Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Setting up a Play with children in an Armenian Orphanage - Summer 2005

The first question anyone asked me when I said I was going to volunteer to help in an Armenian orphanage was where is Armenia? This is easy to answer- Armenia is a landlocked country bordered by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. The look on peoples faces when I say this makes them emphasise their second question- “WHY??”. This question was much harder to answer than the first, especially after the Sunday Times had just published an article telling of the war torn, earthquake destroyed, poverty stricken, dangerous post Soviet country. The first question anyone asked me when I said I was going to volunteer to help in an Armenian orphanage was where is Armenia?

(Volunteers take a group photo with the children in the orphanage in Armenia)

As I arrived at the orphanage I realised that the only problems I had were not tripping up on pavements in need of repair or else falling into holes in the roads especially after dark!

The orphanage was situated 15km outside the capital Yerevan. It was a small self-contained ‘village’ with about 77 children aged 1 to 15 who had either lost their families or their parents could no longer look after them. About 6 children live in each house where there is a ‘mother’ who looks after them. This gives the children a sense of having a family. Our work involved playing with the children, painting, singing, playing football, generally allowing the children to have fun and realise that there were people who cared about them and valued them. Our overall aim was produce a short play with the children, a difficult feat as very few of the children, or even Armenians in general, speak English, as they are so unaccustomed to having visitors. This really meant that the volunteers had to quickly learn the basics of Armenian, something the children had great fun in trying to teach us

One of the aims of the organisation was to promote intercultural learning and understanding by offering young people from different backgrounds the opportunity to work together. Well this certainly was the case as I was the only English person, although all the volunteers spoke

their own versions of English! At first this was a little overwhelming but I quickly got used to speaking slowly and interpreting what they mean.

I actually found this one of the highlights of the

experience as it taught me about the differences in our countries but how we are all fundamentally the same. After all I now have friends in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Canada, Iceland and of course Armenia, how many people can say that?!

Volunteering was an amazing experience, there is no other way you can be certain that your

charitable donations will not end up in some corrupt politicians pocket and you can really see that you are making a difference to peoples lives; not only that, without knowing it they are also making a difference to your life.

So, next year, will I go on a luxury package holiday or volunteer again? Well that’s easily answered, how else except volunteering are you going to see the real heart of the country you are visiting?

Claire Atkins (July 2005)

click here for pictures of projects in Armenia

click here for a country profile of Armenia

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