VISITING ARMENIA TO BUILD HOMES
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.