My Experience in the Environmental Field
Like many other diasporans, I came to Armenia with a passion and a goal — mine was to help protect Armenia’s natural resources by utilizing my ornithology skills in a research or education setting. I studied ecology in college and have been working as a wildlife biologist specializing in shorebird conservation for the past three years, so to say that I like birds is an understatement. When applying to Birthright Armenia, I figured I probably would not be able to get any ornithology experience given that I have such a niche interest within an already small field. To my surprise, two weeks before coming to Armenia, I received an email from my job site coordinator who had already found me multiple positions in the environmental field, not only planting trees but also working with wildlife.Before I knew it, I was on a Zoom call with the Director of the Acopian Center for the Environment discussing an avian-related education project. It felt really good to know that my skills were useful to people in a country I hadn’t even been to yet.
During my time in Armenia, I worked with the American University of Armenia’s Acopian Center for the Environment, creating an environmental teaching manual. The manual is intended to serve as a tool for middle school and high school teachers to use when educating youth on ecology, migration, and conservation, specifically using birds as an ambassador species. The importance of this project lies in the effort to foster a connection with nature among youth to create knowledgeable and passionate environmental leaders in the future. Using the guide as well as other educational material created by the Acopian center, we plan on creating an environmental program at the Yerevan Botanical Garden where these tools can be used and additional environmental tools can be created. The education program will consist of bird walks, identification workshops, and a teacher training program. As I am still working on the process of the grant for the education program, I hope that when it comes to fruition that it will make lasting change in the environmental world in Armenia.
What I Learned
The main thing I learned is there really is so much opportunity here. In the United States, environmental jobs are few and far between, which makes the field highly competitive and landing your dream job can be difficult. In Armenia, I felt like I had the opportunity to use my skills and develop my own projects where I saw fit. People were willing to listen to me and help support my projects. Take advantage of this.
Overall, your experience is what you make it. If you are unhappy with what you’re doing or you feel like you want to do more, don’t hesitate to speak up. There are a ton of different ideas that can be developed, so if you have an idea - try and make it happen! It will only benefit you and the country. Make sure to talk to local experts and take their advice. We often come to other countries with our Western ideas and think they will solve all problems. Utilize the people around you to come up with ideas for a project or just take their constructive criticism. Some places to start can be joining Facebook groups if you’re not specifically into birds. But the best thing you can do is ask your jobsite boss to connect you with local researchers, photographers, and naturalists.
A major piece of advice is to try and expand your skillset because doing different types of work in the environmental field can be really beneficial no matter where you live. Coming from a job where I was mostly doing fieldwork, it was actually nice to have the opportunity to do more administrative work, and it looks great on a resume. Don’t hesitate to try new skills and experience what it’s like to work an office job instead of a fieldwork job or vice versa. Anyway, you can have multiple jobsites, so explore your options!
What can you do?
I talked to many different types of people. Not only ornithologists but botanists, hiking experts, and environmental professors that worked in different sectors such as policy, sustainability, etc. Some ideas that floated around while I was volunteering there that could be a starting point:
If you’re into birds
- Start a winter bird count at the botanical garden
- Help guide youth birding tours at the botanical garden or elsewhere
- Be a Naturalist for the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets(FPWC)
- Work on more environmental content for the youth education program
If working in the field is your thing
- Check out NABU - they work with White Storks and Vultures
- Look into WWF Armenia - they work with endangered species like Leopards and Red Deer
- Work with botanists at the Yerevan Botanical Garden (even if you don’t, you should check out the greenhouse!)
- Acopian Center for the Environment is trying to engage more people in citizen science to help researchers collect data on all kinds of species in Armenia
- This can be done through training sessions in eBird or iNaturalist
- Another project can be getting these websites or applications fully translated into Armenian
- The Acopian Center also has many professors and researchers working on projects involving water conservation, waste management, policy development, GIS technology, etc…
- Work with HikeArmenia doing trail maintenance, guiding, or potentially working on developing their apps
- Plant trees with ArmeniaTree Project
This is by no means an exhaustive list of opportunities in Armenia, but a great start. I recommend researching these organizations further to see if they have any other projects and talk to your job site coordinators as well. And again, if you have project ideas, don’t be afraid to talk about them with these organizations. Good luck and have fun!