Born and raised in the vibrant Armenian community of Damascus, Syria, Lousin Balmanian moved to Vienna, Austria in 1992 to pursue her education in the life sciences. Today she works as the Quality Manager at Lemberona, a European purveyor of organic, fair trade food goods. Now, Lousin is the chair of the AGBU Austria Chapter with big goals for her community.
As children of this great Armenian nation, they too have the right to experience, enjoy and know what we are all about.
How did your involvement and subsequent leadership in AGBU evolve into your position today? Although I attended an AGBU school in Damascus, I was formally re-introduced to AGBU in Vienna. By the time I moved to the city to pursue my education at the University for Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, my brothers were already members there. I decided to join them and was fortunate enough to receive an AGBU scholarship to continue pursuing my studies. I would later serve on the committee for the chapter and help create YP Austria.
As most Armenians from the Middle East, I was introduced early on to community work. If there is one thing that I learned from all of the Armenian unions functioning in Damascus, it is that preserving our language and heritage is the collective’s task and that each person has a role to play in this collective. This is the governing logic behind all of my work as chair of AGBU Austria. Things have, of course, changed since I left Damascus: holding tight to our identity as Armenians is becoming more difficult wherever we are in the world.
Why is it important to you to give back to your community? When I am doing the work to keep the chapter initiatives, I do not feel like I am “volunteering” or even “giving back” to the community. For me, working to strengthen the community is simply the way it is—contributing locally in Austria and globally throughout Diaspora is a large part of how I define being Armenian for me. It is the natural thing to do. I believe that passing on everything that was given to us, and adding to that inheritance, is our duty to ensure the next generation of Armenians feel connected. As children of this great Armenian nation, they too have the right to experience, enjoy and know what we are all about.
How do you envision the future of your Armenian community in Austria, and what role do you see AGBU playing in realizing it? I hope to see a cultural center that belongs to AGBU in Vienna. Having a space will facilitate all of our chapter’s long-term projects. Furthermore, it will be a gathering place where we can host our choir practice, dance lessons and language classes. Being a small community, a center will help us focus our efforts and use our resources on the important things, spending the time we use to search for suitable venues on building programs instead.
I envision growth in AGBU membership. To ensure that growth, it is vital to cultivate a passion for volunteerism in the hearts of the young generation, to instill in them very early on the role they are to play in nurturing our customs and maintaining a cultural inheritance. This is especially vital in smaller communities like ours, where every individual that does not invest talent in the community leaves a difficult gap to fill. The key is to convince our busy young adults to give some of their most precious commodity—a bit of their time—to allow them to see that the community is worth every effort.
We’ve been successful in doing this before. Last year, we had a very impactful experience organizing the Street of Knowledge program, in which undergraduate students were invited to help younger pupils with their homework. Young adults learned to share their time and knowledge, experiencing firsthand how their service helped their younger counterparts while strengthening their relationships within the community. This intergenerational work is the future.
Banner Illustration by Luis Tinoco