In a world where cultural ties often stretch across continents, organizations like Birthright Armenia serve as a bridge connecting young Diasporan Armenians with their ancestral homeland. Armineh Babikian, a passionate occupational therapist from Queens, New York, embarked on a life-changing journey with Birthright Armenia in 2017. Her volunteer experience not only deepened her connection to her roots but also led her to make a significant impact on Armenia's disability support and inclusion efforts. Following her Birthright Armenia journey, Armineh's commitment to making a difference only intensified. She co-founded Therapists for Armenia, uniting volunteers from various therapy fields to support rehabilitation and disability services in Armenia and Artsakh.
A Journey Back to Her Roots
Armineh's journey began in Queens, where she grew up as the youngest of four children. Embracing her Armenian heritage, she attended an Armenian elementary school and remained deeply connected to her Armenian community throughout her upbringing. After completing her studies in psychology at Drexel University and obtaining a Master of Science in occupational therapy from Columbia University, Armineh was ready for an international experience. The perfect opportunity presented itself through Birthright Armenia, and she decided to take the leap. “I was looking for an international experience after graduate school, and I figured, why not do something in my motherland? I knew that occupational therapy existed in Armenia and saw it as a great learning opportunity as a new clinician,” she says.
The Birthright Experience
In 2017, Armineh embarked on her eight-month Birthright Armenia journey, which would profoundly impact her life and career. Motivated by a desire to explore her motherland and utilize her occupational therapy skills, Armineh volunteered at various organizations, including the My Way Educational and Rehabilitation Center, the Kharberd Specialized Children's Home, and the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). Her role at COAF was especially significant as she became their first-ever occupational therapist.
“My life completely changed because of Birthright Armenia. I found my passion and my mission in life, and I am so grateful for that.”
Throughout her volunteer experience, Armineh worked tirelessly to promote inclusive education, supporting teachers, students, and parents as they embraced a new era of learning where children with and without disabilities studied together in the same classrooms. One of the highlights of her journey was celebrating International Children's Day in Armenian villages, witnessing the joy and smiles on children's faces as they engaged in creative inclusive activities.
Challenges and Triumphs
While Armineh experienced heartwarming moments, she also confronted challenges head-on. One of the major obstacles she faced was breaking the stigma around disabilities in Armenia. Through her efforts and the support of COAF staff, Armineh tirelessly advocated for inclusion, educating communities about the importance of accepting and accommodating individuals with disabilities. By addressing this issue, she made lasting changes in the lives of many families who were once hesitant to send their children to school due to fear of judgment and shame.
Armineh's commitment to sustainable impact led her to publish the Occupational Therapy Guidebook to Inclusion in Armenian. This resource book, born out of her Birthright experience, aimed to empower caregivers, teachers, and family members with practical strategies to support children with disabilities. The book's impact spread far beyond expectations, reaching regions in Armenia, Artsakh, the US, and Canada, making it a valuable resource for inclusive education and disability support.
Building on Success
Since her Birthright journey, Armineh's commitment to making a difference has only grown stronger. She founded the nonprofit organization Therapists for Armenia, bringing together volunteers from the occupational, physical, and speech therapy fields to support rehabilitation and disability services in Armenia and Artsakh. Together they created the first Armenian rehabilitation digital resource library, an international journal club to discuss the latest research, and an educational case consultation program for regions without rehabilitation access. She also is involved in higher-level rehabilitation system development, co-founding the first post-professional education program for post-conflict rehabilitation. Additionally, Armineh is pursuing her PhD in rehabilitation science and global health at the University of Toronto, where she continues to research ways to develop Armenian rehabilitation sustainably and collaboratively with people with disabilities.
Reflecting on her Birthright experience, Armineh wholeheartedly recommends the program to others. “The program was such a special way to connect with my motherland as a professional, meet other Armenians from across the globe, and go on excursions to see all the nature and history Armenia has to offer,” she explains. The journey allowed her to connect with her heritage as a professional, forge lifelong friendships, and discover her true passion and mission in life. Through Birthright Armenia, Armineh found her calling. Today, she continues to make a remarkable impact on the lives of countless individuals with disabilities, and her unwavering dedication serves as an inspiration to young Armenians worldwide.