Shikahogh, Armenia - Our work day began at 8:30am with a healthy breakfast of hard boiled eggs, bread, jam, butter, cheese, coffee and tea. Wearing our bright orange LCO volunteer t-shirts and hats, we walked for fifteen minutes uphill along a rocky, gravelly, sheep-trodden trail to Soorp Stepanos Church. There we met with the small team of men who have worked on the church since LCO initiated the project three years ago: the subcontractor Stepan, local villagers Armen and Grish, and a few others whose names we're still learning. After receiving our marching orders, we sprang into action removing the top layer of stones from the church alter, to be reinforced later. The heavier stones weigh up 20-50 pounds, but surprisingly, it was incredibly fun and rewarding work!
In assembly-line fashion, Sevana, Alexandria, Ani, and Lillit loosened the heavier stones on top of the alter with pick axes, and rolled them to the edge. Anoush, Garo and Zevart carried them one-by-one to the church door, handing them off to Massis who neatly stacked them in a pile to be reused. Meanwhile, Lori shoveled smaller stones, gravel and sand to the edge, which Christina scraped into buckets and a wooden gurney to be dumped outside and used for cement. Stepan, Armen and Grish mainly fixed the roof (where we’re off limits for safety), and gave us directions when needed. The whole process was organic and fast-paced, with everyone pitching in where they could to share the weight, grab a tool, or offer an extra face mask to their fellow volunteer. Before we knew it, we cleared the top layer in only two hours, and strengthened our teamwork and friendship too!
Around noon, we took a refreshing break of watermelon and wildflower tea provided by Anahit, a gregarious and outspoken woman who lives by the church and graciously lets us use her shaded patio and flush toilet. But before we could get back to work, four special guests appeared: Astrig Hagopyan, Representative of the Historical Monument Committee of Armenia; the Der Hayr (Priest) of Kapan; the Cultural Minister of the State of Syunik; and the President of the Kapan Youth Group. They came to thank us for being here, and to let us know that they’re here to help if there's ever anything we need. LCO Board Member Haig Manjikian passionately responded, "Armenia is like a tree: all those living outside Armenia are the leaves, and Armenia is the root. We need each other to survive, and that’s why we’re here.” Many of us volunteers teared up, we were so touched to connect with our family roots.
We then all walked into Soorp Stepanos Church, removed our hats and gloves, bowed our heads, and received a heartfelt blessing from the priest. He didn't just bless the church, but blessed us volunteers,
saying once again that “we’re all Armenian, whether we're born here or not."
Volunteer Sevana Zadorian, a 21 year-old Middle Eastern Studies student at the University of San Francisco, said it was an incredibly emotional moment when the priest blessed us in an Armenian church that we are rebuilding ourselves. "Being told by the priest that our work matters helped me to understand why it's so important I'm here and doing this work. I realized that the church is what our culture has been built around for thousands of years. We're an ancient civilization; we are our ancestors. The priest said our work is helping to keep alive that ancient culture, and that’s really meaningful."
*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***