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News Archive 2011


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News archive 2010

 

AMBASSADOR HEFFERN'S VIDEO BLOG - VISIT TO PEACE CORPS ARMENIA

 

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DANCE CAMP IN VARDENIS, BY PEACE CORPS ARMENIA VOLUNTEERS

On December 8 through 10, 2011, a dance camp was held at the YMCA in Vardenis, Armenia, a town on the Southeast side of Lake Sevan. The camp was put on by three Peace Corps volunteers from different parts of Armenia: Matthew Crowly-Miano (Idjevan), Alex Lord (Sisian), and Maggie Woznicki (Sevan), and was hosted by volunteer Kevin Crookshank (Vardenis). Most of the participants were members of the YMCA Ten-Sing club. Ten-Sing stands for “Teenagers Singing,” and, in Vardenis, is composed of 15 to 20 boys and girls from ages 13 to 17, who love to sing and dance. There are Ten-Sing groups at YMCAs all over Armenia.

 

The camp lasted three days. Each day started out with stretching and then a warm-up circle of dancing to get everyone ready for the day’s dancing instruction.

 

Students greatly enjoyed participating in the dance camp.
* Photo credit to John Hart, Peace Corps volunteer, Berd

Each day was broken up into two parts. In the first part, Crowly-Miano taught b-boying, which is also known as breakdancing. None of the students had done this type of dancing before, and were hesitant at first, because in the moves, it looked difficult. But, according to Crowly-Miano, “If you practice and work hard, anyone can do this.” And that proved to be the case, as one by one, they got better at the different elements of the dance. During the second part of each day, Lord and Woznicki taught a dance routine they had choreographed to the song DJ Got Us Falling in Love Again, by Usher Ft. Pitbull. They taught the routine in eight-count increments. By the end of the three days, the participants had the dance down fairly well.

 

Stepan Sargsyan, a local Vardenis boy who participated in the camp, but was not a Ten-Sing member, said, “I am very grateful to you because I couldn’t dance at all, at first, and now I can dance a little.”

 

Everyone at the camp had a great time, and they hope for the opportunity to do it again in the future.

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PEACE CORPS BRINGS TECH TO VILLAGE SCHOOLS WITH THE “TAKING TECH AROUND” PROGRAM

PCV Glenn assists computer students during a computer class for the new "Taking Tech Around" program.

It’s a cold and grey Saturday afternoon at the end of November in the village of Karnut, 8 kilometers from the city of Gyumri in Shirak Marz, Armenia.  Most children in the village are at home staying warm by a cast iron stove burning cow dung.  But at the marginally-heated village school, bundled in their winter coats, twenty middle- and high-school students are huddled around laptops, learning how to create Word documents in Armenian. For many students, this is the first time they’ve gotten to use a computer. For all of them, it’s the first time they’ve had any hands-on instruction in basic computer skills. The laptops, teachers and curriculum are part of the “Taking Tech Around” program, which brings a mobile computer lab to village schools near Gyumri.


Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) Darryn Glenn, wearing a North Face parka and Wool hat, walks between the desks, answering questions and offering students advice. “Metzatar aistergh” he says, speaking Armenian with the kids, “Capital letter here.” Before he joined the Peace Corps, Mr. Glenn worked in IT at Merrill Lynch. Now, he works with the Gyumri Development Center (GDC), an NGO focused on small business development and teaching technology skills. Mr. Glenn conceived the Taking Tech Around program at a Peace Corps conference, where another PCV presented the idea of a computer summer camp. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do that during the school year?’” said Mr. Glenn. 

 

The project was funded by a USAID Small Projects Assistance (SPA) grant, which provided funds for eight laptop computers. Mr. Glenn wrote the curriculum, which his Armenian counterpart, GDC head Aida Khachatryan, translated. GDC provided the connections with the village schools, transportation and teachers for the three-year lifespan of the program.  And after that?  “Well, maybe I’ll get another Peace Corps Volunteer” says Ms. Khachatryan.

