Արդեն չորս տարի <<Թաքնված ճանապարհ>> նախաձեռնությունը կազմակերպում է ամառային ճամբար Շվանիձորի երեխաների համար՝ ապահովելով նրանց անմոռանալի ժամանցը, համատեղելով օգտակարը հաճելի հետ ։ Ամեն տարի ճամբարային դասընթացները տարբերվում են իրենց թեմատիկայով․ այս տարվա դասընթացները ներառել են արտ-թերապիա, լուսանկարչություն, լեզուներ, իրավունք, բնապահպանություն և տուրիզմ։
Ճամբարային առօրյան երեխաներին հնարավորություն է տալիս արտահայտվելու և ինքնադրսևորվելու, բացահայտելու իրենց <<թաքնված>> հնարավորություններն ու կարողությունները, իսկ կամավորական խումբը այդ երկու շաբաթների ընթացքում հնարավորություն է ունենում ծանոթանալ գյուղի պատմությանը, այցելել տեսարժան վայրերը, հյուրընկալվել բնակիչների տանը, ինչպես նաև ծանոթանալ գյուղի առօրյաին։
Աննկարագրելի է երեխաների ոգևորությունն այդ օրերին։ Ճամբարին մասնակցում են ինչպես Շվանիձորի, ,այնպես էլ հարակից գյուղերի և քաղաքների շուրջ 80 երեխա, իսկ կամավորական խումբը կազմված էր Հայաստանի տարբեր շրջաններից և արտերկրից եկած մի խումբ երիտասարդներից։ Խմբի անդամներից մի քանիսը հենց Շվանիձորից էին, մյուսները՝ Երևանից, Ախպրաձորից, Տաթևից, Լիբանանից և Ամերիկայից։ Շվանիձորի այս տարվա ճամբարը առանձնահատուկ էր հենց նրանով, որ մասնակիցների մեծ մասը Հայաստանից էին։ Ոմանք իրենց առաջին քայլերն էին անում մանկավարժության ոլորտում, ոմանք արդեն որոշակի փորձ ունեին,սակայն, նրանցից յուրաքանչյուրն էլ ջանք ու եռանդ չէր խնայում երեխաներին որևէ նոր բան ուսուցանելու և նրանց ժամանցը հաճելի դարձնելու համար.
Article by Lilly Torosyan, originally published in h-pem.com
Link to original: https://www.h-pem.com/en/Stories/2018/05/19/uncovering-the-hidden-road-to-armenias-most-isolated-communities/38
We are often told that education is the key to building a healthy, stable society. This becomes all the more crucial in areas where access to resources such as electricity, running water, and even roads are limited--communities like the ones that HRI serves.
Founded in 2011 by college students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), the Hidden Road Initiative (HRI) has shattered diasporan convention by marking a new age of nation-building, centering on local engagement of peripheral communities, beyond telethon fundraisers and summer tourism. Through the establishment of summer camps in underserved villages, fundraisers for winter and educational supplies, the construction of kindergartens, and scholarships for graduating students, HRI hopes to elevate the economic, social, and educational vitality of the communities it serves. The common thread to the many projects that HRI undertakes is that the villages and their communities are the investments, not the organization.
As an added benefit, the organization has also brought scores of diasporans and non-Armenians into the fold. Many of the students involved with HRI visit Armenia during their summers, fundraising throughout the year for a specific project, which tends to vary from year to year.
Hasmik’s inaugural project, “Operation: Reconstructing the Future,” encapsulates the prescient adage—what filmmaker Eric Nazarian says is the key to effecting change—that one must think globally and act locally.
One student + one dream = one yerkir
We’re all familiar with that oft-overused proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In the case of Armenia today, this can mean the difference between handing out cash once or twice a year for charity or playing an integral role in the reinvigoration of a new yet ancient nation. HRI and its members are driven by this philosophy.
