Where were you born? And where do you currently live?
I was born and live in Rosario, Argentina. Rosario is a quite big – and important – city located 300km from Buenos Aires. We estimate that there currently are around 300/350 Armenian descendants. That’s a small number, right?
When you were a volunteer, how old were you, where did you volunteer and for how long?
I volunteered in Armenia October – December 2008. I turned 24 in Armenia and that was so special! I volunteered at Macsedan School as an English Teacher and at AUA (American University of Armenia) as the Language Assistant for the Extension Programme. A month before my arrival, my friend Dalila Eujanian had traveled to volunteer as a Speech Therapist in Armenia. Having shared a couple of months in Armenia together has been an amazing experience that we’ll always rejoice in!
What did you do after you finished your volunteer service?
I returned to my country and continued working for the small Armenian community in Rosario. With Dalila, we still do our best to encourage the BR experience. Since 2008, there has been one volunteer from Rosario and there is a possible candidate for 2016. That’s great if we take into account how many Armenians we are in Rosario.
I taught and currently teach English at different institutes. I am now the Coordinator for children’s courses in an English Institute. In 2011, I became an English – Spanish translator and got married that same year with Ignacio Kekedjian – there hadn’t been an Armenian wedding since 1983 in our community! In 2013 the local newspaper interviewed my sister and I about our Armenian projects and personal history.
Last year was super special to my husband and I: our daughter, Paula, was born and with her lots of hope for our Armenian family tree. Ignacio was blessed to be in Rome for the historical mass held by Pope Frances for the official commemoration of the genocide's centennial. I personally worked a lot for the commemoration act for the Centennial. We were able to raise awareness within the Rosario community and were invited to local radio and TV programmes. I took part in an Education programme together with the Education Ministry from Santa Fe and Fundación Hairabedian from Buenos Aires in which over 100 History teachers were trained and taught about Armenian history and how to develop the topic in the classroom context. 2016 poses new challenges for us in Rosario to keep on working not only for the Armenians but more importantly to bring the Armenian issue to light within our society.
How has Birthright Armenia’s experience played a role in your life, and when choosing your life’s path?
Birthright has been … a NEW BIRTH to me! When October 13th approaches (the day I took the plane to Yerevan back in 2008) I feel like my birthday coming. That’s what BR did. It made me feel born again. It opened my eyes to a new chapter in my history. I have never been never the same person again after my volunteer work. Never. Thousands of things spring to my mind when trying to list how BR played a role… BR was not only important in bringing me close to Armenia but it also helped me feel part of it. I think one can never feel part of Armenia if you stay in a downtown hotel and take a van to go on a tour. Staying with a home-stay family was crucial too! I was lucky enough to share two months with a magnificent family … that’s priceless.
So… How can anyone remain the same after visiting the land that was taken away from my ancestors? How can anyone not feel born again when you walk down streets only to feel you belong, only to feel you somehow already know the people you come across? How can anyone not feel touched when you walk, walk and walk and forever feel AT HOME?
Have you been to Armenia since your volunteer experience? What year and for what purpose(s)?
I haven’t returned to Armenia yet. However, since 2008 my sister and parents traveled twice. My experience in Armenia intrigued them enough to make them travel and feel, walk and breathe Armenia at first hand. I made sure my sister and parents contacted the awesome people I met in Armenia. I felt part of me returning to Yerevan with every trip my sister and parents made.
I dream of traveling with my husband and kids. I dream of showing them the land that’s part of our DNA. I dream with my children doing the BR experience some day!
What is the biggest change you’ve had in your life since you were a volunteer?
All changes are inside me. It’s about the values that changed in me. I never knew what I was about to encounter in Yerevan back in 2008 – I was scared, to be honest. I even said to myself “What have I done?” while being taken late at night from the airport to my home-stay family. I asked the same question – crying - on December 15th 2008, when going from HOME to the airport. The answer was going through my tears: THE BEST DECISION EVER!
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
I see myself working hard to spread the word about Armenia and BR. I see myself teaching my children about Armenia and making them feel their heritage through music, tastes and language. I see myself never letting go the need to BE Armenian and somehow helping Armenia!
Additional thoughts you might want to share with the readers:
I now realise that previous to my BR experience I knew very little about Armenia, Western Armenia, its current political and economic situation. Being Armenian meant knowing the atrocities my ancestors went through . I did not even bother to know how the people lived and what problems they were facing. I knew little about myself, as a natural consequence.
BR Armenia is and will forever be my new BIRTH.