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CELEBRATING PEACE CORPS 50th ANNIVERSARY WORLDWIDE

This film is made by the US Embassy in Armenia to honor Peace Corps 50th Anniversary worldwide and in the country.

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NOVEL BIOSAND FILTERS BRING CLEAN WATER TO VILLAGE

New BioSand filters help improve water quality in Goris..

NERKIN KHNDZORESK, ARMENIA (September 2011) – Tucked away in the southeast corner of Armenia sits the tiny and isolated village of Nerkin Khndzoresk. Recent water testing completed by the Goris Water Organization indicated an excess of harmful bacteria in the community’s water supply. With the aid of Water Charity, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, local Peace Corps Volunteer, Katie McKillen, helped find the much-needed resources to construct three BioSand filters to improve water quality in the village.


Founded nearly 30 years ago as a strategic bulwark for its larger sister-village of Khndzoresk, the community of 320 residents has since suffered a dearth of resources, leading to an aging infrastructure absent of much needed improvements. In particular, the poor states of the village’s water supply and drainage systems have been negatively impacting the public health of the people and their livestock. 2009 statistics from the local health post revealed that over 50% of the Nerkin community suffered from some type of infectious disease throughout the year. Outbreaks of giardia, shigella, hepatitis A, and dysentery are believed to have been caused by the drinking water.

 

Using locally available materials, BioSand filters work using a slow sand-filtration process in which unclean water is piped into the filter where it passes through layers of sand and gravel. As organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, travel through the sand, they collide with and stick to sand particles. These filters are proven to remove 90% to 95% of organic contaminants from untreated water and are effective across a broad range of harmful pathogens.

 

After the construction of the filters in Nerkin Khndzoresk, the local Goris Water Organizations retested the purified water and approved it as safe for drinking, observing a bacteria concentration of less than 5%.

 

The Vice Principal and School Engineer were amazed by the construction of the filter, stating, “I didn’t understand how something so simple could actually help clean our water. Now it makes sense, it’s just like a river.” The success of the project provided the community members, especially the youth, with further hope for their community. One mother stated, “It’s great that they can see that they can make a change and be creative. These are the skills that we need to teach our children to continue to slowly improve our village.”

 

Founded in 2008, Water Charity is on a mission to meet the needs of communities where quick and inexpensive solutions can be implemented to increase access to water or improve water sanitation practices. Working with Peace Corps Volunteers and their communities, Water Charity has funded the implementation of approximately 650 projects in 60 countries where volunteers are active.  For example, in cooperation with Peace Corps Senegal, Water Charity is partnering with volunteers to implement a 52 Pumps in 52 Weeks program, where Peace Corps Volunteers will work alongside community members to build one new water pump every week for one year in the Kolda and Kaolack regions of Senegal.

 

Averill Strasser, Chief Operating Officer of Water Charity, states, “Our organization is trying to fill the gap where low-budget and time-critical water projects make a big impact on the community. We are able to cut out much of the ‘red tape’ of larger aid organizations and turn around funding for these projects in one to two months”. Mr. Strasser served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, himself, as a Professor of Engineering at the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia, from 1966 to 1968. During that time, he led numerous development projects into the interior of Bolivia, building water systems and sanitary facilities using student and community resources.

 

About Water Charity
Water Charity is a nonprofit corporation directed toward improving the human rights and dignity of individuals throughout the world by providing them with resources that impact upon their health and wellbeing. Water Charity’s “Appropriate Projects” initiative enables instant deployment of resources to do small but critical water and sanitation projects. For more information, please visit their website at http://appropriateprojects.com/.

Written by PCV Austin Sherwindt

FIRST “WE ARE OUR FUTURE” SUMMER CAMP HELD IN GORIS

In August 2011, Partnership and Teaching NGO implemented a five-day leadership camp entitled “We Are Our Future” in the town of Goris of Armenia’s Syunik marz. Designed by the organization’s Peace Corps Volunteer, Austin Sherwindt, the goal of the camp was to increase the level of understanding and mutual respect between students of the Goris community, irrespective of physical, mental, or socioeconomic differences, while simultaneously promoting the ideas of cooperation and leadership. Held in Goris’ School No. 6, 36 children (ages 11 – 14) participated in the weeklong camp, of which 12 of the children were disabled and/or disadvantaged. The theme of the camp was relating our own structure to that of the earth, working from the inside out.

