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Arriving in the Forested Village of Shikahogh

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Shikahogh, Armenia - We're happy to report that we safely arrived in Shikahogh village yesterday, after eight hours driving in a bumpy bus from Yerevan! It was amazing to watch the landscape change dramatically as we drove, from attractive urban center, to rolling pastoral meadows, to high mountain steppes, to lush green forests.

 

Along the way, we were able to stop at Khor Virab. We learned that it was the place Saint Gregory was imprisoned in a snake-infested pit for 14 years, before he "illuminated" King Tiridates and ultimately was responsible for Armenia becoming the first Christian nation in 301 AD. Apart from appreciating stunning views of Mount Ararat, we got to descend into the pit itself. Never had we had this critical moment in Armenian history become more real and tangible for us!

 

 

Arriving in Shikahogh, the rural village starkly contrasts everything else we've seen thus far. Here, we were greeted by lively herds of sheep, goats, cows, and stray chickens! We walked around the village, and saw that only around two hundred people live here. Everyone is very humble, nice and friendly, and the mayor joined us for dinner, thanking us all for being here.

 

We're lucky that our new home neighbors the pristine Shikahogh Forest Preserve, Armenia's second largest forest reserve, covering some 100 km² (25,000 acres) of land. We hope that we will get to learn about the rare species of plants and animals that live here, from Caucasian leopards, Bezoar ibexes, and brown bears to hedgehogs. We already saw our first odd animal- a freshwater crab - crossing the village road!

 

We are grateful that our modest three-bedroom home has running water, comfortable beds and so far reliable electrcity. We have an outdoor shower, outhouse, and virtually no amenities. For example, if we want to purchase anything, we call the local shop owner so that he can open it for us! It really feels like camping!

 

Today was our first day working at the church, and it was incredibly exciting and rewarding to finally get our hands dirty! We learned from the chief architect that we will be doing a little bit of everything: shoveling dirt paths around the church to make a safe entrance; tearing down an extra wall that was unnecessarily added on; rebuilding the roof; and restoring the church alter. He said, "all our hands will touch the cross, before we put it back on the roof where it belongs. We're all Armenian, and we're all part of this historically and culturally significant place."

 

Over the next three weeks, we will share our personal stories and photos with you about who we are as volunteers, and what we're doing to restore Sourp Stepanos Church to its original condition. We hope that you will continue to read the website, and vicariously join in on our adventure! Remember that you can make a difference by donating, or by telling your friends and family about the need to "preserve our past to protect our future!"

 

*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***

  • "There are experiences you shape and then there are experiences that shape you. The LCO Campaign of 2007 in the village of Azat offered me invaluable perceptions into the realities of my fellow Armenian brothers and sisters in a way only a true immersion program can. I urge everyone and anyone who might feel an inkling of belonging to this fascinating country, people, and history to sign up with the campaign immediately. I smile just thinking about what you have yet to experience."
    Noushig K, Azat 2007, CA, USA

  • "Coming back from a 4-day trip to Kharabagh really felt like coming back home, with our family waiting to greet us outside our house. That's when I realised just how attached we'd grown to the place, to our family, to the other volunteers"
    Anoosh Gasparian, Azat 2009, London UK

  • "I went to this trip with no expectations, and came back with a great appreciation for our country.  Life in the village is surreal, the food is beyond delicious and the people are incredibly nice. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget!"  Sam Tahmasian, 2009, CA, USA
  • "LCO is an amazing concept. It introduced the deprived Diasporan to their land and their people. It is a wonderful introduction to Armenia and something every young man or woman should experience."
    Madlene Minassian Ispirian, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, Yerevan, Armenia

  • "My most memprable experience was being so warmly taken care by an old village couple, receiving gifts from them, giving them gifts and establishing bonds."
    Naira Der-Kiureghian, Ayroum 2003, CA, USA

  • "...I know that when I reflect back on this experience I will feel ecstatic about the work we accomplished, the things we saw, and the bonds we forged."
    Hovig Saghdejian, Ayroum 2003, California, USA

  • "Dolma is made with mum's careful instructions, grandmothers eyes found on the faces of children, songs of Ararat are as familiar as the Khachkars dotting the landscape. If it smells like home, looks like home then it must be home."
    Datevig Simonian, Shadvan 2004, California, USA

  • "LCO experience was a revelation for me. It gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons both personally and professionally. One of the most important experiences of my life and an important factor in determining my future goals."
    Lara Aharonian, August 1999, August 2001, Montreal, Canada.

  • "I formed strong bonds with my volunteers, and the difference in backgrounds was refreshing. It was interesting to hear the points of view of different Armenians from other areas of the Diaspora."
    Aramazt Kalaydjian, Shoushi 2003, NY, USA

  • "I loved the simplicity of life in the village, the fresh homemade food is wonderful; that people are the friendliest and most hospitable... the children have the most beautiful faces..."
    Sophia Balakian, Shadvan 2004, New York, USA