Twenty years ago, the Armenian nation suffered one of its most horrific natural disasters in modern history. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the then Soviet Armenian Republic, destroying Spitak, and severely devastating Gyumri and its surrounging towns and villages. In the end, nearly 25,000 people were killed and up to a million people left homeless.
This past December 7, the day marking the anniversary of the 1988 Armenian Earthquake, the members of the Orange County “Ashod Yergat” AYF and the AYF-WR Youth Corps Central Council came together to mark this somber occasion in a spirit of determination, not despair. Rather than simply reflect upon the losses wrought by this disaster, they decided to raise funds for the AYF’s humanitarian operations in Gyumri by holding a Sunday-morning foul breakfast fundraiser at the Orange County Armenian Center.
“The breakfast succeeded in giving our community an opportunity to contribute directly to humanitarian efforts at the Gyumri earthquake recovery zone,” said Youth Corps Council Chairperson Sos? Thomassian. “It was no coincidence that this year’s inaugural fund raiser was held on the 20th anniversary of the Armenian earthquake. The AYF can’t rebuild the buildings, but we can help rebuild hope by giving back to the families hit hardest by the quake.”
Over 150 attendees came out to mark the anniversary and express their support for the Youth Corps program. “The crowd was a great cross-section of young and old,” explains Thomassian. “There were local community regulars, AYF members from various chapters, Youth Corps alumni; honestly, everyone seemed to have turned out!”
Attendees were served a traditional mamounia and foul breakfast with customary side dishes such as cheese, bread and greenery. In addition to the food, a continuous slide show projected pictures from the 2008 Youth Corps summer in Armenia onto the wall of the community center. A moment of silence for the victims of the 1988 earthquake was also observed.
“By no means was it a celebration, it was simply a day to remember the tragic damage the earthquake caused and the lives that were lost,” said Youth Corps Council member Knar Kitabjian. “It is important for AYF to do these sort of events because not only are we providing a service for the community and bringing attention to Gyumri which still needs aid, but we are raising money for a program that goes directly to the homeland and provides hands on help.”
Since 1994, the AYF Youth Corps program has been providing young Armenian Americans with the opportunity to experience daily life in Armenia and Artsakh and contribute as volunteers on various humanitarian and rebuilding project. Last summer, the Youth Corps volunteers established a free day camp for underprivileged children in Gyumri. The two-month camp touched the lives of hundreds of children that summer and provided much needed assistance to many of Gyumri’s struggling families who have to grapple with economic and social challenges that continue to linger 20 years after the earthquake. The money raised through this latest fundraiser will be channeled into the 2009 Youth Corps Program, which will once again operate the free summer camp in Gyumri.
“The breakfast was our first major fundraising initiative for this year and it has already given us good footing for our upcoming events,” concludes Thomassian. The next major event being planned is a 15th anniversary event celebrating the establishment and longevity of the Youth Corps initiative. Other fundraising efforts are also in the works with the aim of giving the program a more flexible budget next year to run the camp with.
For information about the AYF Youth Corps Summer Program, please contact (818) 507-1933 or email [email protected]