Children participate in information sessions during the "We are Our Future" summer camp.

Using interactive lessons and informational seminars, the first two days of the camp focused on our personal health (knowledge, ideas, and physical health) and the proceeding two on our roles as citizens, both in our communities and the world. Each day, the children participated in a variety of leadership and teambuilding exercises, arts and crafts, and informational seminars presented by guest speakers from local organizations such as the Goris Women’s Resource Center and Goris’ Human Rights NGO. Topics covered included Leadership, Group Dynamics, Healthy Lifestyles (Nutrition, Exercise, Anti-Smoking, Anti-Drinking), HIV / AIDS Awareness, Civil Society, Project Design and Management, Environmental Problems in Armenia, Diplomacy, and Human Rights and Discrimination.

 

On the final day of the camp, the three teams of participants implemented the civil service projects that had designed throughout the camp. Team “Sphinx” went on an anti-smoking campaign throughout Goris, talking to local shop owners and community members about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Team “Eagles” cleaned up a local tourist attraction and posted anti-littering information. Team “Smilers” traveled to two kindergartens to teach 85 children about basic hand washing and tooth brushing.

 

Heghineh Hovsepyan, one of the camp counselors, stated, “I am very happy for this experience. In the five-day period, the children learned to love and respect one another and how to work as a team in different situations. Most importantly, the children learned that they are responsible for building their future and, in doing so, that each one of them can be a leader.”

 

In May 2011, Partnership and Teaching NGO (P&T NGO) with the cooperation of World Vision’s Sisian ADP concluded their “Building DPO Outreach for Greater Disability Inclusiveness” project, which was designed to promote inclusive education in the Goris and Sisian regions. Coming off the heels of this initiative, the We Are Our Future summer camp was intended to foster an opportunity for disabled and disadvantaged children to work alongside student council representatives from those schools practicing inclusive education. This camp was done with the support of many different organizations, including representatives of P&T NGO, World Vision’s Sisian ADP, Peace Corps Volunteers, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States.

About Partnership and Teaching NGO
Partnership and Teaching NGO was established in September 2000 to form a collective organization for developing civil society and promoting change within the Armenian educational sphere. Since 2005, P&T NGO has been one of three Intermediate Service Organizations of the Counterpart International Armenian office, serving Southern Armenia (Syunik and VayotsDzor regions). For more information, please visit their website at http://www.gumiso.am.

 

-PCV Austin Sherwindt

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PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS BRING HIP HOP DANCE TO VANADZOR

Peace Corps Armenia volunteers Maggie Woznicki, Matthew Crowley-Miano and Alex Lord hosted a four day dance camp at the Vanadzor YMCA, from August 8th through the 11th. The camp, which focused on Hip-Hop and break dancing approaches, was ran by The YMCA and open to children aged 12 to 18.

 

The camp was designed to promote healthy lifestyles, individual self-expression, and confidence among the future leaders of Armenia, as well as increase the understanding of hip-hop culture, a widely misunderstood global phenomenon whose roots lie in America. 

 

Peace Corps volunteers worked together to create and choreograph original dance routines solely for the purpose of this camp. They then taught these routines, as well as some basic dance and rhythm skills to camp participants. The 20 participants spent four hours a day learning the new dance moves and rehearsing their composition. At the end of the camp the children presented their new skills and put on a show unlike any other Vanadzor has ever seen.

 

“The community response was highly positive” explains Peace Corps Volunteer and creator of the camp, Matthew Crowley-Miano. “Everyone really enjoyed themselves and we hope to do more camps of this variety both in Vanadzor and other interested sites.”

 

- PCV Alyssa Schlange

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MEDIEVAL JEWISH CEMETERY SPREADS AWARENESS OF A JEWISH PAST IN ARMENIA

Medieval Jewish cemetery.