After moving to Los Angeles when she was 12 years old, Hasmik returned to Armenia nearly a decade later, in 2013, to visit her grandmother in the village of Tsaghkaber (meaning “Flower Bearer”). Located near the epicenter of the devastating 1988 Spitak Earthquake, Tsaghkaber took a massive beating, with many basic amenities—like a kindergarten, a medical center, a sewer system, and regular access to water—all but eradicated. However, the most shocking difference from Hasmik’s childhood, she says, was “a rather eerie lack of men.
“After speaking with locals [in Tsaghkaber] and the HRI team, I decided that it would be a good idea to try and do something about it,” she continues. Upon returning to the United States, Hasmik applied for—and received—a competitive grant from the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, which gives undergraduates $10,000 to carry out a public service project of their own design.
That summer, Hasmik, her sister Margarita, and friends Astkhik Hakobyan and Indelisa Muro, renovated, furnished, and opened the Tsaghkaber Kindergarten, which today serves seven childcare professionals and 28 children. “The impact it had on the community is bigger than any of us really expected. In addition to giving children a safe place to be during the day and become better prepared for school—as well as making the lives of the village women much easier during the busy months of spring, summer, and fall—the project also really empowered the residents of Tsaghkaber,” says Hasmik.
How can you get involved?
Exploring uncharted territories soon becomes the blueprint for future projects. As the Tsaghkaber project proved, capital alone is not enough to implement a successful undertaking. Without quick thinking, problem-solving, and emotional stamina and motivation, no amount of funding could ever achieve progress. However, in the off-season, fundraising remains an important component of HRI’s priorities, and Hasmik encourages all who can to donate. “As this kindergarten project really demonstrated, any amount makes a difference.”
The multipronged approach to HRI’s sustainable aid and development is not limited to construction projects. From the beginning, the mission was to connect isolated villages with the rest of the world virtually, through the Internet. Their first few activities consisted of donating computers and incorporating web literacy classes in summer camps. The project soon rapidly expanded to include a variety of projects.
Reoccurring HRI projects include educational summer camps and scholarships for university students from remote villages in Armenia. “All other projects are decided on during the year, after brainstorming and long discussions. Thus, after the completion of [the Jrashen] kindergarten project, we haven’t planned anything new yet,” explains Hasmik. In the future, she hopes HRI’s services will expand beyond Armenia, to incorporate a wider variety of projects.
For others wishing to start similar initiatives in Armenia, Hasmik offers two suggestions: “Find an organization [that] does similar work and ask for specific advice. And more importantly, work with like-minded and supportive individuals. The unity of the group and our shared vision and passion [at HRI] are what keep us afloat.”
As HRI shows, one need not be a certain age, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or financial ability to make a difference. Whether it is a college student in California building a kindergarten in Tsaghkaber or a 12-year-old Boy Scout renovating a school in Akhpradzor, anyone with a vision and resolve can change the situation of our homeland for the better because yerkiruh yerkir a ("the country is a country").
Check out H-pem.com for more!
