BY ALIQUE KELECHIAN
Camp Zavarian is an Armenian summer camp dedicated to keeping Armenian culture alive, as well as giving children a fun-filled summer experience. At the camp, children have the opportunity to learn about a wide range of topics, such as their homeland, Armenian patriotic songs, cooking, art, acting, and—one considered to be the most impactful—friendship. After coming to this interactive, hands-on summer camp, children leave with a whole new sense of nationalism, confidence, and a new idea of what it means to be a friend to one another.
Although students are taught a number of lifelong lessons at Camp Zavarian, it can be argued that the teachers and volunteers working at the camp are just as heavily influenced as the children they dedicatedly serve.
Every summer morning, Mrs. Arpi Dabaghian wakes up early and prepares for the new agenda at Camp Zavarian. She provides the necessary strong backbone to the daily routine of entertaining, as well as teaching, young minds at the camp. Mrs. Dabaghian and her team of hard working teachers give support to the young camp attendees as they guide them through the adventurous journey of learning and exploring new concepts and topics. More than a teacher, though, Mrs. Dabaghian is a mentor, whose contagious positivity and ability to deeply connect with the children influences many of their lives.
When leaving Camp Zavarian, the children exude more confidence than they came in with. But, what the children at Camp Zavarian fail to notice is that, as the teachers and volunteers of Camp Zavarian are teaching the campers about their heritage and life lessons on friendship and teamwork, they too are learning new lessons for themselves.
“Yes, I learn new lessons every single day I teach at Camp Zavarian,” said Sarina Ajnass, a teacher at the summer camp. “Every situation and every child shows me a different perspective on things. A certain example of this would be: understanding how to deal with each child differently and realizing that they don’t all respond the same to every situation. A certain child who is acting up may need firm and strict disciplining, but another child who is also acting up may need to be told a different way to get him to stop.” Through Camp Zavarian, Sarina gained knowledge about the minds of children and how each child is unique.
“It makes me happy knowing I’m making a difference in these children’s lives and making memories that will last a lifetime,” said Preny Ayvazian, as she explained her realization that she wanted to become a real teacher after years of volunteering. As Preny gained experience with each year of volunteering, she slowly realized that she was destined to not only guide children, but to also connect with them. She desired to continue with a career where she could support and inspire children through their journey in education.
As these children grow, they, too, get the chance to volunteer and guide the campers themselves. By being volunteers, they get to exercise the lessons they observed and were taught by their teachers. As volunteers gain more experience at the summer camp, they learn more about themselves. For example, volunteers get to learn whether or not they can connect with children, or which of their skills is stronger than the others. Volunteers, who are usually in their high school years, use Camp Zavarian as a chance to give back to the community and to be more involved in the organizations surrounding them. This is especially important for Armenian high schoolers in largely American communities. With students being surrounded by so many American influences, it is easy for a young person to lose touch with the roots of their culture. Teenagers of the Armenian community come to Camp Zavarian to keep their culture alive, as well as to spend their summer doing meaningful work.
At Camp Zavarian, the students are given a chance to explore new talents, arts, and their culture. Although these campers are given the chance to become completely different people by the end of summer, the teachers, too, can grow with this summer experience.
Camp Zavarian is a daytime camp where the campers, split into three age groups, participate in different activities. These activities include: cooking, yoga, swimming, Zumba, drama classes, learning social skills, and playing games with other campers. Before breakfast, the campers have the opportunity to learn about their culture in the form of stories, songs, and various other creative means of sharing knowledge. After breakfast, the campers split up by age and play the different activities designed for their skill levels. After lunch, the campers get to choose whether they want to swim or playing board games. These activities are followed by a snack break, where fruits and cookies are provided for the campers.
Individuals interested in volunteering at Camp Zavarian must be mindful of the camp schedule, to know exactly when the volunteer trainings will take place, in the weeks prior to the camp officially opening. Volunteers will then be given the proper guidance needed to not only care for young children, but to complete the day-to-day activities/tasks that Camp Zavarian entails. The Camp’s main goal is to provide a space for members of the Armenian community to fully immerse themselves into the culture during the summer, especially for those individuals who are unable to attend Armenian schools.