Work!

Long time no post! I figure it’s past time I described my work here with Karen at the Sarnaghbyur Youth and Community Action Club NGO (whose Facebook page you should like immediately, by the way). For context, here’s a standard weekday for me:

  • 6 – 7: skyping with various people back home (about every other morning)
  • 7 – 10: first breakfast alone, walk/run around lake, read, language work (vocab, reading Armenian books), second breakfast with host family (their first)
  • 10 – 12: hang out with Karen at his house – part work, part talking, always eating and drinking coffee
  • 12 – 4: at the NGO, where we oversee clubs and work on our various projects (see below)
  • 4 – 7: generally back home again, reading, resting, going for another walk around the lake, hanging out on the porch with my host family
  • 7 – 10: dinner, internet time (Red Sox news, Facebook discussions with other PCVs), more reading, more language work, watching the Armenian soap operas with my host family

Weekends when I’m in town (about half the time) are pretty similar but with a long hike in the hills instead of NGO time, or a day trip into Gyumri to eat at a restaurant, hang out with other PCVs, and patronize the tatik selling cool old Armenian books for a dollar. So far my travels have taken me to Yerevan, Vanadzor, and Dilijan, with upcoming trips to Aralez (my training village), Ijevan/Dilijan again, and hopefully in October down south to Syunik marz.

I should note that, while this schedule seems pretty lackadaisical (and it is!), I consider myself to be working at all times apart from the hour or so daily that I’m shut up in my room reading, listening to music, or wasting time on the internet; in such a small place I feel that community integration is extra important to my work, and anytime I’m working on my language skills or hanging out with anyone from the village, be it my host family, Karen’s, or the kids on the street, I feel that I’m doing this.

Anyway, our main programs right now are summer clubs organized and led by the kids to teach drawing, dance, handicrafts, and chess. More important than the exact content of the clubs is how the kids organize and lead them, so we work with them closely on such topics as attendance tracking, lesson planning, and “classroom” management. On the capacity-building side, Karen and I will soon begin writing a strategic plan for the club, and we are working on taking closer notes of our activities to build institutional memory for the day when Karen can no longer lead the club himself. Additionally, Arman, an early-twenty-something from town who is extremely active with the club, will soon return from work in Russia. Karen views him more as my long-term counterpart, given that he has many professional skills to learn to support his excellent abilities in organizing and leading the kids, and I should be able to mentor him (and of course learn a lot about the community from him).

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Dance club!
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Drawing club!
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Chess club!

Additionally, a few weeks ago we held a youth leadership camp which included team-building, leadership, and initiative activities; discussions of what makes a good leader and how he or she acts; and a lesson about the environmental problems facing Armenia, after which we cleaned up trash by the lake and in the town forest.

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Leadership camp, day one: the Human Knot
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Leadership camp, day two: team carrying activity
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Leadership camp, day two: discussion of the iceberg metaphor for culture. With Karen ably leading the conversation, the kids totally got it, which was freaking awesome.
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Leadership camp, day three: trash pick-up
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Leadership camp, day three: վերջ (verj – end)

Apart from clubs through the NGO, I have many ideas for secondary projects, including: English conversation and homework clubs; advanced chess clubs incorporating games that I learned at King Open, such as team chess; walks in the hills around town with the kids to gather data for this new initiative of the Armenian Environmental Network; working with the kids to write, lay out, and publicize a tourism booklet for the town; and either teaching the kids basic coding (which they have requested – IT is a growing sector for domestic employment) or bringing them regularly to the Tumo Center in Gyumri.

Beyond my work in Sarnaghbyur, I have many opportunities for collaborating with organizations that can take advantage of what I learned in college and my previous work. For instance, a Gyumri alumna of the FLEX program (for Armenians to study in the US for a year while in high school) works for a new think tank focusing on urban and environmental issues (she recently worked on an analysis of the energy usage of Gyumri’s street lights). Additionally, Garrett, a PCV from my training village, and Nate, a Response volunteer, both in Yeghegnadzor, work for an organization specializing in economic research, including GIS analyses, so I can likely help them with research, and perhaps even help teach GIS classes at the university in Gyumri. I think an ideal schedule could be working with the kiddos here in Sarnaghbyur the equivalent of four days a week and doing research/economic work one day a week, but we’ll see what shakes out!

Language Note:

-Armenians frequently use Russian words for certain things, my favorite being that for TV remote control: Պեւլտ (pult) in place of the far more impressive and hideously clunky Armenian word: Հեռակառավարման վահանակ (herrakarravarman vahanak, literally “far-control billboard”).

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