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Glendale News Press: Helping out the home country

 

GlendaleNewsPress

Glendale News Press

Helping out the home country

Sept 07, 2010

By Max Zimbert

 

Teens travel to Armenia to assist a village in the country of their ancestry.

Left to right: Urfa, Lori Pogarian, Alique Bedikian, Julie, Nare Davoodi (Montrose), and Talin Khechoomian spent the summer volunteering in rural Armenia.

Left to right: Urfa, Lori Pogarian, Alique Bedikian, Julie, Nare Davoodi and Talin Khechoomian spent the summer volunteering in rural Armenia.

Alique Bedikian said there was no culture shock. For five weeks, she lived in rural Armenia, foregoing almost all amenities like electricity and running water.

"I got so used to living that humble lifestyle that it didn't matter," she said. "I really appreciated everything they have as well, all those things are very different and very simple. Coming back wasn't a shock. It was just different."

The 12-volunteer team from across Glendale and the globe returned transformed after their time in Yeghvard, in southern Syunik province in Armenia.

 

"We were basically celebrities in the village," said Montrose resident Nare Davoodi, who also turned 20 years old while abroad. "The kids would call our names every morning, afternoon and night for us to go play with them or have coffee with them and their parents."

The volunteers participated through Land and Culture Organization, a France-based nonprofit that organizes summer trips to connect young Armenians with their native ancestry. The team from Glendale joined other French teens, Canadian teens and young adults to restore the village's 17th century Sourp Astvatzatzin Church.

"They were incredibly appreciative about the work we were doing," 20-year-old Glendale resident Talin Khechoomian said. "Almost everyone wanted to take us to their homes, and thank us with coffee, ice cream, homemade mulberry vodka."

They left their fingerprints while restoring an ancient church, which was the experience of their young lives, many said.

"It's in the center of the village and they need a holy place," Davoodi said. "It feels amazing to be a part of this legacy because I know I did something for people who weren't able to do it themselves."

There were after-work moments, too, like going to a discothèque or sharing tea. Those were equally impactful, Davoodi said.

"Even though those seem like pretty small things, for them it means the world," Davoodi said.

Villagers were a little skeptical about Americans, but it was something Khechoomian could laugh off with American and native Armenian friends.

"One man said to me that before he met us he thought Americans chewed gum and stood around," Khechoomian said.

Students practically slept, ate and worked alongside the villagers. They awoke every morning at 8 a.m. and began work by 9 a.m. They had a two-hour lunch. Their day ended at 5 p.m.

Breakfast was typically boiled eggs, cheese-butter honey, and Armenian bread with Nutella, which was usually in short supply. There were noodles or rice for lunch, with vegetables, cheese and bread for dinner.

"We didn't have a lot of meat since it is scarce there, so we all pretty much turned into vegetarians," Davoodi said. "Every single moment we had in the village was amazing."

It was so inspiring that Bedikian is planning a return trip, she said.

"After seeing Armenia, I made a pact with myself that I'd go back in the next couple of years," she said. "I want to spend all my free time there and help them as much as I can. I fell in love with the country."

  • "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