Birthright Experience

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Christine Shahinian

In Summer of 2018 I had the opportunity to visit and discover Armenia through a whole new perspective. While applying for the Birthright program I had no expectations whatsoever other than doing an internship in Armenia and returning to Lebanon, but what I felt and experienced in my journey was much more. I lived in the 3rd largest city in Armenia, Vanadzor, with a very welcoming and loving family who not only took me into their home but treated me as a member of the family. Most people know the city of Vanadzor as its name during the Soviet Union  “Kirovakan”. Vanadzor was not as crowded or loud as Yerevan, It did not have many restaurants or pubs to go to but every night you could walk to its small republic square where all the people gathered and watch the children playing around, old folks seating on the benches, girls eating smushkas and be amazed by the beauty of Vanadzor “the city between the mountains” .

I had 2 internship jobsites one was in Stepanavan a small sweet town just an hour away from Vanadzor and another in Spitak, a town which was destroyed completely during the 1988 earthquake that killed 1/3 of its population. In Stepanavan I worked with a group of very nice people of the Liarzhek Kyank (Full Life) charitable non-governmental organization. Full Life strives to protect the rights of people with disabilities and to include them in social life especially kids. I worked with kids suffering from mental and physical disorders that needed to adapt to their environments and learn that they are no different than the other “normal” kids.

While in Spitak I worked with the Spitak Helsinki Group Human Rights NGO that was more focused on the protection of women’s rights and women empowerment. I had kids and adults classes of both males and females teaching them English and talking about Human Rights.

Contributing to the homeland was not limited through volunteering only, every Friday along with my other fellow Volunteers in Vanadzor we had our community service program which was the reconstruction of the School of Arevatsag. We were responsible for the renovation of the cultural art classrooms of the school.

Other than my jobsites, my host family and the city of Vanadzor itself, I had the chance to meet Armenians from all over the world Uruguay, Switzerland, USA, Canada, and Australia who were on the same journey as I was, experiencing Armenia like never before. I developed relationships and memories this summer that I will be able to cherish and hold close to my heart forever.

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