Shortly after Peace Corps Volunteer, Beckey Miller, moved to her site in the town of Yeghegnadzor, she was approached by her supervisor, Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan, to help with a project for a medieval Jewish cemetery in a nearby village. Although Beckey is a TEFL volunteer at the local University and this was outside of her scope as an English teacher, she was fascinated by the project because of her background in medieval history. Since then, she has been working with the bishop and the Syunik NGO to increase awareness of this unique cemetery as well as future projects to prompt further research into the historical presence of the Jewish Diaspora in Armenia.

 

With the help of others in the community, they worked to create a website for the cemetery project. They are also currently developing a project which aims to preserve the cemetery; their plan is to build a series of retaining walls to protect the cemetery from landslides, stabilize the stones to prevent them from sinking into the earth and cracking, and laying a series of gravel paths that will ensure ease of maintenance and prevent vegetation from making the site inaccessible. Future projects will be geared towards educating people about the site and about Jews in Armenia and include an exhibit at the Vayots Dzor Regional Museum in Yeghegnadzor. They also hope to work with other archeologists to help with more excavations in the area.

 

About the Yeghegis Jewish Cemetery
In 1996, Bishop Abraham Mkrtchyan discovered gravestones that bore unusual inscriptions near the village of Yeghegis in the Vayots Dzor region, two hours south of the capital of Yerevan. At first, the bishop thought they might be Arabic or Farsi; they were not in Armenian and they were clearly quite old. He decided to ask for advice on the matter from some dentists who were working in a nearby camp, one of whom happened to be Jewish. Upon inspection, they informed him that the inscriptions on the tombstone were indeed Hebrew. The bishop’s first reaction was disbelief. Although there were historical records of Jews in Armenia dating back to ancient times, to date (except for a reference in an obscure Russian academic journal in 1912) there was no physical proof of such a community and certainly none during medieval times. Bishop Abraham took pictures of the site and sent them to Professor Michael Stone of Hebrew University of Jerusalem who confirmed that this was indeed an unusual find.

 

Since then, a survey of the area was made in 2000 followed by archaeological expeditions in 2001 and 2002. At the site, 64 gravestones, twenty of which bear inscriptions in either Hebrew or Aramaic, or are decorated with motifs similar to the nearby gravestones of the Orbelian kings, have been excavated. The stones were examined by archaeologist David Amit and Professor Stone, who concluded that the gravestones originate from the 13th and 14th centuries. While there is agreement that the Jewish community of Yeghegis likely came to Armenia from Persia, there is little information to indicate what became of them.

 

The site itself has been renovated. Gravestones found during excavations of outlying buildings were replaced at the cemetery. A perimeter wall was erected and stairs were added to make the site more accessible to visitors.

 

The bishop hopes, with a little help from his friends, that they can discover more about the medieval community in Yeghegis and explore the ties that bind these two great diasporas. For more information about the Yeghegis Jewish Cemetery please visit their website at yeghegis.syunikngo.am.

 

About Syunik NGO
Syunik NGO was founded in 1995 by the local Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is one of the biggest non-governmental organizations in southern Armenia. They implement various projects that aim to develop and strengthen local communities. While their projects are mainly in the Vayots Dzor and Syunik Provinces, some projects are Armenia-wide. They also implement cross-border projects in collaboration with their Southern Caucasus partners. For more information, please visit their website at www.syunikngo.am.

 

-PCV Erin Malewicki

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FIRST FILM FESTIVAL HELD IN KAPAN

From August 4th to the 6th of 2011, the first Kapan Film Festival was held in the park named after Vazgen Sargsyan. In an effort to raise the involvement of youth in the community, Peace Corps Volunteer, Jay Lewis, with the Kapan Area Development Foundation, thought of this fun way to get youth excited about being involved in the community. They trained a group of kids from the local Youth NGO in Kapan on how to organize the event. In addition, they worked with the Mayor’s office and his son for community support and contribution.

