HRI Camp- Week 1 - Akhpradzor
Sunday: The Arrival
By: Kyria Edwards
The team united, the bags packed and the humble van made way on the hidden road. Vartavar on the rise throughout the country as we drove farther and farther up the mountain. From paved roads to dirt, the city of Yerevan drifted far into the distance as we drove past Lake Sevan and, hours later, into the village of Akhpradzor.
Nine volunteers total participating in this year's summer camp: 7 women and 2 men. Together we represent many countries including: Syria, Lebanon, Vietnam, Mexico, Armenia and America. Some meeting only days before today and all quickly becoming friends.
We were not the only new visitors to Akhpradzor. The US Ambassador gave up his Sunday to join us on Day 1 in the village. He wore TOMs shoes, preached feminism and shared his genuine compassion freely. After exploring the local school with the principal and after our HRI introduction presentation, all the volunteers and the ambassador went on a village tour. It wasn't long before EVERYONE was soaked from head to toe! The ambassador joined in the fun as well and even came equipped with his own water bottle as a defense mechanism.
That night we enjoyed a beautiful feast prepared by the principal and her family. Electricity, transportation and technology are limited in this community- but hospitality is not. Twenty people crowded happily into a humble living room spread across two tables with bountiful amounts of fresh fruits, dairy products and meats. All the greens, yogurt, cheese and meat was harvest and created locally.
The local villagers were honored by the ambassador's presence, he seemed truly passionate to help and we were grateful for such an eventful first day. Early to rest and excited for the children to come to school the following Monday, we headed back to our makeshift home in an empty classroom in the school.
Monday: Camp, Yoga, Durak, and more!
My name is Indelisa Muro, I am a Mexican-American and it is my first time being in this beautiful country of Armenia.
Today was the first day of instructions in the village of Akhpradzor. I met many children and animatedly taught them about health and hygiene. They were all so sweet and loving and they showed this by giving me hugs and inviting all of HRI to their homes.
Later that day, we were able to see a sheep get slaughtered and skinned. It was quite the experience.
Additionally, we were able to enjoy yoga on top of a mountain peak, led by Kyria Edwards. It was endearing because students of all ages joined in. This was very cool to see since many had never encountered yoga, yet they really tried to do it.
Later that night we saw cows get milked and were invited to one of the students homes. They were such great hosts and everywhere HRI goes, we are invited to eat and this shows just how hospitable everyone is. At this location we played a Russian card game known as DURAK and all I have to say is that I am pretty darn good!
Besides all these eventful things occurring to me, I think what speaks to me the most is how far smiles and hugs can go. Even though I can barely communicate with them, their actions and my own speak for themselves.
Tuesday: Massage & Quality Time
The second day of summer camp started with a productive team meeting—drinking nescafe and talking logistics. In classes (Health & Hygiene, Social Issues, English & Art, and Computer), students made headway on learning and creating their final products to present on Friday. We ended by spending quality time with families and friends in the village.
In Health & Hygiene class, students received toothbrushes and toothpaste. Indelisa and Astkhik not only taught students the importance of brushing their teeth but also how to do it. They brought students out to the water to practice. After, students went around showing off their pearly white teeth!
In Social Issues class, Nanor and Hasmik facilitated a discussion on topics such as racism, animal abuse, and smoking. Students got into groups and created a cause and effect flow chart based on a topic of their choice---something they find especially important. Students started on their skits and posters in preparation for their final presentation on Friday.
In Computer class, Hovsep and Sarkis guided students through making a Power Point presentation on their future goals. They used a resource card made by Hovsep who put together flowcharts on pathways for 10 possible future jobs as a jumping off point.
In English & Art, students practiced writing letters and conversational phrases with Emily, Kyria, and Margarita. They started writing and drawing in their books. They completed a glossary page and started on “About Self” page.
