It’s just five days to go before we start our 120 hour trip to Armenia. A trip through three countries, six cities before finally reaching Yerevan. This is as good a time as any to give some context of the how, why and what of this journey, from my perspective. Both Emma and I have received a lot of positive response, and even more questions regarding what we’re going to do and I’ll try to answer the most common questions now.
The How can be divided into two parts:
– How did you come up with the idea to go to Armenia? and
– How does it take 120 hours to reach any country in the 21st century?
The answer to the second question is short and sweet; Emma. Since she’s an environmental zealot (I mean this in the most loving way… mostly).
The answer to How did the idea come up is a bit more multifaceted in detail, I’ll get back to the long answer in another post. But for now the short answer is that we stumbled upon the two organizations Birthright Armenia & Armenian Volunteer Corps.
Birthright Armenia – is an organization which believes “it’s every Armenians birthright to not only see Armenia, but experience their homeland via an enriching, hands on, life-changing experience. […] Our mission is to strengthen ties between the homeland and Diasporan youth, by affording them an opportunity to be a part of Armenia’s daily life and to contribute to Armenia’s development through work, study and volunteer experiences, while developing life-long personal ties and a renewed sense of Armenian identity.”
Armenian Volunteer Corps – “is the brainchild of a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Armenia for two years. After falling in love with long-term community service and with Armenia, he set out to create an independent organization that would make volunteering in Armenia possible for all through affordable, safe, and fulfilling service projects.“
Being part of the Armenian diaspora, my family and I are Armenians from Iran. Some 500 years ago a large number of Armenians were forcefully relocated from Armenia to Iran and we’ve been in Iran ever since. Still keeping the traditions, culture and language of our ancestors but in a new country, if you can call a country new after 500 years.
Being part of a diaspora is a subject in itself which I could write a post about, but let’s settle with a brief explanation for now. The word Diaspora is one of those things that’s crystal clear, unless it isn’t. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a diaspora is “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland”.
Of course I’ve always been curious about Armenia but at the same time it’s been distant in my mind in some ways. Culturally for me, I feel I’m all over the place. Being more or less raised in Sweden all my life, from Parskahay background (what Armenians from Iran are called), the country Armenia was of course my home in some way but a home I have never gotten the chance to know.
However the older I get, the more curious I’ve become about my ancestral home, its people, the way of life etc. When the opportunity presented itself with Birthright Armenia, a chance for self-discovery, I just couldn’t resist applying and going. It was truly one of those moments where you know you would ask yourself “what if?” for the rest of your life, if you passed on the chance to do something totally different.
I realize the intention to do a fly by is kind of failing since this post is getting pretty long. It won’t get shorter when answering the question; What will we be doing there?
The main part, the volunteering aspect of the program, depends on where you will be working. There’s everything from working within eco-tourism to education to finance to journalism and more. It feels like a paradox saying the word volunteering followed by the word journalism or finance, but the volunteering aspect isn’t just from a humanitarian perspective. It’s also from a competency exchange perspective, getting new ideas, new ways of working and new expertise back into the country.
I’ll be volunteering at an Armenian Bank named Ameria Bank. Where my main focus (as I have understood it so far) will be to work with questions regarding how to become more data driven and Information Management.
Emma will be volunteering at Engineering City, a developing platform for hightech companies, where she will be a jack of all trades.
A typical week in the life of a volunteer in the Birthright Armenia program is working 30 hours, language courses for 4 hours with presentation forums or gatherings once per week, as well as weekend excursions across the country.
On top of this, we’re planning to see the landscapes of Armenia since they’re supposed to be gorgeous. Armenia is slowly becoming a popular hiking destination, due to it’s comparatively low cost, proximity to Europe as well as it’s unexploited trails. We surely can’t miss that.
I don’t want to think or admit to myself how much I’ve invested (sounds so much better than “spent”) in hiking gear, a drone for areal photographies and time, researching where we should go. But given what we have seen and researched about the country so far, I cannot imagine it won’t be worth it in the end when we stand there in the mountains.