среда, 14 сентября 2011 г.

Bill & Fran Chattin, first time volunteer experience in Armenia

Three years ago we did not even know Armenia existed. Then we hosted an exchange student, Hasmik, from Armenia, and we learned about the great republic of Armenia. When Hasmik went back home, we promised to visit her and her family. As we began planning our trip, we learned of FCHA through facebook. We inquired about volunteering and found a trip that would fit with both our's and Hasmik's schedules.

When we arrived in Yerevan, Gohar from FCHA was waiting for us. We joined the rest of our work team and traveled to Vanadzor where we would be working for the next two weeks. It took us about an hour every morning to get to the work sites. We worked with 2 different families, one for 5 days and the other 2 days. At both sites the family was always waiting for us along with friends and extended

family members who had come to help. The youngest daughter of the first family, 7 year old Suzie, worked with us all day, talked with everyone, sang songs for us, and just won the hearts of everyone there. We mixed and poured concrete into forms already built around the perimeter of the four external walls and one internal wall. This involved mixing the concrete in an electric powered mixer and shoveling the concrete into buckets to be handed through a bucket line to the destination at the top of the walls. We also moved dirt along a bucket line to level the floors of the home so that the cement floors could be poured. At the second work site, we also moved dirt via the bucket line to level floors of the house so the concrete floors could be poured. Both families worked so hard, and really impressed me with their strength and endurance. The friendship and the acceptance of us non-Armenians was something that we felt very strongly, and will always cherish.

While we were still in Armenia, but after we had left working with FCHA, we learned that the next team had made a lot of progress on the first house we worked on and that it may be ready to live in by November of this year. It was a great feeling to know that we were a part, if even a small part, of making this happen.

One thing that we have taken away from this whole experience is the attitude and spirit of the people we helped. They have very little in the way of material possessions. And they have a very hard life. But they have not given up. The Armenian families that we worked with have a pride in their work and in their homes as they work on them. They seem to enjoy life, and especially enjoy each other. They are a very hospitable and generous people.

After our two weeks with FCHA we spent another two weeks visiting Hasmik and her family, where we experienced more great Armenian hospitality. We now realize that we have not just an Armenian daughter, but a whole Armenian family. We also got to see a lot of Armenia both with FCHA and with Hasmik. Armenia is a beautiful country, with wonderful people. And FCHA is doing a great work in Armenia. We plan to come back again. God bless Armenia!

четверг, 8 сентября 2011 г.

Brittani Howell, a volunteer sharing her experience in


We came as strangers. We came as volunteers: the Mercer Service Scholars, the FCHA's first group of university students. We came as odar — as non-Armenians, as outsiders. Only one of our group of fourteen students and two professors had any ties to the country: our fellow student Jessie Boloyan, whose grandmother came from Armenia decades ago. By the time we left we were no longer strangers, and while we may still

be odar we no longer feel that way.

The people there amazed us with their generosity, their kindness, and their cheerfulness in the midst of hardship and hard work. Through the Fuller Center we worked wit

h the Ghazaryan and the Avetikyan families, and though we thought that we had come to serve them, they actually gave us more than we could ever repay. Through kind smiles, laughter, patience on the work site, and some truly fantastic Armenian home cooking, the families showered us with hospitality and friendliness. The highlights of our days on the work sites were playing with the unforgettable children of the families, who quickly stole our hearts. We will be telling stories about Siramarg, Siuzi, Suren, Vahan, and Samson for years to come.

With the Fuller Center we had the privilege of working with, not for, the people we had come to serve, and we came to admire their strength and resilience. Once, when I was shoveling cement for the floor of the Avetikyan family's new house, their oldest son Samson approached me. To my astonishment, this ten-year-old boy took my shovel and began scooping the cement into buckets more quickly and more accurately than I could. Armenia, clearly, is not a place that “needs” help. It is, however, a place that graciously accepts helping hands when they are offered, and that values partnership and friendship. Being allowed to work on their houses alongside them was an honor — an honor, we learned, that not many non-Armenians get to experience.

One phrase I heard several times during our stay was this: “No one there understands what it's like here.” Most Americans without an Armenian background know very little about the country's rich culture, its struggles, or its triumphs. One of our Armenian friends had studied in the United States for several months, and she expressed her frustration that some of her American friends had been so ignorant about what Armenia is actually like. There is a gap between the two cultures, and it is typically only those who occupy both worlds—that is, Armenian-Americans—who set out across the ocean to close that gap. But my impression of the Armenian people is that they want to understand as much as they want to be understood, making the distance between our cultures seem very small indeed to those who are willing to cross it.

We started out as odar, but by the time we left Armenia we had, by the grace of the people we met, been invited to be so much more. We were guests, partners, unofficial babysitters, playmates. Occasionally—particularly with our driver, Melik—we were co-conspirators in playful, good-natured pranking. We were no longer strangers to Armenia; we were friends.

I don't think any person on our team can express just how grateful we are for what Armenia and her people have given us. We can't describe just how beautiful a place it is, and I'm not just talking about the landscape. Armenia defies description. If you want to know what we mean—if you want to understand the amazing country and people we encountered on our journey—then you will have to go yourself. If our experience is anything to go by, rest assured that you will not be odar for long.

