BY HAIG MESSERLIAN
On Sunday night, Unger Varak Ghazarian volunteered to wake us up at 7:00am sharp the next morning. But he’s an overachiever and decided to wake up the entire floor of the building we were staying in. Our week of touring had come to an end, which meant our real work was just getting started. It was 8:24 in the morning when we arrived at Askeran’s secondary school. Nobody could have predicted what we were to experience on our first day, let alone the days to come. As soon as we stepped out of our van we were greeted with hugs, kisses, and vibrant smiles.
The first task was to arrange the registration table. There, the young boys and girls would say their names as well as parents’ phone numbers and would be assigned to a color group. By 9:30am, the registration tables were up and ready to go. We organized the children into their age groups in order for us to equally divide them into their color groups, red, blue and orange. There were kids ranging from ages eight to sixteen. Each color group was assigned to a classroom for the following two weeks. The campers were ecstatic and so were we. The young boys and girls claimed their desks like emperors and empresses claiming their land for themselves. Naturally, those who knew each other from past jampars sat next to each other, giddy with excitement.
Each badanee was eager and alert. Each color group had a different activity ready each day. The red group was learning English; this included basic actions, immediate and extended family, places, and emotions. The blue group, my group, made lanyards. I remember how their faces lit up when I walked into the room with assorted lanyard string. The first strong colors to run out were red, blue and orange. The orange group was conducting an activity called “My Dream for Artsakh.” Each camper had one piece of paper to fold in half; on one side they were to portray, through either writing or drawing, Artsakh’s current predicament and on the other side they were express what their hopes and dreams for their homeland. The counselors from each color group reported that their classrooms were participating and interacting with one another actively.
After our group activities it was time to eat lunch. Despite the stereotypical lunch lady chastising children and insisting we eat her food, who swore tasted like our grandmothers’ cooking (false), spirits were high.
After lunch, one of the Ungeroohis, Lucine, came up to me with a concerned expression on her face. She pleaded that we allow her younger brother to attend jampar. I expressed to her that we have too many campers and can’t accept any more children. She confessed to me that her father is currently enlisted on the front lines of Artsakh and her mother is having trouble providing food and clothing for the two of them. If her brother was able to attend jampar he would be provided with a t-shirt, lunch, English lessons, and educational discussions regarding topics covering health, Artsakh’s history and current state, and diaspora Armenians among related topics. I told her that I would speak with my group leader, Tereza Yerimyan, and would let her know by the end of the day; no doubt her brother was allowed to join jampar. Encountering troubles children like her face on a day to day basis was no easy thing to digest.
In spite of this, it is reassuring to witness underprivileged children like Lucine partaking in discussions the classroom and interacting with other kids. I joined Youth Corps so that I could make an impact/difference as a diaspora Armenian coming back to his homeland. Whether it is helping rebuild houses/structures that have been reduced to rubble or talk to a young Artsakh boy or girl about their everyday lives because I am the only outlet they have. Whatever the case may be, I am here to serve a purpose; to give back to my homeland.