 

The youth were trained on Project Design and Management to help them to work with the community to organize, publicize and coordinate the event. The majority of the festival was funded by the community; the projector and speakers were donated by the Mayor’s son and the community contributed to publicizing the event. The event was publicized through posters and signs in addition to social networking methods. The goal of the event was to get youth involved in the community and it was a success. The youth learned that if they want to see change in the community that they can work with citizens and the government to make it happen.

 

Through the great efforts of everyone involved, there was an excellent turnout each night at the festival; there were over 100 people who attended the first night (70-100 attended the following two nights). Each night there was a different international film shown (two Russian and one French film). The audience really seemed to enjoy the festival, in fact many people came to the festival every night. It turned out to be a great, family-friendly event that offered something new for Kapan residences to do at night. Many of the audience members commented that they would like to see this event happen again.

 

There was a fourth day planned for the film festival where approximately 100 soldiers from the local military base were expected to attend, but the last day was canceled due to rain. There are plans to make up for this day in the near future and show a film for the soldiers, the date is still to be determined.

 

PCV Erin Malewicki

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“ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP CAMPS” HELD THIS SUMMER THROUGHOUT ARMENIA

Students play a game to learn about leadership and the environment.

This summer, five Environmental Leadership Camps were held throughout Armenia. Peace Corps Volunteers, Margaux Granat and Robyn Burrows, were the administrators of the camps with the help of Peace Corps Volunteers and local organizations in the five sites. The goals of the camp were to increase youth involvement in the conservation of the environment in Armenia and provide leadership training opportunities for Armenian youth. The camp was funded by a Peace Corps Partnership (PCPP) grant written by Peace Corps Volunteer, Katie Peckham.

 

The camps were held in Kapan (June 27-July 1), Gavar (July 6-10), Gyumri (July 15-19), Sevan (July 28-August 1) and Dsegh (August 13-15). Peace Corps Volunteers, Margaux Granat, Genya Cole, Marisa Valdez, Hayley Brandt and Mary Ann Harty, acted as site coordinators for their respective towns. In addition they partnered with local organizations to support the event: World Vision (Kapan), Gavar Orphanage (Gavar), New Generation NGO (Gyumri), Sevan Youth Center (Sevan) and Dsegh Village. Nineteen other Peace Corps Volunteers also participated as camp counselors or cooks for the camps.

 

The site coordinators chose the campers through an application process. Approximately 40 children participated in each camp, however approximately 20 children participated in the camp in Dsegh because it was a mini-camp. Each camp (with the exception of Dsegh) had four PCV counselors, four host country national (HCN) counselors, 2 administrators and 2 cooks.

 

The camp focused on a combination of environmental, leadership, and team building activities. Some examples for the environmental activities included water testing, film & discussion, debate over the fate of an imaginary rain forest, a tag game that mimics predator/prey relations and trash clean-ups. For leadership, some activities included scavenger hunts and activities where one person led all of the members of their team (who were blind folded) to a certain destination. Team building activities included human knot and trust fall among other team building activities. The children really enjoyed themselves while learning about the environment and leadership.

 

The camps were not only an educational experience for the campers, but also for some of the HCN counselors. Mary Saharyan, one of the camp counselors in Gyumri, stated, “I can’t believe there are so many environmental activities for teaching!”

 

In addition to the five camps, there were excursions to Dilijan and Norovank. There is also an excursion planned to Hoostoop in Kapan once the weather improves.

-PCV Erin Malewicki

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PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER SUSAN LINDEN BRINGS A GREENHOUSE TO NOYEMBERYAN HIGH SCHOOL

The Noyemberyan High School is constructing an educational greenhouse that will serve as a scientific and practical-skills educational center for students. Specific curriculum is being developed to engage students in the 4th through 12th grades in agricultural science as well business development. Peace Corps Volunteer Susan Linden a TEFL in Noyemberyan worked closely with her community to assess its needs and applied for grants to fund this project, working as project manager of sorts.

 

The greenhouse will be used both to teach students academically, and also to teach business skills that will provide students with much-needed vocational training. The vegetables and flowers raised in the greenhouse will be sold in the community, and funds will be used to provide educational supplies (pens, copy books, books, etc.) to underprivileged students and sustain continued use of the greenhouse. The greenhouse will be heated using waste heat from the existing boiler system, thereby increasing its efficiency and saving money for the school.

