BY VAHAN HOVANNISIAN
For a high school junior, the end of May typically involves cramming for final exams and turning in late assignments. But for the 55 juniors of Ferrahian High School, this was no ordinary end of May. This was our turn – our time – to make the pilgrimage to Armenia, our beloved homeland, to experience in living color the twin peaks of Ararat, the green mountains of Artsakh, and the vibrancy of Yerevan. Still more, our two-week trip was to coincide with the centennial celebrations of Armenia’s first independence.
Of course, we enjoyed and absorbed all of this, but rather than simply receiving the priceless benefits of our motherland, we made it our mission to give back. Months before the trip, the Armenian Club at Ferrahian raised money to help the families of fallen soldiers in Artsakh. We organized a school-wide raffle, and then used the funds we collected from students and teachers to assist soldiers from the Artsakh wars, as well as children in Stepanakert who had lost their fathers in war.
During our visit in Artsakh, our class used a portion of the money collected to gift dairy cows to five wounded soldiers. This would enable the veterans to maintain a livelihood and continue to contribute to the community. One of the veterans, Gamo Mirzoyan, lost his leg during the Artsakh uprisings of the early 1990s, making it difficult for him to make ends meet. Gamo was very appreciative and emotional, taking the time to thank each and every one of us for the gift. Another veteran we gifted a cow to was a soldier who was partially paralyzed as a result of the Azeri conflict. He too was moved by our gesture. The other three veterans were each given the funds to purchase the cows when they met with Oriort Anni, our Armenian teacher, and Digin Shanlian, our principal. In reality, however, it was our privilege and honor to be among these national heroes of ours.
Finally, the remaining funds were used to provide toys to the children of fallen soldiers. We met more than a dozen children at the Park Hotel in Stepanakert, where we played with them for hours. The littlest of gifts brought out the biggest of smiles on their faces. For many, this was the best part of the trip; putting smiles onto the faces of children who looked up to us as if they had known us for years. The friendships we made with those little boys and girls will be cherished forever.
Yes, the sights and sounds of Armenia are unparalleled, and those experiences will never be forgotten. But standing out from all of this goodness were the smiling faces of our brothers and sisters of Artsakh. A little effort goes a long way, and we’re thrilled to have made a difference.
Vahan Hovannisian is a senior at Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School