BY DZIA VARTABEDIAN
Yesterday I walked into the school in Askeran and was greeted by “Trcheyi Mdkov Doon.” I stood there mesmerized, listening to one of the campers sing with such passion, and could not keep my tears under control. I closed my eyes, silently singing with her as I too flew to another place, another time, back to 1994 to a small village in the Martuni region called Ashan, where I had been a Youth Corps participant.
Although the Youth Corps program has changed from a rebuilding program to a jampar, from the looks on the faces of the counselors I knew that everything we had received as participants 20 years ago is still the same today: a lifetime of memories with a special group of Armenians. We had participated in the program believing that our mission was to help the villagers, help the schools and guide the children, but later realized that in fact it was us who had things to learn. We learned about the resilience of our people, about the bright future of our country, and about the importance of building bridges with our homeland. These lessons can only be comprehended through programs such as Youth Corps, where participants have the opportunity to experience to real lives of locals, and truly experience the joys and wonders of Armenia and Artsakh.
Today I visited the AYF Youth Corps group, went from classroom to classroom watching the campers making lanyards, listening to educationals about the lives of fedayees, and watched counselors connecting with the campers, as they wrote about their hopes and dreams, fears and worries. Witnessing the counselors interact with the campers, I was overcome by a sense of immense pride — pride that I have been fortunate enough to belong to a great youth organization, the Armenian Youth Federation, pride that I have had the opportunity to participate in the best and most meaningful summer program, the AYF Youth Corps, and extreme pride that after 20 years we are still able to impact the lives of hundreds of Armenian youth, put a smile on their faces and continue to give them hope, as we ourselves better understand the true meaning of life simply by listening to a magical song.
Dzia Vartabedian was one of the first participants of AYF Youth Corps. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, which began after the cease-fire of 1994, by Armenian American youth whose mission was to help rebuild their homeland.