Original article published in Hetq on June 24, 2019 by Amalya Markaryan. Link
Նանոր Բալաբանյանը Սան Ֆրանցիսկոյից Հայաստան է եկել Գեղարքունիքի մարզի Ախպրաձոր եւ Սյունիքի մարզի Շվանիձոր համայնքներում դպրոցականների համար ամառային ճամբարներ կազմակերպելու նպատակով։
Ախպրաձորում այս տարի արդեն 8-րդ անգամ Նանորը կամավորների հետ ճամբար է կազմակերպել:
Նանորը 29 տարեկան է, ծնվել է Սիրիայում, մեծացել Լիբանանում, այնուհետեւ տեղափոխվել է ԱՄՆ։ Առաջին անգամ Հայաստան է եկել 10 տարի առաջ, աշխատանքային այցով եղել Ախպրաձոր գյուղում։ «Հենց այդ պահին հմայվեցա այս գյուղով, որոշեցի մի բան անել այս գյուղի համար, քանի որ ամեն ինչից կտրված գյուղ է, թաքնված ճանապարհ ունի, կտրված ամեն բանեն»,- ասում է նա։
Հայաստանից Ամերիկա վերադառնալուց հետո սովորել է Կալիֆոռնիայի Սանտա Բարբարայի համալսարանում, հետագայում Սթենֆորդի համալսարանում, ստացել պատմության ուսուցչի որակավորում, սակայն որոշել է յուրաքանչյուր ամառ այցելել արդեն հարազատ դարձած Ախպրաձոր եւ Շվանիձոր համայնքներ։
«Շատ սիրեցի գյուղացիներին, գյուղի մասին փոքր կինո սարքեցի, ընկերներիս ցույց տվեցի, որոշեցինք միասին լավ բան անել երեխեքի համար, մի օրով ընկերներիս հետ այցելեցինք գյուղ եւ փոքր ճամբար կազմակերպեցինք»,- այսպես ծնվեց գյուղում ամառային ճամբարներ անցկացնելու գաղափարը։
Ամերիկա վերադառնալուց հետո Նանորը դիմել է դրամաշնորհային ծրագրի ու 20 տարեկանում ստացել առաջին դրամաշնորհը և Ախպրաձորի դպրոցում համակարգչի սենյակ հիմնել։
2011-ից Ախպրաձորում, Շվանիձորում, Դիտավանում եւ Շուշիում Նանորն ընկերների, կամավորների հետ շարունակում է ամառային ճամբարներ անցկացնել, ճամբարում սովորեցնում են չորս առարկա` համակարգչային հմտություններ, կարիերա, դիզայն եւ անգլերեն: Երեկոյան ժամերին մասնակիցները շրջում են գյուղում։
Նախաձեռնությունը կոչվում է «Թաքնված ճանապարհ», որի հիմնական անդամները ինը աղջիկ են, մեկը՝ մեքսիկացի։
Նանորը մեծ ցանկություն ունի, որ իր աշակերտները դուրս գան գյուղից, սովորեն համալսարանում, քոլեջում եւ նորից կվերադառնան գյուղ ու բարելավեն գյուղի կյանքը։ «Միտում կա, որ գյուղից երբ աղջիկները գնում են, հետ չեն գալիս, իսկ տղաները գնում են բանակ, վերադառնալուց հետո չեն ցանկանում սովորել։ Ես ուզում եմ փոխել այդ կարծրատիպը»,- ասում է Նանորը։
Նանորի կարծիքով՝ ճամբարները դրական ազդեցություն են ունենում գյուղի երեխաների համար, քանի որ նրանք սկսում են ինքնուրույն ծրագրեր մշակել:
Այս տարի Ախպրաձորի ճամբարին մասնակցել է 50 աշակերտ։ Այսօր՝ հունիսի 24-ին, կմեկնարկի Շվանիձորի ճամբարը, որը կմիավորի 70-80 աշակերտների։ Ճամբարներն անցկացվում են գյուղերի դպրոցներում։
Նախաձեռնության հիմնադիրը նպատակ ունի գալ և հիմնական բնակություն հաստատել Հայաստանում:
Այս տարի նաև 4-րդ անգամ նախաձեռնության կողմից տրամադրվում է կրթաթոշակներ 2 գյուղերի ուսանողներից ոմանց համար և կառուցվել է 2 մանկապարտեզ։
«Էստեղ երեխաների մեջ հարգանք կա, գոհունակության զգացում կա, էստեղ երեխաների մեջ հոգի մը կա, էստեղ տարբեր է»,- ասում է Նանոր Բալաբանյանը։
Լուսանկարները՝ Նանոր Բալաբանյանի
LOS ANGELES-On March 23, 2019, the Hidden Road Initiative (HRI) hosted its Tenth Anniversary Celebration. The event brought together the organization’s former volunteers, sponsors, supporters, and members and various community organizations to mark ten years of connecting roads and bridging issues between Armenia and the world.
