For almost a month now, LCO volunteers from the Diaspora and the capital of Yerevan have made Yeghvard in the Syunik region of Armenia their home away from home. They awake and sleep to the sites and sounds of the countryside and farm life. Birds chirping, bees buzzing, farm animals roaming wherever they turn. Yeghvard may be off in the rural distance, but it is not backward. They have a community center that houses a daycare center and a library. Despite the children’s joy, the only complaint from the villagers is that there is a lack of water. It is a very difficult life for them to endure the mercy of the weather, limited government resources, and a lack of water to adequately supply the needs of their community.
The children are everywhere and are the pulse of the village. They cannot get enough of the volunteers, especially the girls. Each female volunteer has her own set of groupies that follows her around all the time at every job site. The volunteers are also clearing the area around the churchyard and the village’s monument to the fallen soldiers of World War II. On one of the days, the local boys wanted to treat the volunteers to a special transportation system, a donkey.
Aside from the work on the project and excursions, the volunteers enjoy each other’s company and other activities in their free time. They play volleyball with a net made out of string, coloring, cards, and other games. Also, three of the volunteers, Julie, Alique, and Nare, celebrated their birthdays in Yeghvard, Armenia with a new group of friends and extended village family. During the summer, the village youth create a discotheque at the center. At night, the village’s children stand by the volunteer’s house calling at them to "come out, come out, and go with us to the disco".
The group was blessed by a visit of a Vartabed (priest) who came to view the work and speak to them. Addressing them in Armenian and English, he was extremely moved by the diligence of the volunteers. The group accompanied him into the church where he performed a small mass. The Vartabed expressed his gratitude for the volunteers’ sacrifice and promised to perform the consecration himself upon the church’s completion.
One of the villagers was very moved by this experience. She said her mother had always told her how beautiful this church was. However, she never believed it, as she had never seen it as an Armenian religious site but instead as storage for grain or hay. During the Soviet era, the villagers had convinced Soviet authorities to use churches as granaries instead of destroying them as places of worship. That is how most of the village churches were protected throughout the Soviet years, even though they were not permitted to repair them.
Throughout the project, the varbeds (craftsmen) have been very impressed with the work that these volunteers accomplished. When the varbeds started to cement the rocks into place, the female volunteers insisted on participating in that job as well. The volunteers’ dedication and spirit have moved the locals of all ages.
Besides the volunteers’ hard work and effort, several LCO Board Members have been active overseeing the project and interacting with the villagers. They have been coordinating with a historical architect and craftsmen to ensure that the project is successfully completed. Dr. Haig Manjikian, LCO-USA President from California, made house calls to the villagers in his professional capacity. Fellow California LCO-USA Board Members Nazareth Kevonian and Dr. Haig and Hilda Manjikian have been active on site during the July campaign. Dr. Aram Ghazarian from LCO-France made a brief visit to review the progress before heading to the Shushi Hospital to perform surgeries there. Board Members also went on fact-finding missions to review prospective sites for the upcoming 2011 campaign. During the August portion of the campaign, LCO Board Members will continue to be present to oversee the project.
As the group sadly departed "their village", they all knew Yeghvard and this experience would forever leave an impression on both their memories and their Armenian spirit. They all have now been a participant and will remain a permanent part of our ancestral land and culture.