Contributor - Michael Abassian
It’s already Friday, June 30th. When I first committed to this summer trip with HRI, I didn't know what to expect. After 5 days of teaching health and science topics in the village of Shvanidzor, I now have to say being a part of this team has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Getting to know all the children and parents of the village has been an emotionally transformative experience. The community is so welcoming and understanding and strong friendships, unlike any I’ve observed in a while, form the bedrock of this community.
In the past week and a half, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone physically and mentally, but the friendships and experiences I’ve made make these sacrifices seem trivial. The HRI team is so supportive and the leadership of Nanor and Hasmik make our camp so productive and impactful. Thank you for being so kind, persistent, and for not giving up!
Today, we made it to Halidzor, where we’ll be spending the weekend at a nice little resort in wooden cabins. The place is gorgeous and is surrounded by beautiful mountains. We had a nice group dinner where we also propped up Nanor’s mobile projector onto a wall to display lyrics to traditional Armenian songs as we all sang along. Good music, food, vibes and friends. It truly doesn't get any better. Yet, I’m excited to head back to Shvanidzor to continue our lessons and to continue getting to know the children better as we observe all kinds of rocks, leaves, bugs and microbes with our foldscopes: the origami paper microscopes donated by Manu Prakash and his team at Stanford.
The van stops.
You open the door.
You’ve been waiting for hours.
Under the hot sun,
You made balloons,
You pass them to each of us
And remember our names
The van stops
You open the door
At night we sit together
Watching the rain pour
One week has gone by
But there’s one more
Showers in tents and bug bites
I think we all feel sore
Never a bore
And although I’m far
Far away from home
I’m never alone
The van stops
We open the door
And in the rearview mirror
I see nothing but Shvanidzor
Contributor - Lillian Avedian
I have been searching for Armenia my entire life.
I searched for Armenia in the Armenian school I attended for ten years in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, where I learned Armenian history, poetry, and language.
I searched for Armenia in the stories my parents and grandparents tell of struggling to hold tightly on to their Armenian heritage as immigrants and diasporans.
I have finally discovered Armenia: in the village of Shvanidzor on the southern border near Iran where my parents grew up.
I discover my homeland in playing with the energetic schoolchildren, in stargazing under the beautiful night sky while listening to Komitas, in visiting the houses of the villagers and seeing their gardens and collections of homemade pomegranate wine.
This is my first time visiting an Armenian village, and while it is entirely foreign it feels unexpectedly familiar. I am rediscovering something I have never known, and the sense that my roots are embedded in the soil here is tangible.
I am constantly aware of my privilege in that I may travel here for two weeks and enjoy the loveliest the village has to offer without living the realities of the difficulties of village life. I delight in the breathtaking scenery, the joy of the children, the taste of the apricots and figs picked from the trees, and the hospitality of the villagers, and then I may freely return to the comforts of my home in the States.
Yet this experience has given me the gift, however selfish, of connecting me to my homeland and of allowing me to reflect upon my identity on the soil where my ancestors lived and worked. I love this land, and cannot help but feel that I belong to it.
To my fellow Armenians in the diaspora: come to Armenia. Visit the villages. Play with the children. Dine with the villagers. For it is here that you will discover the homeland.
Contributor - Sirarpi Topchyan
In the tiny kitchen, laughter rings out, as jokes and anecdotes are shared over cups of cardommon coffee and fresh aoiricot jam. It's through this humor, through moments spent together connecting, that we are able to strength ourselves, and get ourselves in the happy and positive mind space we need to be in to make the camp a happy place. There is never any shortage of laughter at this camp, there is an unlimited supply of smiles and teasing and poorly translated tshirts.
Today, we were able to connect with our students in our Social Issues class, to get them talking about relationships and family and parents, something I thought would be incredible Difficult to do. It was difficult, at the start, to find a way to speak these children about issues in their lives, but after initial bumps, the flow of conversation was as uninterrupted as our laughter in the morning.
Contributor - Victor Troiano
For me personally it is fantastic to be part of the HRI team this year. Unlike the rest of the camp leaders, I have actually already been living here in Shvanidzor for about a year and a half. I am here as a volunteer with the Peace Corps, working with the local English teacher in the village school. Last summer I happened to meet the HRI crew while they were here, but I was busy away from the village during most of their camp. So this year I was very excited to officially join the team and help to run the camp.
Getting to know this year’s group over these past few days has been a blast. It’s great to have other Americans to hang out with. Or as the locals might say, my own guests to host and show off the beauty of the village to. Already we have explored the village sights with the students and spent a rousing evening visiting my host-family here, complete with homemade wine.
In the camp, I am helping with the Environmental lessons. Today with the oldest students we ended up having a discussion about garbage disposal in the village. The students agreed that litter is a problem and that the ways it is typically disposed of – burning or dumping in the river – are not good solutions. They began to brainstorm the possibility of installing trash bins and having a truck come from town to remove the trash once a week. Projects like these are ones that I’ve wanted to focus some of my efforts on, but I never found an opportunity within my Peace Corps role in the school and village. So to see the students engaging in that conversation and coming up with their own solutions was very gratifying.
Thanks to the structure of HRI’s camps and the amazing bonds the whole team makes with the kids here, I have a wonderful opportunity to see the students engaging with topics such as these and others. This, for me, is the true value of HRI and the reason why I am so excited to be participating this year, and why I hope that the project continues for the years to come.
Contributor - Omid Niroumandzadeh
It’s been a surreal few days. I hurriedly finished a gruelling day at work on Thursday, packed a random assortment of shirts into my luggage, and rushed for the airport.
Having not gotten much sleep between my layovers in New York and Moscow, I arrived in Yerevan just in time to get ready for the Hidden Road Initiative’s first meeting before our 10 hour road trip to rural Shvanidzor.
Still loopy from my jetlag, it’s difficult to believe that I’ve driven the span of Armenia, and I’m now a stone's throw away from the Iranian border (quite literally!), my birthplace which I’ve not seen in 18 years.
Signs dotting the highways are often found in three additional languages: Russian, English, and Farsi. The signs reflect the diversity of Armenian communities worldwide, and particularly our own team.
We’ve got members from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Armenia, Iran, and the United States.
Spread out across the country’s roadways, you see grave markers where families have set up small memorials. These markers are often accompanied by water fountains and seats for weary travelers; a fitting and timely reminder that our past influences the eventual destination we reach.