villages where there was a lack of plumbing and running water, with a group of 13 strangers all under the same roof, I would say you’re crazy and “no, thank you.” However, after spending six weeks in Armenia, I came to learn that all these things helped me realize something more.

My Youth Corps trip started out just like everyone else’s, in Yerevan, where we went sightseeing and walked all around the city. It wasn’t until the 26 of us split into our two groups and traveled our separate ways that my trip turned into an adventure.

Being so accustomed to the life I live in America, I thought I would not be able to do all the things I mentioned above. I kept telling my mom that I didn’t want to be in Armenia for 6 weeks and that I didn’t think I could actually go through with the entire program. Remembering Armenia from the first 2 times I visited, I knew that it was nothing like America. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to live in a country where air-conditioning was a foreign concept and the bathrooms consisted of holes in the ground.

I found it hard that people here live their lives without the luxury of everything we are used to in America. I couldn’t imagine anyone growing up with a childhood unlike mine, living a life unlike mine, and having problems much greater than mine. While living and experiencing camp in three different cities, I understood that kids and people in Armenia have nothing compared to us in America, but they manage to create something; they create joy, they create laughter, they create happiness, and they create love, not only for each other, but also for their country. These kids not only inspired me to live a more meaningful life, but also to be a better Armenian. Their strength and ability to live through hardships, such as fear of war and losing their homeland managed to create joy, laughter, happiness, and love in me.

Through this trip I have learned not to take things for granted and that there are bigger issues happening in the world that we are blind to. I guarantee that a majority of people do not know that Artsakh is about to enter war with Azerbajian, that Baghanis is a border village that falls asleep to gunfire every night, and that Gyumri is very underdeveloped for being the second largest city of Armenia.

Youth Corps not only changed my life, but it changed who I am, and for the better. As mentioned in a previous blog, I was afraid that I was losing a sense of my Armenian culture and language. On the contrary, I am now more in tune with myself. I no longer feel that I am losing my culture. In fact, everything about me has gotten stronger. I learned to be humble, to appreciate the things I have, to appreciate life, to appreciate my family and friends, to appreciate where I live, and most importantly, to appreciate my culture, where I come from, and where my family comes from.

This summer I spent 6 weeks in Armenia traveling on rocky dirt roads, to remote villages, where there was a lack of plumbing and running water, with a group of 13 strangers, all under the same roof… and I loved every second of it. So here I am challenging you all to step outside of your comfort zone and do something you would never think you could do, because I guarantee it will change your life for the better.

Going into AYF Youth Corps, I wanted to make a difference in these kids’ lives and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to. However, after six weeks of camp and meeting over five hundred kids, I know I made a difference, because these kids made a difference in me. So thank you AYF, thank you Youth Corps, and thank you Armenia for giving me the best summer of my life.

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