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

Armenia.

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.