 

Construction of the greenhouse project, which is being funded with both a Small Project Assistance (SPA) Grant and community contributions, began in May 2011. Students will begin working in the greenhouse in September, and the first harvest of vegetables and flowers is planned for December 2011. The whole community of Noyemberyan is excited to see what the students will produce and the students are prepared to meet their expectations! 


-PCV Alyssa Schlange

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INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUTH WITH DISABILITIES THROUGH SUMMER CAMPS

Students participate in skill-building activities.

From July 21st – August 4th, 2011, Peace Corps Volunteer Chris Sherwood helped facilitate a two-week long summer camp for 30 children ages 8-14 with developmental disorders. Sponsored by the Arabkir Medical Center, the camp was an opportunity for the children – whose disorders range from simple motor control problems to cerebral palsy – to participate in group activities, drawing, swimming, hiking, dancing, music and intellectual games and exercises, offering opportunities to socialize and develop skills for interacting in everyday life.

 

On the last day of the camp, the children put on a theatrical play about a monster that stole all the emotions from one of the campers. The children then explained what each emotion represented and the positive and negative aspects of that particular emotion.  An example was ‘anger.’ According to the children, sometimes it is fine to be angry in a situation, but other times anger can be misplaced on people who love and care for you. 

 

Since August 2010, Sherwood has been working with over 100 children in a rehabilitation clinic as a physical therapist’s assistant. Sherwood writes, “The camp was the most amazing experience so far in my Peace Corps experience. To watch children include each other without regard to the other’s disability was incredible. In some cases, socialization and integration of the children with disabilities into their community is not always an easy task for a family in Armenia.”

 

However, the children were not the only beneficiaries of the camp. Sherwood continues, “Not only was the camp for the children with many types of disabilities, but seven mothers of the children with autism also attended the camp. To watch this hard working group of women relax and be with other mothers facing some of the same issues is something I will never forget.”

 

-PCV Austin Sherwindt

 

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PC VOLUNTEERS TEACH LEADERSHIP, TOLERANCE AT THE BOYS REACHING OUT (BRO) SUMMER CAMP

This summer, PCVs helped organize and a run three week-long leadership camp for teenage Armenian boys from across Armenia. The camp was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and run by New Generations, a Gyumri-based NGO where PCV Marisa Valdez (Community and Business Development) works. The camps taught valuable skills in leadership, teamwork, public speaking, management and personal development as well as human rights, HIV/AIDs, drug/alcohol awareness, tolerance, and human trafficking awareness.

 

Each camp consisted of 20-25 boys led by Peace Corps Volunteers and volunteer Armenian counselors. The selection standards for the camp were high, and the boys were excited to get the chance to meet with other boys from across Armenia and with counselors from America.

 

“I was very impressed by the maturity level and seriousness of the students,” said PCV Scott Gaynor (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) “We talked about a lot of controversial and sensitive topics, but the boys took the discussions seriously and respected each other’s opinions.  But I think I most enjoyed getting the chance to just hang out and play outside with the guys.”  Indeed, Mr. Gaynor had brought his baseball gloves and a ball from home and was enjoying introducing baseball to the boys almost as much as they enjoyed playing
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iM_wbkV9Gw4


-PCV Samuel Dolgin-Gardner

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PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS USE INNOVATIVE METHODS TO TEACH ENGLISH AT BRITISH COUNCIL’S ENGLISH CAMP

Peace Corps Volunteers Katie McKillin (Community Health Education) and Samuel Dolgin-Gardner (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language), taught English to 30 high school students from across Armenia at the British Council’s English Language Camp, located at the Pambak YMCA. The students had to pass an English language exam to attend the camp, and were excited to get the chance to talk with native English speakers. Over the course of the five-day camp, students practiced and performed English songs; watched English movies; learned conversational leadership and job interview language skills, and had a chance to meet with Charles Lonsdale, the British Ambassador to Armenia. 

