Contributor: Naeiri Hakopian
If I could sum up this summer camp in one word it would be unprepared. Weeks before arriving in Shvanidzor, I met with Siranoush, with whom I would be teaching the English and Crafts class. We prepared detailed lesson plans for each age group, outlining all our goals and what we wanted to achieve with each class. We knew most of the villagers had very little English speaking skills, if any, and were prepared to teach them the basics of the language. For example, for the older kids, we planned to teach them sentence structure and how to introduce themselves, so by the end of the camp, they could write a short introductory paragraph about themselves. Two days into the camp, it was clear our lessons were not going to go as planned. Their English knowledge was less than we had anticipated, our planned activities were a bore, and we were having much more fun getting to know all our students, then we were when teaching them. For the younger kids, activities we thought would be uninteresting for them turned out to be the highlights of every class. We were singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” fifteen times a day; each day the young kids would come back more excited than the day before to show us which parts of the song they remembered. They would show their other teachers what they had learned in class that day. We were slowly making progress with the younger students, but with the older students we were still struggling to help them understand English phrases and sentence structure. With our class times running too short, we offered all our students the option of joining us in the afternoon (after classes were over, and when they were supposed to be chilling at home) to come to school if they wanted to continue studying. With me, they would be practicing English again, and with Siranoush, they would have an introduction to the Chinese language, something they all knew Siranoush is studying in University and were all interested in learning. The first afternoon progressed as class usually would, I asked each student what they wanted to pursue in their future, and helped them put together short descriptions of their aspirations. However, they were still struggling with putting together basic sentences. During Siranoush’s class, the student’s learned a little about the history of the Chinese language and how the different symbols in their language are punctuated to form a specific sound. Siranoush’s vibrant personality, coupled with her love for the Chinese language, made the students much more responsive and receptive during class. I realized I had to take a different approach, and decided I would teach Music fundamentals in the afternoon, but completely in English. The students would learn the basics of music theory while being exposed to English. Through song and note dictation, the older students were able to catch on to English much easier. I would ask questions in English, and a student would be able to translate it, come up to the board, and complete simple exercises, and also learn to interact with me in English when they needed help. A few already had a background in music, and almost all of them knew how to sing the notes, and this made them more motivated to join in during class and share their knowledge. In the middle of one of the lessons, one student said in Armenian, “You know, learning is a good thing.” A short and sweet comment, but it was everything. I was glad to have provided a lesson plan which captured their interest and held their attention for even a short time. So yes, I was very unprepared for the way camp would progress, and for how the students would react to our lessons, but I was also unprepared for how eager these students are to learn and how quickly they respond to something which interests them, and of course, for how much more they taught me then I taught them.
Contributor: Clarissa Guzman
Barev tis. Imanunes Clarissa eh. 2 weeks have gone by and I'm amazed at the relationships I've built with the people of Shvanidzor through hand gestures and minimal Armenian. I'm grateful for this experience because although it was frustrating almost being mute, I learned a lot about the Armenian culture. I've learned about selflessness and about the appreciation for the little things in life. Being around the village kids made me sincerely happy. The way they always offered themselves to help out. From the moment we stepped outside the car our first day, they were there to take our luggages into the school without us having to ask for help, to the days we needed fresh water, they were there to fill up the water gallons. As I continue my life back in the US I would like to incorporate more of that selflessness I experienced in Shivanidzor. In hopes of living a healthier and meaningful life I also plan on living with gratefulness everyday.It's so easy to become negative and forget about the happiness that the simplest things in life bring you. I learned that you should always remember your blessings because they will carry you a long way and keep you grounded. Not a single village kid complained about their life, which just made me realize that in America we always want want want and forget to thank life for what we have and give back. The culture in Shivanidzor, Armenia changed me and gave me courage as I start a new chapter in life, college. I came to Armenia lost and unsure about my purpose but I left with new goals of coming back to Armenia and making a difference in my home country, Mexico. Shivanidzor will forever stay in my heart, as it taught me many new things.
Contributor: Colleen Gabrimassihi
I’ve had many days where I’ve wished I could run away - not from the people or my life or the issues I face - but from the routine that we all create from ourselves. I’ve always craved and been curious of how the opposite of my day to day life would make me feel, living in a small town; the neighbors your family, the cashier your cousin, the person driving by your uncle.
I truly believe that you can change your life’s, routine, and how you feel in a moments notice - if that is where your heart truly lives. But I know that is a paralyzing idea to any sane person, to leave everything and everyone behind to go on your own true journey.
