Contributor - Nanor Balabanian
2009 was the first HRI camp I ever led. Throughout these years, I have found that my favorite part of HRI is getting to know the amazing individuals who dedicate weeks of their life to be selflessly serve and love others. I would like to thank each person.
1. Gagik for your constant optimism and amazing booklet you published to teach coding in Armenian!
2. Hasmik for your ability to bring difficult topics into discussion and help bring new ideas forward!
3. Hermine for your caring and selfless personality that always put others above yourself!
4. Houshig for the daily delicious meals you prepared and the sarcastic jokes you cracked!
5. Julieta for your beautiful smile that always made every day better and intelligent mind that challenged us and made us grow!
6. Lillian for your endless energy to play with children and abundant love towards all!
7. Lucy for your sans-worry lifestyle, young spirit, and supernatural ability to handle a difficult lifestyle, despite your 84.5 years of life!
8. Michael for your hidden way of speaking to people's hearts and souls, and caring for the ones who are often forgotten.
9. Omid for your relentless ability to help others and be on board with any new, adventurous, or crazy idea!
10. Rita for your creative ways of reaching to EVERY kid and pouring so much love and energy into them!
11. Roza for your multilingual skills that helped us so very much to communicate, and to better relate to the village culture!
12. Shant for your leadership and teaching skills that enabled us to have the best water fights as well as outdoor education!
13. Sirarpi for your endless jokes, bursts of energy, chicken-dance skills, and fun personality that every child and adult fell in love with.
14. Tania for your photography skills :) as well as your constant love, support, and encouragement towards our group!
15. Teni for your insane organizational skills and ability to bring so many new resources to the village!
16. Victor for your knowledge of the village, your expertise of the curriculum, and your ability to bridge the US and Armenian culture, language, and lifestyles!
Contributor- Rita Keshishian
Ծուղ-րու—ղո՜ւ (cock-a- doodle-doo)
Our neighbor rooster “Anas” crowed the last wake up call- it was our departure day from our already home Shvanidzor.
Amazingly, my friend Sirarpi didn’t yell “Անաս սուս մնա ” (Anas, shut up!) that morning, maybe because the rooster’s sound had become one of the sweetest things of waking up she will ever miss…
Waking up we started packing our beds and luggage. However, there was some kind of a sound outside that was getting louder and louder my curiosity led me to the window seeing a big crowd of our kids waiting outside with sweets and flowers holding in their
hands. That moment I learned one important thing in my life realizing that the real happiness actually comes from giving out happiness to other people like them…
Getting down all of us were exposed to answer the world's hardest question of life, each of them approached us asking "Will you promise to come back next summer?"
We started heading to Sevan reminiscing all wonderful moments we had during last two weeks in Shvanidzor. The singing and poem evenings, late night conversations under the starry sky, hospitable villagers’ houses, milking cows, mouth-watering village drinks, hiking in the village and so many other moments that I will never forget in my life.
And of course, on our way to Sevan we couldn’t indifferently pass by our friend cows and not have a big performance of “chicken dance” for them, they enjoyed it so much that started escaping from us running with furious expressions of faces.
Finally, a breathtaking view of sunset welcomed us to our resort in Lake Sevan unrolling an alluring pink carpet on our road.
Already morning of Sevan.
No sound of “Anas”…
Contributor - Lucy Janjigian
The two weeks that I worked at camp in Shvadnizor were exciting, enjoyable and gratifying.
To see the children’s happy faces responding to the dedicated counselors who played, sang, taught and worked with them was a beautiful sight. Face painting that Sirarpi did thrilled the children. They really enjoyed being painted on.They ran around showing each other, comparing the paintings on their faces and arms.
Houshig and I worked with the children in the afternoons giving them small fun craft coloring projects. One of the practical crafts was making fans to cool themselves. I enjoyed getting the mothers involved. They would bring their children, sit and pass the time talking. I invited them to come to the craft room and introduced them to crocheting necklaces with special yarn I had brought. They learnt very fast and were happy to wear and gift necklaces to their friends and children. It was fun seeing necklaces worn by many around camp.
