On July 2, 23 young Armenian-Americans arrived at Zvartnots Airport to begin volunteering for AYF Youth Corps. They spent a few days exploring Armenia’s historical and cultural treasures, and on July 8, they split into two groups to begin running their day camps. The groups are currently in Stepanakert and Gyumri. By the end of this summer, more than 1000 children in six cities in Armenia and Artsakh will have participated in the camps.
The volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. Among them are an Ivy League student, a biochemist, a musician, a future computer scientist, and a pharmacist. For many volunteers, this this is their first trip to Armenia. For one, this is his seventh trip to his homeland. Despite their differences, they have all committed to spending their summer making a difference.
“Being able to go to Armenia and interact with the youth there to see how they live, to learn what they’ve learned, and to be able to give everything we have to them is more than I could hope for,” says volunteer Krikor Andonian.
During each camp, the volunteers ensure that their campers not only have fun, but learn the skills they need to be future leaders of Armenia. In addition to games and sports, there are educational presentations about the past, present, and future of Armenia. Guest speakers present their careers and passions about everything from saving the environment to maintaining a healthy sense of self. Campers are encouraged to be creative, express themselves, and work together toward common goals.
Now in its 23rd year, AYF Youth Corps has gone from rebuilding war-torn areas of Artsakh, to running a single day camp in Gyumri, to running six camps each year throughout Armenia and Artsakh. This expansion of the program would not be possible without year-round efforts by the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States to build and nourish relationships with its counterparts in Armenia and Artsakh. AYF Youth Corps is also blessed with ongoing support from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and other members of the Armenian community. Finally, the youth of the Diaspora who volunteer each year, spending their summers learning about their homeland and ensuring the day camps are successful are the reason AYF Youth Corps continues to accomplish its goals.
AYF Youth Corps is a six-week program in Armenia, of which five weeks is dedicated to directing a summer camp for youth (ages 9-16), and one week to exploring and discovering the hidden treasures of Armenia and Artsakh. The camp program allows campers to learn basic English, Armenian history, patriotic songs, arts and crafts, and participate in sports and other competitions. Participants also visit Javakhk, various parts of Artsakh, Lake Sevan, Echmiadzin, Dzidzernagapert, Sardarabad and Tatev Monastery. Since 1994, hundreds of volunteers from around the world have spent summers in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh to better the foundation and build bridges to the homeland.