Living in Los Angeles my whole life this suffocating curiosity led me to find my love of travel; to even for a moment, experience life through a foreign perspective. Following my heart, I knew I wanted to return to my homeland and take out the weeds and plant new roots of my beliefs, perspective, and priorities.
From the moment I stepped out of the bus as we arrived in Shivanidzor, I knew every belief I had was going to change, grow, and strengthen. As volunteers we are here to help the village and teach the children, but every moment we spend we learn more from the way they greet each other and care for neighbors as if they are siblings (which they actually call their brothers and sisters) than anything a class could ever teach.
The disruption in my routine, and the new perspective this experience gave me reaffirmed my confidence that I should always follow the little voice in my head that tells me to chase my curiosity and the unknown.
Contributor: Arsine Kolanjian
To wake and sleep in the arms of nature has been one of the many gifts Shvanidzor has to offer. The morning sun shimmers through the pomegranate trees
followed by nature’s own alarm clock system. Each day begins this way coupled by delicious Armenian breakfast. The sweet giggles and laughter of children can be heard in the distance, immediately bringing about a smile on each of our faces. We begin camp with some uplifting music before entering the classrooms. In the photography and journalism class, we were able to teach the students how to take pictures, although they all seemed naturally talented in the field. The images they captured, innocently, appeared so beautiful and expressed so much. It was another method of communication, it seemed, as they did so with such pleasure and pure interest and curiosity. The evening was in near sight but the children’s energy remained full to the brim. We all enjoyed a game of volleyball, Gordz-na-Gordz, soccer, Twister, and many more. At one corner, the girls were engaging in a fun arts and crafts activity and in the next everyone was dancing and singing to various kinds of music ranging from Armenian to American to Latin. It was one of the highlights and continues to be with each passing day. Wednesday’s special cultural activity consisted of milking a cow! For many of us, milking cows was a mystery and we all wanted to give it a try. The combination of excitement, fear, and anticipation made the experience amazing and truly refreshing, as it was nowhere near what the average person would experience in L.A. The day ended with a sky full of stars, a luminous moon, and memories we will forever keep close to our hearts. Հաջողութիւն մինչ նորհանդիպում :)
My last day in Halidzor began with a morning ritual of yoga and mediation with the other HRI
members. In an attempt to relax my body, I diligently sat on the outside ground, closed my eyes,
and generously breathed in the fresh Armenian air. I envisioned myself as a tall tree driving its
roots into the Armenian soil, the same soil our Armenians ancestors used to build a bell tower to
warn other Armenians of invaders during the Armenian genocide. Feeling the overwhelming
emotion of sadness, I began to reflect upon my family ancestors, recalling my great-great
grandmother Diana Apcar and her heroism saving millions of Armenian refugees during the
Although very little is written about her in Soviet era history books, my great-great grandmother
wrote a new history for many Armenian refugees looking for a home elsewhere. Many of the
Armenian refugees fleeing East of Armenia landed in Japan, where Diana Apcar helped over six
hundred families find hope for a new tomorrow in the United States. Her relentless strive toward
justice started with various books, poems, and letters of the untold stories of the Armenian
immigrants fleeing their homeland. She even build a shelter in Japan for many Armenian
escapees, continuously advocating for their right to be seen and recognized as refugees of the
Her efforts to save the Armenian people were so extraordinary that she was appointed the
honorary consul of of the fist republic to Armenia to Japan, becoming the first female diplomat in
a time where women had very limited rights. Her humanitarian work eventually granted her an
Aurora Prize for her dedication to awakening humanity to the atrocities of the Armenian
My great-great grandmother set an example for all activists still fighting for the rights of the
Armenians and their neglected history. Not only does her story of heroism inspire me to dig
deeper into my Armenian roots, but also encourages me embrace my own humanitarian
activism in Shvanidzor, advocating the rights of Armenian students access to a more fulfilling life
through higher education. My trip to Shvanidzor is the first of many future trips to Armenia,
giving a voice to the unheard citizens of Armenia just like my great-great grandmother did. Her
investment in the Armenian community is ingrained in my heart, carrying her spirit as a guide to
empower the untold stories of Armenia.
