From June 26th to July 15th 2023, a group of young Armenian diasporans participated in our SERVICE Armenia program, engaging in Armenia through volunteer work and service projects. Nineteen participants and two coordinators traveled to Armenia from various regions throughout the United States, including Northern and Southern California, Texas, and Tennessee. During their time in Armenia, their volunteer efforts included taking orphans and disabled youth from Yerevan Children’s Home and Kharpert Home for Special Children to amusement park excursions, working on renovations to the Talin School of Music, teaching kids at the Debi Arach Children’s Center how to play Lacrosse, packing and distributing groceries through our Groceries for Gyumri initiative, and helping clean out one of The Paros Foundation’s new projects- Paros Housing, After-School and Vocational Center.
Please read our two first-hand accounts, one from a participant and one from a coordinator. Participant Nicole Timour is a high school senior from Southern California and 2023 was her first year as a SERVICE Armenia participant. Coordinator Renée Deramerian is a sophomore in college from Southern California and 2023 is her fifth year involved with SERVICE Armenia.
“Although I had previously visited, this trip allowed me to return with the intention of giving back.”
“Living in the diaspora community, there is only so much you can do to give back to your homeland from 7,193 miles away. A month ago, SERVICE Armenia gave me the opportunity to return to Armenia on their three week long volunteering trip. Although I had previously visited, this trip allowed me to return with the intention of giving back. Our main purpose was to contribute and improve Armenia; however, we still toured and saw all the historical sights we had been educated on throughout the trip. The first week we arrived our program coordinator Marina took us to the Erebuni Fortress, Ambert Fortress, and multiple museums that educated us on our ancestors and culture. Looking back, these early trips allowed us volunteers to connect and form close bonds no matter our age differences. The first act of service we completed was handing out bags of groceries in Gyumri. When walking through their city, I noticed scattered shipping containers converted into homes. The families we met still welcomed us into their homes and were extremely thankful for the necessities donated to them. Although a small act of service, every member of the trip felt like their eyes were opened to the true extent of the Gyumri housing crisis. What was the most touching was how selfless each family truly was, handing us volunteers chocolates and fruits as a token of their appreciation.
As the trip continued our agenda began to fill up. We renovated classrooms at Talin Music School, taught students from the Debi Arach Children’s Center how to play lacrosse, spent time with the Kharpert Home for Special Children, and participated in many more acts of service. Finally, traveling with SERVICE Armenia allowed me to not only connect with Armenians from all over the world, but also create a second family I will never forget. Being with individuals instilled with the same values and purpose as I hold allowed us all to truly connect and make the experience a lot more meaningful. When first embarking on this trip, I thought I would only be giving back a small percentage to my community; I hope traveling to Armenia with the purpose of service showed the citizens of Armenia that the Armenian diaspora holds an unbreakable bond with them.”
“There was not a day on the trip that didn’t go by with laughter and positive energy. And the days we worked the hardest, we had the most fun.”
“2018 was the first year I visited Armenia with my family. Of course, my brother and I would hear stories of it growing up but we never actually visited and got to experience it ourselves. My parents planned a three week-long trip, two and a half of those weeks consisting of my mom and dad dragging a then fifteen and twelve year old all over Armenia. Initially, the thought of a trip that long sounded like overkill, but as soon as we began touring the country, the stories we were told did not come close to describing the beauty of it all. Intricate monasteries built thousands of years ago, beautiful nature, and people equally as beautiful in spirit and warmth. Towards the end of the trip, my parents had planned for us to broaden our horizons by joining the Paros Foundation for a couple of days. In those two final days we helped renovate Taline Music School and packed groceries for locals in Gyumri living in less-than-ideal housing situations as part of the Groceries for Gyumri project. If you ask my brother and I today what we remembered from that first trip in 2018, we could only tell you stories of the last two days we were there in vivid detail and with smiles on our faces and fondness in our hearts.
Since then, we have gone back to Armenia every year and every year we have gone back with The Paros Foundation in some capacity. In 2019 and 2022, we went as “honorary participants”, meaning we did everything but stay with the program in the SERVICE house.
2020 of course was a hard year for everyone, both in terms of COVID and the political tensions that led to war in Armenia. We did not go back that year. The following year, I went back as an official participant and truly felt as though I was a part of the group as I had wanted to be for so long. The experience was unique in itself. To add to it, my father had other aspirations for his trip. He took charge of a Paros’ medical mission called MedAid Armenia in which he provides checkups to kids in different parts of the country and we all tagged along, adding yet again ANOTHER layer of depth to the experience and making it all the more fulfilling.
In 2023, my brother joined as a participant and I joined as a coordinator, meaning I was in charge of watching the participants when we were not participating in a tour or a service day. This year, it was different. My brother and I had urged our friends to join the program and join they did. There were twenty-one kids (including the two coordinators) which was more than I had ever seen participate in the program. I was intimidated by the number initially, but as time went on… I was pleasantly surprised. There was not a day on the trip that didn’t go by with laughter and positive energy. And the days we worked the hardest, we had the most fun. We celebrated birthdays, went to soccer games, went to amusement parks, laughed, cried… words cannot describe how much fun we had together. I plan on going back again next year with the program.
After all of that, I should be able to say that I am an expert of the experience, but that would not even begin to be true because each year is so wildly different from the years before. The city grows, the people change, and you learn to see everything in a new way that is gratifying in the deepest regard of the word. I cannot recommend it enough. See you next year!”