 

The students got the chance to demonstrate their English language skills by asking Ambassador Lonsdale questions they wrote themselves, ranging from “What is your favorite Armenian food?” (Khorovats) to “What is the difference between the constitutions of Armenia and Britain?” (Britain doesn’t have a formal constitution; instead it has a tradition of civil law) to “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? (“I feel like I’m at a job interview,” quipped Ambassador Lonsdale.)

 

“I appreciated having the Peace Corps Volunteers,” said Lilit Karantaryan, the Programs Officer at British Councils who organized the camp, “The kids became much more comfortable speaking and understanding English with native speakers over the course of the camp. It was also great to see classes where the students participated and were exposed to English-language multimedia.”

 

PCV Katie McKillen agreed that the students became much more comfortable expressing themselves in English over the course of the camp. “It wasn’t just the classes,” she said, “it was also getting the chance to spend time with the kids, eating meals with them, doing morning exercises and going on hikes. At first they were very nervous about making mistakes, but by the end they were excited to talk with us in English even outside of class.”


-PCV Samuel Dolgin-Gardner

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“KICK THE HABIT” ANTI-SMOKING FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT ORGANIZED IN SISIAN COMMUNITY

In order to promote the importance of exercise and the dangers of smoking, from April 30th – May 1st, the Sport and Culture Progress of Sisian NGO organized the first “Kick The Habit” Mini-Football Tournament in Sisian. Peace Corps Volunteer, Alex Lord, organized this tournament with the help of Davit Hambardzumyan, Director of the NGO and Alex's counterpart. Designed for both boys and girls, the children were divided into two age groups: 9 – 12 years old and 13 – 15 years. The tournament was held on the field constructed by the Armenian Football Federation in 2007 for the Sisian community.

 

This field is a mini-football field, which allows each team to have four players on the field at a time, with three substitutes eagerly waiting on the sidelines. The event was advertised to all Sisian schools, as well as over a dozen Villages surrounding Sisian. As a result, there was an excellent turnout, with 22 teams participating (19 boys teams and 3 girls teams) representing over 154 Sisian youth from more than a dozen different schools. Also in attendance were Sisian’s mayor, the Sisian City football coach, teachers from various schools, and over 150 other spectators. During the competition, the participants received informational materials on the importance of exercise and not smoking.

 

At the end of the tournament, there was a friendly Armenia vs. America match where local PCVs competed against an Armenian team. The final score was a tie: 11 – 11. All PCVs in attendance helped with the overall management of the event. Additionally, the winners of each division received certificates of participation and a team trophy. Due to the success of the event, local residents have asked that the tournament be repeated every year.

 

“I think the best part for me was when I saw the girls teams playing. I think this was the first time in these girls' lives they have ever played an organized, real game of football with a referee, and most importantly without any boys on the field. They looked so happy,” commented organizer, Alex Lord. “Next time, we are going to organize a tournament especially for girls and educate them on the effects of secondhand smoke.”

 

-PCV Austin Sherwindt

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PCVs teach leadership, tolerance at the boys reaching out (BRO) summer camps

Teenage boys learn many useful skills during the BRO camp.

This summer, PCVs helped organize and run three week-long leadership camp for teenage Armenian boys from across Armenia.  The camp was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and run by New Generations, a Gyumri-based NGO where PCV Marisa Valdez (Community and Business Development) works.  The camps taught valuable skills in leadership, teamwork, public speaking, management and personal development as well as human rights, HIV/AIDs, drug/alcohol, tolerance and human trafficking awareness.

 

Each camp consisted of 20-30 boys led by Peace Corps Volunteers and volunteer Armenian counselors.  The selection standards for the camp were high, and the boys were excited to get the chance to meet with other boys from across Armenia and with counselors from America.

 

“I was very impressed by the maturity level and seriousness of the students,” said PCV Scott Gaynor (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) “We talked about a lot of controversial and sensitive topics, but the boys took the discussions seriously and respected each other’s opinions.  But I think I most enjoyed getting the chance to just hang out and play outside with the guys.”  Indeed, Mr. Gaynor had brought his baseball gloves and a ball from home and was enjoying introducing baseball to the boys almost as much as they enjoyed playing it. 


