After two years of planning and fundraising, and a month of intense physical labor, approximately three months ago, we, members of the Hidden Road Initiative, opened the doors of the kindergarten Stork (Aragil) in the village of Jrashen.
To say that the month we spent in Jrashen was a learning experience, would be a massive understatement. As it turned out the experience of the previous kindergarten renovation project was of little help in predicting what the current one entailed; thus, I, along with a group of volunteers walked into a complete unmarked territory with an array of tools and building materials—purchased based on the advice of various experienced and inexperienced individuals—and immersed ourselves in a project of renovation and life in a village that was utterly unfamiliar to us all.
The first several days in Jrashen were almost dream like. Enamored with the hospitality of the village, our almost fairy tale village home, the abundance of apricot trees and stork nests, the majestic view of Mt. Ararat, one another, and of course our vision for the project, we spent hours and hours hard at work, hoping that we were being productive.
We emptied rooms, scraped and sanded old paint, demolished an old wall, swept and swept and swept kilos of dust and debris, and somehow managed to get the space down to its bare bones, from where it could be transformed into a kindergarten.
The project we had undertaken was much more difficult than any of us imagined and filled with more hurdles than we thought possible, but it were these difficulties which created the opportunity for abundant creativity and ingenuity. Two ladders and an old window sill transformed into scaffolding, the side of an old door-frame aided in demolishing a wall, a short meat-ax and a hammer somehow managed to pull off 50 meters of railing/skirting, and of course, an old wire from a curtain rod along with a piece of wood became the lever which helped us transport 30-50 kg sacks of gypsum plaster and cement.
After about a week of work, seeing the two classrooms and the hallway in a state of near destruction was a source of worry and anxiety, at least for me. There was the realization and the knowledge that this was, in fact, progress; nevertheless, my immediate emotional reaction to the visual stimulation of the state of those rooms was something slightly short of panic.
However, after receiving the professional aid we had asked for, two builders from the village joined our team, and soon, with their help, we learned what the old walls needed along with the Russian terms for the material and the techniques. Quickly we learned to prime using two different kinds of primer accounting for the two types of old paint on the wall; the most troublesome of which was the concrete primer which, once dry, would give much needed texture to the old semi-gloss paint, unfortunately the walls weren’t the only surface this material would settle on. We also purchased and used metal corner installments to help us evenly plaster the old walls, and learned that the walls needed three layers of gypsum based plaster and putty to get them ready for paint.
We visited more hardware stores than cafes, we learned the type of sandpaper one needs for leveling old parquet floors, we learned that there is a type of gravel that even tractors can’t dig through and you need a jackhammer to make your plumbing possible, and of course we learned that having a drink with construction workers during lunch is actually a pretty fun experience and occasionally necessary.
We discovered that it’s actually quite easy to negotiate down the price of floor-boards if you’re purchasing them for large enough surface area, unfortunately however, it’s almost impossible to negotiate the price of baseboards, as these are sold per unit.
But this experience wasn’t all paint and plaster; living together we learned each other’s preferences, hobbies, and quirks. We got to share our cooking skills and occasionally even learn new things, like making tolma (sarma). We discovered that even after an entire week of scraping old walls and an awake night out under the stars, it’s possible to run 5km the next morning and actually enjoy it. It became apparent that with two former scouts on the team there would always be at least three songbooks around, and this meant that most interactions would be musical in nature and of course most songs would be patriotic. We learned that apricots are incredible in every form and appropriate with every meal, and finally, when the weather is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it became apparent that ice cream is an expectation.
And of course we knew, but we felt, how a group of friends who’re passionate about their work can turn just about any circumstance and unimaginable condition into the most memorable experience.
Thanks to the contributions of all of our incredible donors, our partnership with Alpha Gamma Alpha, and the hard work of all HRI members, the village of Jrashen has a brand new kindergarten.
Lillian, Michael, Gagik, Rita, Victor, Shant, Andrey, Jasmin, Karine, and Hrach thank you!