My other assignment was to prepare breakfast and lunch for the counselors. Actually for breakfast they were in the dining room before me many times and helped themselves to bread, cheese, jam, peanut butter, nutella, hard boiled eggs with either tea or coffee. For lunch we used fresh vegetables for stew, we made lentil rice, pasta casserole and served them with tomato and onion salad and or yoghurt. We were able to purchase milk and yoghurt from a local woman who owned a cow.
A young man, Samuel, was most helpful in purchasing eggs , bread and vegetables for us from some of the villagers. The local grocery store did not carry the items we needed. The grocer had mostly canned goods and ice cream. Also the store hours were not dependable.
The counselors had coffee/tea break time at mid morning. Some of the mothers would send us baked goods that were much appreciated. We were very fortunate because they also brought us lots of fresh fruits from their orchards - apricots, plums and figs. Sometimes they brought home made plum juice. They are very hospitable and innovative. The counselors were most appreciative for the meals Houshig and I prepared. We tried to remember to say grace before meals. It was fun times to be together at mealtimes to hear stories of what was going on and how the children were doing. We were glad to have four local young girls among us as junior counselors. Hopefully they will continue some of the camp projects for the children during summer holidays.
I have lovely happy memories of my time spent with the counselors, the children and their mothers under the able supervision of our camp director Nanor. I thank her for the opportunity to serve our beautiful children. More power to you Nanor. Keep your vision to serve those children. You bring much joy to the whole village and transform their summer days.
Lastly, I loved my name at camp- I find it most endearing "Pari Dadig".
Contributor - Houshig Snabian
Today’s reflection at the camp was if we have found happiness in our lives.
The fact that I’ve been a scout for long years in Ararat, Iran, and later on as a boarding
student in Anjar, Lebanon, I considered this move as the continuation of the summer
The five years of boarding school and studies, though difficult, flew away in a wink of
eye. My friends traveled abroad, and I, being the foreigner, ended up to be the only one living in Anjar.
I graduated from Haigazian University, married, and now have a loving family.
But to me it’s as if I’m deprived of my happiness.
My friends and their company meant a lot to me: be it in Iran or later in Lebanon. Their
absence took away from me my sense of joy. Everything I did seemed incomplete
without them in my life.
Life went on.
It was the afternoon of May 28 when by chance I met Nanor in the school yard. We
chitchatted about life, old days in school. One thing led to another and she proposed that I participate in HRI camp 2017, in Shvanidzor.
I gladly accepted and here I am among an amazing group of young people, trying to
provide humanitarian aid to a remote village in Armenia.
So far we’ve had an extraordinary experience with the children and each other. Each
trying to give and share his best with the other. Unconditional love and giving
The happiness I’ve been looking for for years has been paid off this many years later big
I do thank everybody responsible for this amazing feeling of happiness and
Contributor: Teni Anbarchian
Today had its own unique challenges, deep and thought-provoking conversations, and wonderful moments. It was hot, internet services were down and electricity fluctuated. Yet, at first sight of the children, we were all energized. We sang and danced to Armenian songs, which never fail to unite Armenians regardless of the country they reside in.
But as the day proceeded, we began thinking about the implication of our presence in the village. We all spent hours to prepare for our classes and traveled a long way, but are we making a difference in the lives of our students? Will they learn and remember what we are teaching them? Luckily, the biggest strength of our team is our ability to share and discuss our feelings. We came up with ways to improve our lesson plans, and hoped that our interactions with the students would go beyond the duration of the camp and we would continue to teach and learn from each other.
Coming to Shvanidzor has been an extraordinary experience for me. Every hour of the camp had me filled with emotions, thoughts and gratitude:
I had been to Armenia before, always as a tourist from the Armenian diaspora. This time, on our 11 hour drive down to our mission site, I felt the vast mountains embrace and welcome us. For the first time, I felt like the country had always been my home.