The evening was marked by unforgettable performances by various artists of the Armenian-American diasporan community. Ara Dabandjian and Mahsa Ghassemi captivated guests with their beautiful renditions of traditional Armenian folk songs. Lernazang Ensemble performed various folk Armenian group dances, and were joined by audience members eager to participate in the dancing. And DJ Arman kept guests on the dance floor throughout the evening with a combination of upbeat Armenian and American songs.
The Hidden Road Initiative is a non-profit organization that provides educational and leadership opportunities to underprivileged students living in remote villages in Armenia. Since its founding in 2009 by Nanor Balabanian, HRI has conducted eight educational summer camps in remote villages in Armenia and Artsakh; renovated, fully furnished and launched kindergartens for two villages; provided internet access and opened a computer lab for an underserved school; built playgrounds for two schools; and provided thirty college scholarships to underprivileged students from these villages.
The energy and innovation that define the Hidden Road Initiative were ever-present throughout the evening. Nanor Balabanian spoke to guests at the start of the night, explaining how HRI emerged from one fateful trip to Armenia that she took as a college student, when she fortuitously began implementing development projects as a way of helping her homeland in whatever capacity she could. Since then, HRI has expanded and flourished to include hundreds of volunteers and campus chapters across the University of California system. Balabanian acknowledged several individuals who have been central to HRI's success with certificates of recognition, including Anahit Yeremian, the Donald A. Strauss Foundation, the Aghajanian family, Shant Panos, Alexandra Basmadjian, the Hakobyan family, and the Balabanian family.
In her remarks, Balabanian stated, “I am grateful to be working alongside amazing, empowered and dedicated young women, both in Armenia and abroad, and look forward to the next 10 years!”
HRI expresses sincerest gratitude to the generous contributions from Ara the Rat, Henry's House of Coffee, Kooyrigs Sisters, Sousan's Boutique, Tigranakert Meat Market, Kis Kreations, and Pink Orchid Bakery Café. The celebration was held at the IMX Auto Group Showroom in Burbank. All proceeds from the event will directly support HRI's future development projects in Armenia.
The Hidden Road Initiative is a tax-exempt, charitable non-profit organization that provides educational and leadership opportunities to underprivileged students living in remote villages in Armenia. Log on to www.hiddenroadinitiative.org to learn more.
Contributor: Aureen Aghajanian
Beginning the second week of camp, I am saddened at the realization that our time in Shvanidzor is almost over. Most people might question why considering we sleep on classroom floors, take cold showers, use holes as our restrooms, and choose to disconnect from the digital world.
However, that’s exactly why. Living a fast paced life in Los Angeles with a To-do list that never seems to finish can get quite overwhelming sometimes. We are so focused on accomplishing our tasks that we forget about human interaction. We forget about all the little things. In addition to this cycle, we use our phones / computers to wind down from this hectic schedule. And so that all changed.
From the first day, I took a 180 degree turn. Never touched my phone, forgot about social media, and began to feel alive and more connected with my day. The children of Shvanidzor expressed just how easy it is to be happy with so little.
Some might think, we change the lives of these villagers, however I think it's completely the opposite. The first lesson I learned was that happiness comes from within. It comes from giving to others. It comes from being selfless to some degree.
And so as I sit here and write this blog, I remembered how I felt right before leaving to Armenia. All the toys and gadgets I wanted that would make my life feel more significant, are now gone. I have no desire to allow a material item to make me excited anymore. These kids showed me that it's possible to be truly happy without even common amenities such as a hot shower or working toilet. It’s not the situation you’re in that matters, it’s your attitude about the situation that truly matters. With that being said, the next time I allow something little to throw off my mood or make me feel anything less than amazing, I will remember the 50+ smiles on these students faces.
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.