- Samuel Dolgin-Gardner

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Border2Border: The First Armenian Marathon for Children’s Health

 

Peace Corps volunteers encounter many interesting sights during their Border to Border hike.

In June of 2011, twelve Peace Corps Volunteers embarked on an unforgettable journey across Armenia to bring health education to the country’s rural youth. According to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases account for over 80% of deaths in Armenia. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause, accounting for 54% of total deaths, and tobacco consumption is still on the rise, varying between 64.2% and 69.4% among men in the 24 – 65 years age group.

 

After observing firsthand the health conditions of Armenia’s population and how certain trends were being picked up by the youth, Peace Corps Volunteers from across the country came together to take an innovative approach towards raising awareness about health education. The project, known as Border2Border or “B2B”, was a pan-Armenian walk that coupled health education with leading by example. Spearheaded by the volunteers, the project team worked alongside the Armenian Red Cross Society to develop informational materials and interactive learning methods focused on proper nutrition, exercise, and the avoidance of cigarettes and alcohol. Peace Corps Volunteers raised the funds for the project and mobilized both communities and their youth, all the while preparing mentally and physically for the challenges that awaited them.

volunteers teach many lessons on health and the environment.

On June 4th, six volunteers started walking south from the Armenian-Georgian border while six others started north from the Armenian-Iranian border. Over the following 17 days, the teams traversed five of Armenia’s ten ‘marzes’ (states) towards the midpoint of Yeghegnadzor, each team walking its own 290 kilometers over mountains and through communities. While ten of these days were primarily hiking, the other days were devoted to organizing seminars and teaching Armenian youth about the health principles they were promoting.

 

In total, 11 seminars were organized in villages and towns along the groups’ route, with nearly 500 children attending over the course of the project. The two teams also trained 30 community members about the B2B curriculum so that it could be carried on those areas, distributed thousands of informational pamphlets and posters to youth, and took 4,310,820 steps over a span of 142 hiking hours. Border2Border was the first event of its kind in Armenia, where many resources never make it outside of the country’s capital city. Those involved will remember it as a great success and hope that it becomes an annual event not only in Armenia, but also in other countries where Peace Corps Volunteers are working for children’s health.

-Austin Sherwindt A18 PCV

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GLOW Camp Armenia 2011

GLOW camp participants had an amazing time.

This summer, Peace Corps Armenia Volunteers Amanda Pascal from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Maggie Woznicki from Woodstock, IL along with representatives from Stepanavan Youth Center organized another GLOW Summer School success. The camp had 44 girls from all around Armenia. The camp was 7 days long held in Stepanavan with an excursion to the Botanical Gardens for our Environmental day.

 

Each day the camp presented lessons on important topics; ; On the first day the girls discussed self-discovery and learned about character building, and self-esteem. The next day focused on gender roles and human rights. The third day built leadership skills as the girls participated in a challenging ropes course and various team-building activities. The campers also met with representatives from IREX, and American Councils who spoke about FLEX and UGRAD. They spoke about programs that allow students to study for a year in America. Day four taught them about problem solving and we had an environmental excursion. Our fifth Day focused on Health and the girls were given classes on sexual education and HIV/AIDS. Although the girls were exhausted by the end of camp, they were proud with what they had accomplished.

 

During the camp the sessions were led by 5 PCV counselors and their Armenian counterparts. Each group also worked with a junior counselor to create and facilitate group sessions. The PCV counselors Jocelyn Siuta, Julianne Shelton, Robyn Burrows, Shayna Schlosberg were a big part of the reason GLOW 2011 was a success. Chad Erickson was our male counselor who helped share some male perspective and was a positive male role model.

 

Camp administrators, Amanda Pascal and Maggie Woznicki would like to thank Stepanavan Youth Center, led by Lilit Simonyan. Without the help of this NGO, GLOW would not have been this successful. Stepanavan Youth center has helped PCVs organize GLOW for the past 4 years and we hope that this partnership continues.

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