Every single day and night, I watched my childhood home – Iran – from the village, which is located right next to the Iran-Armenia border. I knew I was so close to my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends whom I miss dearly. With a heavy heart, I wished I could extend my arms, reach them and relive the old times.
Finally, I came to camp excited to teach students about health and biology. Never did I imagine how much the children, the village and the HRI team would teach me. I will never forget the sight of children running to school every morning with a grin on their face and flowers in their hands. Their excitement and energy was immeasurable. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the Shvanidzor people. Every morning they brought us lots and lots of fruits and drinks and when we visited them at their homes, they welcomed us with all they had.
And lastly, it was being with the amazing members of the HRI team that made this trip most memorable. I will always remember and cherish our late-night conversations under the starlit sky, and our team’s unconditional love towards each other and Shvanidzor.
I am also grateful to members of the Stanford University and the Nusse Lab, especially Roel Nusse, Cati Logan and Manu Prakash for their generous support, providing teaching materials, and foldscopes. Their help and encouragement significantly improved our classroom lessons and my experience in the village.
Contributor: Hasmik Baghdasaryan
The HRI weekend excursions to the Tatev monastery and the Khndzoresk swinging bridge are always two incredibly beautiful experiences, filled with exposure to history, culture, heritage, and natural wonders. However, as is the case with any other undertaking, there are the occasional bumps in the road; and when my body was giving up on me as a consequence of an unexpected food-poisoning, I had of 15 of my closest friends, most of whom I had met less than a week ago, by my side.
The bonds we, camp leaders, form with one another are almost always stronger than those formed with the village or our students. It simply comes with the territory. We live with one another for two weeks, we use the same stream for absolutely all water related activities, we struggle against natural elements together, and when worst comes to worst we are there for one another, and support one another through emotional, psychological, and even physical pain.
Waking up to an excruciating headache and nausea, I suffered as camper after camper tried to ease my misery in some way. From trying to help me drink some water, to eat any amount of food, to supporting me when my body rejected both. After a much needed night at the Goris Medical Center, along with my friend Gagik, who—as it turned out was in a similar condition—I finally got the chance to bask in the beauty of Khndzoresk, and perhaps more importantly, thoroughly and whole heartedly, enjoy the company of the people whom I’ve come to consider family.
From midnight conversations, to cultural emersion activities through the village, to during-dinner insiders, this year’s HRI team has it’s own special համ ու հոտ (taste and aroma), and I cannot be more grateful to be a part of such a remarkable group.
Contributor- Gagik Movsisyan
I was born in a village called Aghin in Armenia in 1994 and I lived in Sarakap. I moved to the US in 2000 and visited once in 2007 -- it has been ten years since the last time I was here.
I tried to plan a trip during the past two summers, but both times didn't work out. I was finally able to make plans to go to Armenia a few weeks after graduating in December, then that date changed to March. I bought my ticket and "finalized" my plans to lead a workshop at TUMO from March to May. A few weeks later, I had to cancel my flight and my trip. It had been about four months since I had graduated and I started wondering if I should keep trying to make this trip happen. "Maybe I should just stay, get a job, and help my parents."
People asked me why I wanted to go and I couldn't answer them -- I didn't know how to translate that inner desire to words. I wondered if I was being a fool. Putting my college degree and career goals on hold to... "go teach kids in Armenia about technology"? I was discouraged and in limbo.
It was around then that I found out HRI camp was happening in June and I was accepted to help teach a computer class. This was when things started to fall into place.
My plans had failed, but what this failure led to was something better and more exciting than what I had tried to plan. I was now set to spend three months in Armenia: teach coding in Shvanidzor, kindergarten construction in Jrashen, then lead technical workshops in Gyumri and Yerevan.
Around this time, a good friend of mine reminded me about the last line of my UC Personal Statement (college application essay) that I wrote back in 2012:
"I intend to use my successes to go back to Armenia, build schools, and create opportunities for children who have not been as fortunate as I have been as a naturalized American citizen"
It is now my second week in Shvanidzor teaching coding to the kids here, and I feel like I'm doing what I was meant to do.