AGBU VOLUNTEER extraordinaire Carla Stamboulian was born and raised in France. Yet, she has been balancing her French and Armenian heritage for her entire life, in large part due to her family’s association with AGBU. That’s why, when this enthusiastic volunteer for AGBU Arménie, Terre de Vie (ATDV) and more recently for AGBU ACT (Armenians Come Together) was asked why she recently moved to Armenia, she replied: “Here, less is missing.”
She started her journey with AGBU as a student of the AGBU Saturday School from ages seven to 15. In the summers, she attended AGBU Colonie de Vacances–a two-week sleepaway camp located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. There, she was introduced to Armenian folk music and dances, history and other cultural traditions. “I would have never learned this many Armenian folk songs at home,” she notes.
Stamboulian’s story illustrates the saying “a good seed makes a good crop.” Her first visit to Armenia eventually turned into a life-changing giving-back experience through the ATDV program. It was the best possible way for her to deeply immerse into Armenian daily life, connect with the families, and make a mark through service.
Launched in 2011 by the AGBU Youth Paris group, each summer, ATDV recruits around 30 participants from across the world to live and carry out community work in a designated Armenian village. Much of the work is dedicated to making public spaces safe for children, but there is also a component critical to the children’s health in terms of education and supplies to promote dental hygiene.
Almost half the participants repeat their experience in subsequent years, just as Stamboulian did. In 2019 and 2022, she was stationed in Sarigyugh village, located in Ijevan, in the region of Tavush, Armenia. In 2021, she served in Dilijan to help renovate the No. 5 secondary school.
These recent missions have impacted over 1,000 village children. Through the volunteers’ diligent efforts, four ordinary classrooms of Dilijan’s school were transformed into fully furnished art and recreation spaces, including a dance room, a play room, a lounge, and a cinema space. Sarigyugh kindergarten’s second floor now houses a lunchroom, a changing room, a playroom, a dormitory, two annexes, and a restroom—thanks to ATDV. The kindergarten hadn’t been repaired since the 1980s.
“It was a one-of-a-kind experience,” says Stamboulian. “You know, in Armenian villages, the school is the center of every child’s activity as there are no other places to go and spend time. So, the children were with us all the time. We interacted quite often, creating bonds with them and their families. What’s more, a couple of weeks ago, I was invited to the Sarigyugh varbed’s [master] daughter’s engagement party. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Arménie, Terre de Vie wasn’t the only program to which Stamboulian volunteered her time and skills. When the devastating 44-Day Artsakh War broke out, AGBU initiated a new volunteer service mission called ACT–which Stamboulian hurried to join. “During times of crisis, people offer their help in multiple ways. Mine was the urge to provide on-the-ground assistance to people directly affected by the war,” she explains.
Since its inception, ACT has relied on the contributions of generous donors from the Diaspora who are eager to ease the burdens of displaced families from Artsakh. So far, ACT volunteers have delivered essential food packages, warm clothing, and hygiene products to over 2,000 families, in addition to distributing toys to the children, many of whom are traumatized by the war and leaving the only homes they ever knew. Stamboulian enlisted in 2020 and 2022.
I always feel a bit better here in Armenia than anywhere else. I believe that people should find a place where they are happy and then go live there. As Hrant Dink said, ‘the best thing you can do for your country is to live there.’
Reflecting on the dark days of 2020, Stamboulian recalls a rush of contradicting emotions. On the one hand, it was so apparent that nothing was sufficient to compensate for the huge loss people experienced. “It was just a bandage while it needed a full-scale operation,” explains Stamboulian metaphorically. On the other hand, being on the ground and offering her assistance 24/7 prevented her from feeling useless to some extent.
Ultimately, these volunteering experiences combined with the challenges from the 2020 Artsakh War paved the way for her decision to plant roots of her own in the homeland. It’s already been a year that Stamboulian has been living in Armenia, and, true to form, she hasn’t strayed far from AGBU. She is currently working at TUMO Center for Creative Technologies, founded by AGBU Council of Trustees Member Sam Simonian and his wife Sylva Simonian.
“It came really naturally to me, and it didn’t really take long for me to make up my mind,” she explains. “I always feel a bit better here in Armenia than anywhere else. I believe that people should find a place where they are happy and then go live there. As Hrant Dink said, ‘the best thing you can do for your country is to live there.’”