воскресенье, 28 августа 2011 г.

“My Life”

The Story of Nareh Mouradyan, 18 years old

The construction of our house started in 1991. Before that we had been living at my granddad’s house with the families of my uncles. The family was extended (14 members). In 1992, when my uncle left for Russia with his family to work, we moved into my uncle's house. But in 1995 my uncle came back to Armenia and we moved into the basement room of my granddad's house. In 2000 my eldest uncle again left for Russia and again we moved into his house, as it was unbearable to live in that basement where there were no utilities, no conditions for living. Humid.... Gloomy.... Shabby.... Poky.... It seemed to me that no one, no living creature would live in such conditions. When we moved into the house of my uncle I was 10 years old and could understand that we were living in bad conditions; I could understand what need was. At that time the semi-built house of my uncle seemed to me a palace: separate bedrooms for kids, and real sun rays instead of diminished light barely penetrating through the small window of the basement.

We started cultivating my uncle's garden so as to solve vital problems. Until 2008 we lived at my uncle's house dreaming of our own, which seemed so inaccessible.... Sometimes we would clean the area of rubble and, when having some rest, we children would imagine being in our own house. We would imagine how our living room and bedrooms would look. Each time in my imaginary world I gave special place to the toilet (bathroom) because I knew what “the long way to the outside toilet and the flu epidemic” means in freezing winters. I have always dreamed of having a home with all the necessary accommodations like those in big cities so as, at least during rainy weather and winter storms, not to go out. But looking at the gloomy walls of our house I understood how far my dream was from reality.

In the spring of 2008 my uncle came back from Russia, and again we had to leave not knowing where to go. Granddad's basement room was already too small for our extended family, but we could not move our house because only the walls were built. So my father applied to the municipality and the provided us with a metal container, the roof of which was deteriorated and leaked when it rained. It was just a room full of dangers: snakes and scorpions from under the floor and water leaking from the roof. We tried to somehow renovate, but we had to be alert at all times to avoid snake and scorpion bites.

It was impossible to live there, so our whole family worked very hard, shoulder to shoulder, to build at least half of the roof of our house. Then we unrolled old carpets and started living in our semi-built house.

Now I look back to my family's past way of life and already see that there are rays of hope... that very soon I'll live in the house of my dreams where it is not damp, where I'll have my own bedroom, where I won't be ashamed to invite my friends, where it won't be difficult for my mom to do housework.

понедельник, 7 февраля 2011 г.


by Melanie Broussalian (age 17)

I have always been told that our homeland is Armenia, but for me home has always meant Southern California. From my perspective, Armenia is a remote place where my ancestors have lived for more than 3,000 years, in times of growth and prosperity as well as suffering and ruin. In Sunday and Armenian School, I have learned that my people are strong and unyielding in their faith, Apostolic Christianity. I have heard the stories, read the books, and felt the pain of the Armenian Genocide through the experiences of my great-grandparents. But still, Armenia and its people have been a vague and distant notion. I never felt completely connected to the nationality that supposedly defines me, until this past summer when my mother and I traveled to Armenia as volunteers with the Fuller Center for Housing.

When we landed in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, I began to realize the magnitude of my journey. The hot summer heat was unbearable, the humidity was stifling, and my first impressions of Armenia were questionable. On our first night, my mother and I ventured into the main square (Republic Square); here we caught a glimpse of Armenia on the rise. The cars were modern and luxurious, and the buildings were weathered, but well maintained. I always imagined the country would be dilapidated, but what I found in Yerevan was a thriving city. The nightlife was vibrant, and, unlike going out at night at home, I was never worried about my safety. I began to feel better about spending the next two weeks in Armenia.

Our trip was separated into workdays, when we would help complete a partially-built house, and tour days, when we would explore the Armenian countryside. The house we worked on was in a remote village called Dasht, about 30 minutes from Yerevan. All five of the family members had been living in one cramped room for nearly 20 years without indoor plumbing or basic living necessities. Unlike in affluent Yerevan, in the villages we saw terrible poverty. Our group of 15 volunteers came ready to work and was happy to play a small, but significant part in completing this family’s home. In typical Armenian fashion, the entire village came to watch us work. Despite their limited means, they offered us homemade bread and cheese as well as homegrown fruits and vegetables.

Our tour days were long and hectic, but always full of adventure. Every destination revealed an ancient church. Places such as Geghard monastery, carved into a rocky mountainside, or the ruins of the 11th-century Ambert Fortress, amazed me. They were built centuries ago, and every Armenian generation since then, even in times of peril, protected these monuments as a mark of our long history. As each day passed, I was becoming more closely connected to my heritage.

Watching the Armenian people bring themselves out of generations of Soviet oppression and seeing them persevere made me realize that I have a great duty as a daughter of this community. About midway through our trip, my role as an Armenian living in today’s society began to take shape. I know it is important to keep the Armenian spirit and legacy alive, and I can achieve this by educating myself and sharing my knowledge with others. My dream is to learn the Armenian language and history, and I hope to enroll in these programs if they are available in college. I know that my ancestors have suffered and been martyred to preserve our culture and faith. It’s a privilege to carry this torch in honor of those who came before me. Now more than ever, I am proud to be Armenian.