BY NORA KAYSERIAN
I decided to come to Gyumri a month before the Youth Corps group (which is set to arrive in Armenia on July 12) to volunteer with Birthright Armenia and I’m so glad I decided to do so. It has given me a chance to spend quality time with the locals, build relationships and integrate myself into the community.
This is the first of many blog entries I will be making to chronicle our summer here working to run a summer day camp for the children of Armenia’s second largest city. You can read more about our mission in Gyumri at www.ayfyouthcorps.org
I currently work at Gyumri’s Social Child Care Center, which provides psychological, educational, health and legal services to Gyumri’s most impoverished children and their families. During my first counseling session I had a conversation with a young girl who told me how she had to repeat the 6th grade because she had missed over 200 hours of school. When I asked her why she had missed school for so long she said she didn’t have proper winter shoes to walk to school in. The next day I met another child with a learning disability who went a year without going to school because her mother didn’t know there where services her child could benefit from. The center takes cases like this and works to empower families and their children in the hopes that one day they’ll be self-sufficient and won’t need such services.
Unfortunately, due to lack of funding the center has very limited resources for these children. There are no toys, no playground, and hardly any books or art supplies. On Friday I brought in some puzzles and art supplies for the kids and I couldn’t help but notice the excitement on their faces. I wish I could say I felt happy when I left work that day but I felt quite the opposite.
It’s no surprise that poverty exists in Armenia, I’ve read about it, seen pictures and heard stories, but witnessing it first hand was the most painful feeling of my life.
The pain doesn’t go away either. It runs through my body along with sadness, anger and frustration. Then I remember the wise words of a fellow unger: “Hooys, Havadk, Ser” (Hope, Belief, Love). I repeat these three simple words over and over again and I channel the pain into action. Like the people of Gyumri I will keep fighting and join them in helping to promote change.