Contributors: Yeraz Kochkarian and Stepan Trdatian
I found out about the HRI trip a few months ago and immediately knew that this was a trip I wanted to take after graduation with no one other than my boyfriend of one year, Stepan.
Now that we’re here, I can easily say that our experience has been very seemingly different than the other participants. I personally thought that venturing together was going to be no different than going with a group of friends, but I soon found out that this would be the greatest test to our relationship thus far. Spending these past few days in the most difficult and uncomfortable circumstances we’ve ever experienced, tensions were high and time apart was necessary.
Even after the arguments and moments of awkward silence, Stepan has been my support system and I’m glad that we decided to take this journey of self-discovery together.
Would it be too easy to just call this whole experience a Dream?
The Armenian word for dream also happens to be the name of my girlfriend, Yeraz.
After one whole year of being together, this Hidden Road Initiative serves as a sort of a milestone as well as kickstarter for our next year together. Needless to say, our circumstances escalated relatively quickly –going from dating and spending just days together, directly into two solid weeks of cooperating continuously in a tiny village together! But as drastic of a change it is, I believe we’re handling it well; adjusting to new scenarios and circumstances is important in a relationship. It is here that we have experienced a few of our perhaps most trying moments and where tensions have been the highest between us. I am glad to report these conflicts have only ended with us having a stronger bond and deeper appreciation for one another. Learning to consider each other’s perspective and communicate as sincerely as possible has been essential. Add on the fact that Yeraz and I are sharing this literally once in a lifetime experience filled with endless laughter, amazing people, some cows, breathtaking scenes, delicious food, and a million other simple joys… and I wouldn’t want to have spent my summer in any other way.
I’m not one to shy from powerful experiences, particularly village-living and even love. I’m glad to see Yeraz isn’t either.
There is no one else I would have wanted to endure this adventure with other than her.
Contributor - Valeria Torres
The day that we as a group had been anxiously waiting for months was here, the first day of camp for the students of Shvanidzor!
We woke up one hour earlier to get ready for the first day logistics, and even though we did not know what to expect from the students, as this was a new village this year- we were beyond excited to get everything ready for the day.
Even before 9 hit the clock, we began to slowly see parents and students approaching the school. With nametags and stickers ready, we began to divide the students into classes according to their ages, amongst the four core classes that we would be teaching- Art, Technology, Health/Science and Social Issues. A highlight from the morning core classes was the fact that there were several children in the 4-7 age group who had never attended school before whose parents warned us about using the word “school” as they were afraid of it.
Thirty-five students showed up to camp today, and we are expecting about ten more tomorrow. With classes done at 2:15 pm, we as a team had lunch and free time before doing the afternoon electives that included volleyball, card games, badminton, dance and interactive activities. At dismissal time, we had several of the younger students crying to their parents because they didn’t want to leave us.
In the afternoon after a dinner of dolma we all went to a villager’s home to hear his daughter, who is a student at the Music Conservatory in Yerevan, sing.
It was a wonderful afternoon filled with much love, laughter, food and conversations about the different cultures and birthplaces of the members of our group.
Contributer - Hasmik Baghdasaryan
The first official day in the village of Shvanidzor was full of adventures and excitement for all of us.
We started to bond more as a team as we learned more about one another, helped each other with different issues, resisted against the insects, and explored the neighboring villages together. What was particularly entertaining were the after-breakfast chores, as Vanuhi and myself sang different traditional songs while washing dishes in the spring.
In the morning we all had the opportunity to meet with the school’s principal, several of the teachers, and the school librarian. At this meeting, we got a chance to speak with the teachers about our plans for the upcoming weeks, what we will be teaching, and ask them questions about how to conduct ourselves in Armenian classrooms and in this village in particular. Additionally we learned from Mrs. Zakaryan, the principal, that the Shvanidzor School has been around for 130 years –however, it operated from a different structure until the 1970s. Following our meeting, we all got to pick our classrooms, set-up the necessary materials, and make final touches to our first lesson plans.
In the afternoon we all went on a trip to the neighboring towns of Meghri and Agarak. As the saying goes, “the journey was more important than the destination,” as the fifteen of us managed to squeeze inside a nine-person van and sing our way across the Armenia-Iran border. Our trip culminated with a tour of the bus driver’s pomegranate orchard—which, if anyone is wondering what Eden looks like can just look through the photos.
At the end of the day we reflected on the day’s experiences and shared our excitement for the first official day of classes.
Contributer - Teni Bazikyan
It seemed all so surreal until we were all in the bus seating and Tata’s song called Janaper started to play. “Janapar, gone mek mek inc hayasten e tar” which is translated as “road, sometimes take me to Armenia.”
The lyrics seem to be written for all of us, for all the fifteen young, inspirational, adventurous individuals whose roads have brought them to Armenia to be part of the summer camp organized by Hidden Road Initiative.
During the ten long bumpy hours, that took us to the southern border of Armenia near Meghry to a village called Shvanidzor, we all had the chance to sing Armenian traditional songs while staring at the beautiful and breathtaking scenery.
As the hours passed by, we all felt more connected to each, new friendships were formed and by the end of the day, it felt like family. Armenia, the mountains, the songs, the love, the cause, our cause has brought us all together. When we were finally in the village, we were welcomed with open arms and thats when we all knew that this summer we have made the best decision. The villagers were eager to share their life-style with us and we were all interested in knowing and experiencing as much of the village life as possible.
Later in the afternoon Mais, a local, was delighted to help us experience the life of a local, took us to his house where we eat a ton of tut - mulberries, which we collected as a team. This simple activity integrated us into the village culture and we were delighted to be a part of it.
Later at night, when we were all sitting around the reflection table, we had similar thoughts and feelings. We are all determined to impact someone’s life somehow, whether it will be our fellow campers or our students, and most importantly, all of us are delighted to see how this experience will impact our lives.
The hidden road has brought us to Shvanidzor and it’s our mission to revel the story of this hidden paradise.
I’ve been hearing about the Hidden Road Initiative from Nanor since she started it. I though it would be a rewarding experience so I took the first step and applied. Once I got accepted I had a phone interview just to make sure that I am available for the entire trip.
About a month ago Nanor held a Google hangout were we met the entire group that was going. We were all young college students who were excited about going to Armenia and having a new experience. During the hangout we talked about what we wanted the camp to be about and what we were interested in. We narrowed it down to four main groups: art, technology, social issues and science/health. I am in the art group and will be teaching dance.
I have met with my group twice to discuss what materials we need, to see what everybody had in mind and to help each other come up with different ideas. After every meeting I would work on my lesson plan to try and perfect it.
I am very excited to meet the children I will be teaching, what age group they will be, and how much dance experience each has. I have tiaras for the girls to wear on their final performance. They will learn a dance that I have been learning in my own dance group it incorporates both boys and girls of different age groups and has different levels of difficulty.
I am excited to see how this experience will change my life.