Contributors: Rosa Hambardzumyan, Julieta Arakelyan, Herminei Hovhannisyan
Ամառվա ամենասպասված օրերն են՝ Թաքնված ճանապարհ նախաձեռնության անդամները նորից Շվանիձոր գյուղում են: Այս կազմակերպությունը հասցրել է մեր կյանքի մի փոքրիկ բաժինը դառնալ:Հայրենիք վերադարձած և Հայաստանի ամենահարավային դարպասում գտնվելը անշուշտ տարբեր զգացողություններ է արթնացրել ամենքի հոգում։Յուրաքանչյուր օրը յուրովի հետաքրքիր է և լի էմոցիաներով: Առաջին հայացքից սովորական թվացող գյուղը իրականում ունի շատ հարուստ պատմություն:Շրջելով գյուղում համոզվեցինք դրանում,քանի որ ամեն քայլափոխին մեր առջև բազմադարյա պատմության մի ապացույց էր երևում:
Շվանիձորում իրականացված էքսկուրսիան հնարավորություն տվեց տեսնել 17-րդ դարի ջրանցույցը, որը շարված է սրբատաշ բազալտե քարերից՝ կրաշաղախով և համարվում է միջնադարյան Հայաստանի այդ տիպի կառույցներից ամենակարևորը:
Էքսկուրսիայի ընթացքում ծանոթացանք յուրաքանչյուր շվանիձորեցու հպարտություն հանդիսացող Բերդի քարի պատմությանը, տեսանք հին դպրոցի ավերակները, ինչ որ չափով պատկերացում կազմվեց գյուղի ու բնակիչների առօրյայի մասին, ինչպես նաև ամեն քայլափոխին արժանացանք ջերմ վերաբերմունքի:
Շվանիձորի դրական հատկանիշները վառ արտացոլվում էին էքսկուրսիայի ընթացքում։Մարդիկ ջերմորեն մոտենում էին,ողջունում և նրանց ընդունում որպես հարազատ մարդիկ: Կարծում ենք էքսկուրսիան բավականին հաջողված անցավ և մեր թիմին կարողացանք փոխանցել այն սերն ու ջեմությունը ինչը ունի գյուղը։Շվանիձորը պատմական վայր է և անվերջ կարելի է խոսել նրա մասին։
Մեզ համար մեծ հաճույք էր ներկայացնել մեր իսկ գյուղի պատմությունը և հույս ունենք,որ դեռ առիթներ շատ կլինեն նորից գտնվելու միևնույն վայրում ,միևնույն մարդկանց հետ,քանի որ աշխատել նման մարդկանց հետ հրաշալի զգացողություն է։Վստահ ենք՝ նրանք հավանեցին գյուղը,իսկ Շվանիձորը միշտ կսպասի ձեզ լայն սրտով և հավատով։
Contributor: Lillian Avedian
Return to Shvanidzor
Time is the most formidable con artist. It guarantees all and immediately whisks it away as you begin to appreciate its value. Time is the sea, and I am the sand on the ocean floor, grasping desperately to the present even as it is washed away.
The two weeks I spent in Shvanidzor in the summer of 2017 are frozen in time. Every moment in Shvanidzor feels immense, as I am wholly immersed in the present, free from the distractions of social media and American news. The mountains in the distance, the cool water from the stream, the braying of the cows, the laughter of the children--all of these things overwhelm your senses in the moment, and the past and the future do not matter. However, the cruel irony of time proved its power as those two weeks passed all too quickly. It was not until I was gone that I could begin to understand how living in Shvanidzor would fundamentally alter my understandings of human kindness and happiness.
And so from the moment that I left Shvanidzor I looked for ways to return, to relive those moments that anchor you into the present yet fled from me so rapidly. When I travelled to Armenia this summer for my internship in Yerevan, a piece of me knew that my heart would lead me to this village, tucked away in the imposing mountains of Syunik, in the farthest corner of Armenia.
Since returning to Shvanidzor, every space has felt incredibly evocative. The dining table, the restroom, the classrooms--each one instantly triggers memories of a happy time spent here. Moments that I felt could only exist as sensations have crystallized into recollections tucked away in my mind.
It is impossible to recreate the past. I recognized this from the second I stepped off of the bus and we were greeted with music, balloons, and bread and salt from children dressed in Armenian garments. This unexpected and entirely new reception instigated a process of realizing that those dearly held moments belong to history. Yet my joy and anticipation upon getting to know our new volunteer group, catching up with the village kids whom I have not seen in a year, and re-acquainting myself with my surroundings prove that this inevitable cycle of change is a positive one. It leaves room to create new memories, new moments, new relationships. I cannot wait to see what these next two weeks hold, and I already dread the moment that I will have to leave and endure the devastation of the passage of time once more. So for now, I relish the gift of this present wonderful moment. I am here, I am here, I am here.