After class, we were generously invited to have dinner at a family’s house in honor of their son who had died two years ago today. We toasted to his life and were humbled by the warmth and love from members of the family. We had great discussions with the dad who shared some secrets to his 40-year marriage.
Kyria led a massage class for the village women—which later became the talk of the town! She guided us all through a 7-step massage approach, starting with opening up communication and spinal work, then ending with the face and neck. The class gave an opportunity for the women to share their stories with us. We were inspired, touched, and honored to be in community with these amazing women.
The day ended by spending time at a family’s house. We watched a wedding video and enjoyed snacks—tea, cheese, butter, lavash, and honey!
Wednesday: Shower day + the Akhpradzor Spa
-By Kyria Edwards
Today marks our half way point in the village. Wednesday here with one more day to teach before our Friday performance presentations. Life is growing more comfortable here by the day as we become adjusted to the norms. Walking outside for running water from the ever flowing faucet, hiking to go to the restroom in a hole dug in the dirt, smiling people saying "parev" to you everywhere and scenic views striking enough to put in in a picture frame each time you lift your eyes above the rubbled road.
We taught classes today, each group growing more advanced. The youngest mastering colors and the alphabet. The oldest writing stories about adventures to America and crafting skits to practice conversational English.
Margo, Emily and I learning how to beat support each other as an English teaching trio with each passing class as well. Strategically working together, depending largely on Margarita's Armenian to guide the class as Emily and I assist as much as possible. Our classroom sounds like thirsty tourists at a beach bar, "Margarita! Margarita!" She keeps her calm and assists all concerns through her open hard working heart.
After school we went on an adventure to Lake Sevan. Pilling in like Armenian Sardines, we load up a decomposing van and set off on the road, without seat belts of course.
A handful of local village men joined us on the trip and danced the whole ride. Apparently this is normal. Besides the fact that no one wears seatbelts (except the occasional driver to avoid paying a ticket) people dance and sing to help keep the travels alive.
Not having showered once since our arrival in the village, a swim in the lake had been highly anticipated with eager minds. However, upon our arrival we were greeted with windstorms that kicked up a mixture of sand, dust and trash stinging our bare skin. Some of us took refuge in the car, while others jumped in the water.
"Are you going swimming Kyria?"
"No. It's too windy, dirty and cold."
Upon hearing the sensical nonsense behind my verbage- I decided to follow through with my common pattern that had been developing day after day on this trip- First reject, then accept.
Without warning I took off my shell of cloth protection and jumped into the windy waves. Eyes closed and pores refreshed I felt at home under the water's surface. Soon every person, but one, followed in and together we splashed in Lake Sevan. Impatient to continue the cleansing process, we gathered some shampoo and loved up suds on one another. The envy of every Herbal Essences commercial, all the ladies lathered one another up with head massages and mother love.
We were a spectacle enough for strangers to take photos and post them to their social media of choice: "Wild tourists bathe in the Lake today. #cleanandcrazy"
The adventure carried on as we progressed with our drive stopping at a gas station type store that had everything except gas. Many of the people here shop at these mini-marts, filled with lavash, assorted pastries, vending machine type foods and even a handful of gathered produce.
After delighting in an ice cream cone that cost less than 50 cents, we sang, danced and drove to a nearby Makenis church. Beautified with age and collected history (4th Century AD) , the church stood strong with centuries of archived life experience.
Everything welcomed us from the mountain valleys to the warm grass at our feet, except the keeper of the church. Lurking by the slightly opened door and dressed in farmer attire from head to toe, he wouldn't allow some of us to enter due to improper clothing.
Those of us fortunate enough to cross through the threshold of outside to inside we less than welcomed. It wasn't the regulation on clothing nor the fabric women had to place over their heads that rested uneasy within me. It was the energy of thorns the man exuded from him. One of frustration that people wanted to see the inside of this building, be in the presence of the church and experience the sensation that people had traveled for centuries to experience within the walls of this structure. Territorial like a man's best friend protecting a home's entrance, he watched us from around the corner while we spent a few moments inside the church. Once we exited he closed and locked the door.
