With its long history of curating programs and initiatives that reconnect Diasporans with their roots, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) carried out two of its most popular summer service programs that attracted young people from more than eight countries.
Arménie, Terre de Vie (Land of Life) and Discover Armenia once again ensured that young Diasporans ages 15-33 could connect with their heritage and culture and forge ties with local communities while performing community service projects.
Arménie, Terre de Vie
Launched in 2011 by the AGBU Youth Paris group, Arménie, Terre de Vie is a four-week volunteer program that runs each summer, uniting like-minded people around a community service project in Armenia. Living in a designated village for a month, the participants focus on a reconstruction project and conduct sessions with local children to educate them on healthcare and hygiene, in addition to organizing unique recreational activities.
This year, 22 volunteers, ages 19-33, from France and the U.S. joined the program in Sarigyugh village in Armenia's Tavush region to renovate the community's only kindergarten. They generously contributed their time to repair its seven rooms, applying environmentally friendly approaches. Involved in all phases of the repair—from structural work to painting and furnishing—the volunteers also created 2D and 3D wooden pieces to decorate the rooms, partnering with Fab Lab Armenia in Dilijan.
Franca-Maria Alongi, a volunteer of half-Italian and half-Armenian descent who helped practice foreign languages with the children, says, "We are thrilled that we can contribute our time to children. They deserve to spend their early years in decent conditions. We are immensely grateful to be part of this effort."
The old kindergarten building, which had not been repaired since the 1980s, now accommodates a lunchroom, a changing room, a playroom, a dormitory, two annexes, and a restroom. In addition, solar panels will soon be installed on the roof to reduce electricity costs.
"Before the renovation, the kindergarten could only house two groups of children. Now, with all the improvements and new facilities, we can host at least three, meeting the needs of the neighboring villages as well," says the kindergarten Director Gayane Gevorgyan.
AGBU has had a presence in Sarigyugh since 2017, followed by returns in 2019 and 2022. "When we first came to Sarigyugh, we fell in love with the place. The people here are so nice. It's critical for us to create bonds with them and cultivate a sustainable connection," says Simon Azad Landre, Program Manager.
In turn, the administrative head of the village, Seyran Saribekyan notes: "We understand that it's essential to make Diasporans feel at home. We do everything for that and genuinely consider them as one of us, one of the village inhabitants."
Besides renovating the kindergarten, the volunteers had the opportunity to engage with the locals, organize daily activities for the children, and distribute much-needed sustenance to displaced people of Artsakh in the Tavush region. They also visited Gavar and Nor Kharberd orphanages and organized activities for the displaced children of Artsakh currently sheltering in Ijevan.
If interested, check the Arménie, Terre de Vie program online for updates and join the program next year.
The AGBU Discover Armenia program has been a groundbreaking initiative in Armenia for decades, engaging Diasporan Armenians with the homeland right from their teenage years. This year, the program hosted 29 participants, ages 15-18, from the U.S., Canada, France, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, UAE, and Turkey. The group spent weeks in Hankavan Camp, engaging in various educational and fun activities while discovering the homeland through its music, dance, and breathtaking cultural sights and museums.
For the first time in its history, the working language of daily activities was Armenian, as 95% of the participants could get by interacting in the language. Those who could not communicate fluently made every effort to use their stay in the homeland to improve their language skills, which directly contributed to AGBU's long-standing efforts to revive and preserve the Armenian identity in the Diaspora.
In partnership with the Fuller Center for Housing Armenia, the program guided participants in renovating a house in the Aragatsotn region and fixing the fences of the Caucasian Red Deer Breeding Center in Dilijan National Park. "Some schools abroad require 60-hour community service work from high-school students, and we take care that 40 hours of their commitment is to benefit their homeland," says Director of Summer Youth Programs in Armenia and France, Hermine Duzian, adding, "We handed out certificates to them in Yerevan on the last day, recognizing their first steps contributing to the homeland. These certificates will be recognized by their schools back home as well."
The participants could also directly interact with local children during their stay, as they shared a common camp space with the AGBU Camp Nairi children. Established in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War to support children, brothers, and sisters of heroes, victims, and those missing or held as prisoners of war, Camp Nairi strives to help heal these hurting children through educational and fun activities along with therapeutic psychological assistance. Duzian sees their interaction as mutually fulfilling: "Camp Nairi's participants, who belong to a vulnerable group, realized that their Diasporan counterparts deeply cared for them, while the Diasporans were inspired by their own acts of kindness and goodwill."
Aram Vahan Baghdasarian, 18, from the USA, sharing thoughts on his camp experience, said: "I enjoyed a lot of things about the program. We had people coming from all corners of the world, which was so enlightening. In addition to getting closer to my roots, it allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people, new ideas, new horizons."
To learn more about AGBU's service-based discovery experiences in the homeland, visit agbu.org.