It’s been nearly two months now that I’m volunteering in Armenia, but time has been going by really quickly. There’s so much to say about the highlights of Birthright Armenia that one doesn't know where to start from. For some volunteers, it may be the weekly social events, informative forums, and day-long fulfilling excursions throughout the Hayrenik. For others, it may be the late-night gatherings with close friends that were found through the Birthright Armenia program. And for some, it may be the impact and contributions they have through their job sites and service.
There’s no doubt that a combination of the aforementioned is what makes Birthright Armenia the unique program, support network, family that it is. I think this is because of the individuals both within the organization and outside of it all around us as we experience the cultural immersion and interactions with all kinds of people in Armenia.
A Full Support from the Staff
One of the program’s highlights for me is the strength and versatility of the staff. During the opening orientation sessions, Mr. Sevan Kabakian constantly emphasized the idea of flexibility and open-mindedness because that is what will ultimately lead to personal growth not only during this program, but also beyond. For me, the staff is an example of these valuable concepts and approaches no matter the context, whether they go from office to office, meeting to meeting, running around on a daily basis. They are a genuine support system and their balancing between being a focused mentor, a family friend, and a motivating challenger is something I hope and am sure that many are able to notice and appreciate in light of a heightened sense of awareness. That sense of awareness--always in the process and progress--greatly comes from a multitude of self-reminders every day to approach situations at work, home, and really anywhere with flexibility and a willingness to look around and see, discover, and learn new things, many times also updating what seems like we may already know. It is the honest embracement of these values that makes for this program’s strong foundation.
One of many other benefits that I’ve experienced at Birthright Armenia is that the staff always tries to find volunteer placements according to volunteers’ interests with the mindset and acknowledgment that those interests evolve during their volunteer term, and hence their workplaces may change accordingly. I’ve been fortunate enough to pursue a project in a plethora of fields during my volunteering: in law, my work focused on 69 profiles of prisoners of war (POWs) from the 2020 Artsakh war, translating and investigating testimonials of former POWs; in terms of politics and the diaspora, I also got an opportunity to do research for an Armenian think tank and partake in analyzing case studies related to the education system of Armenia among other countries; also, my lovely Narine Mkhoyan, Jobsite Placement Manager, noticing my wide array of interests, introduced me to the wonderful staff at the National Chambre Music Hall, where I started to participate during rehearsals and simultaneously engage in an online opera intensive program from America! Thanks to the support and encouragement of the staff.
The People, the Network
And one more aspect: the people. The friends from our workplace, many of whom happen to work through Birthright Armenia. The settings of havaks and forums as social activities outside of the workplace help in forging deeper bonds within the volunteer community… Bonds that go a long way beyond the program, whether it’s in the form of business partners, networking, or family. Not to mention, the community in Armenia is most certainly welcoming of the volunteers from the Diaspora who perhaps came to the program with different desires, but also have a shared purpose: to better the lives of the Armenian people.