Closing in on night time we made way back to the village. The ladies created a spa night with the help of Lilit. Coffee, chocolates, stove heated water and lots of love were key ingredients to making this night magical. Descriptions in diction would do this bath of a lifetime no justice.
"All of me" was present in the moment and together the girls created a communion that unified us in honor unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Once again I've been personally reminded that in order to truly love and fully accept others, you must truly love and fully accept yourself first.
-By Indelisa Muro
Each day in the village has been an adventure, and for some reason each day seems really long. It seems long in a good way because even though we are on a schedule of what we are teaching the children, the life in the village is much slower paced and you focus more in the moment that you are currently in. This put many things for me in perspective in that you learn the simplicity of how life should be and realize that the most important things in life are in reality what we already have. All the materialistic things are nice, but in reality our happiness does not equate to just that.
Now to give some insight into my short stay in Akhpradzor I think it is necessary for me to describe our day to day activities. Things that we take for granted in the city such as indoor plumbing and running water in our homes is a commodity that not everyone is entitled to. In the village we used an outhouse as a restroom and since there was no running water indoors we went outside to wash dishes from piping that brought water from the mountains. We went above and beyond by recycling and reusing our cups, plates and even plastic bags. You realize how simple life really is and that to be happy you just need to prioritize the most important things. I learned from all these children what mattered most was family and friends. Everyone was so hospitable, kind and sincere that the way they treated us is incomparable to anything I have experienced.
Now to give a quick overview of what was done on Thursday with my HRI team; we started our day by having our classes in which I taught Health and Hygiene with Astkhik. Then after classes we had a visit from the Armenia press where they interviewed the principal and the founders of HRI. This was a moment in which HRI highlighted the problems that the village and the students faced due to the low school funding. We brought to their attention the infrastructure of the school and how not having a proper road to the village is problematic. The main reason the road needs to be fixed is that during winter, the people cannot leave the village since the roads are covered in snow and cars cannot pass through. Additionally, some of the teachers are from neighboring villages and their only means to get to the school is to trudge through the snow for over 3 miles to educate the students. This commitment is astounding and realizing these difficulties makes me admire the staff.
Later that day I met the beehive keeper of the village and I saw the process that is used to collect the honey. I was also taught how to clean wool to be used for bedding. We used a big stick and hit the wool on a rock by a small river. Then later we held a movie night for the children and showed Tom & Jerry. The children were excited to watch it especially since many may have never seen a movie on a big screen. After our movie night, we held a dance party with all the older students and it was definitely a flashback to high school dances held in the gym.
I think the most defining moment for me was after everyone had gone home and the only ones that remained in the school was the HRI team. We held reflections every night run by a different member each night, and this particular night I realized how my heart is more invested to HRI and to the students of Akhpradzor. Their sincerity and kindness has touched my heart and changed me in an inexplicable way.
Friday: The End
We finished the final day of summer camp with amazing student performances, presentations, and celebration. Here is a sneak peek at what the last day of camp included:
· Singing and dancing the ABC song from students in the youngest age group (4-5 years old)
· Powerpoint presentations from all age groups on their future dreams, careers, and how they will give back to Akhpradzor.
· Skits and poster presentations on social issues on topics such as fairness, equality, truthfulness, and anti-smoking. The highlight was when Meri played the role of a grandmother in a skit about honesty.
· Poster presentations on health and hygiene such as the effects of smoking and benefits of brushing teeth.
We ended with one last dance party—Armenian style, of course! Then, a teary goodbye.
Many of us from HRI made strong connections with students and villagers in a short amount of time. Our last meal at Dadik’s home was bittersweet, as we sat in the house where we had shared meals, a bath, and stories. We got on the bus with not only our bellies full, but hearts bursting with love.
The love and community built in one week was—in Nanor’s words--magical.