Contributer - Nanor Balabanian
As we left Shvanidzor in our 18 seater sprinter van, hopping and skipping across the rocky roads, passing through the valleys near the border of Iran and the Arax river, I took a moment to stop and think why this year was different. This was my 8th year leading HRI, but I had never had an experience as effective as the past two weeks... What did it?
It was the team.
It was Asya's angelic and calming smile that melted the hearts of many students. Her creative idea to bring the first ever Tie Die shirts to Shvanidzor transformed our camp!
It was Ano's cooking as well as mothering skills that brought a sense of home, belongingness, and comfort to all the camp leaders and gave them enough energy and love to keep going.
It was Hasmik's deep discussions and thought-provoking questions on controversial social issues that got students to think in new directions and adapt new ways of treating one another.
It was Kathryn's incessant (and at times inappropriate) jokes that brought humor in the worst and best times and made everyone feel so much better.
It was Lilit's bad*** and original ideas that allowed students in just 1 week to start typing, making powerpoints, applying for summer camps in Yerevan, creating email addresses, painting beautiful landscapes, and presenting their slides in front of 50 people.
It was Margo's loud laughter and hilarious humor that brought so much joy to the group. Her professional talent in photography captured all our wonderful memories and got us 1,000 daily likes in Facebook notifications.
It was Raffi's ability to simply be Raffi that brought tears and laughter, joy and sorrow, love and hate, calmness and turmoil, all at the same time. That, along with his hidden talent of relating to every villager he met, allowed our group to bond with the people of Shvanidzor on a deeper level.
It was Patrick's unique story-telling skills that got random groups of people to unite and bond over one, sometimes very long, interesting story.
It was Talar's incessant energy that allowed people from 3 to 50 year old to learn ONE dance and perform "Kele Kele" together in just a few days! In addition, the management of the blog wouldn't have happened without her.
It was Teni's inexplicable way of relating to students that made every student bring her flowers on a daily basis. Her love was contagious!
It was Stepan's high protective instincts and muscle power that protected the group in difficult times and brought more "chillness" to the group at all times.
It was Valeria's financial and organizational skills that allowed us to stay stable and be able to do all the fun activities we had planned. That, along with her special communication with the children, gave many the love and attention they needed but didn't normally receive.
It was Vanuhi's public speaking, cultural, and leadership skills that quickly melted the ice between the villagers and our team and helped develop a very strong and loving bond between very different cultural groups. Her focus on social justice helped bring new ideas and ways of teaching the computer class like it had never been taught before!
It was Yeraz's immensely high quality lesson plans and very creative science experiments that brought new knowledge not only to the students but to us as well. Her experiments ranged everywhere from creating volcanoes, to brushing dirty eggs with toothpaste, to comparing two lungs with or without cigarettes, to much more!
So what did it? It was the team! But no team could have done what they did had it not been for the villagers' collaboration. The sense of trust and connection we felt with the residents as well as the village leadership (mayor and principal) were inexplicably valuable to our success. As cliche as the " It takes a village to raise a child" saying is, I felt it every day. Nothing we had planned would have ever happened had it not been for the Shvanidzor residents' collaboration. What makes me most happy is that next year, Shvanidzor students will be leading HRI camp with us as well!
Connecting roads, bridging issues - I think we did it this year!