News and photo by Shant Aleksander
Young people explored their ancestral homeland while volunteering
Following last year’s announcement of Gyumri becoming the 2016 Youth Capitol, momentum around youth development continues to gain. Gyumri is home to scores of NGOs that focus on youth engagement along with its 47 public schools.

This summer brought the tenth annual wave of volunteers from the organization Birthright Armenia, many of which as part of their program have spent the past few months teaching young people what skills they brought with them to Armenia. 

“Pretty much all the students I’ve had I’ve been extremely impressed with at Tumo center, everyone is very creative, very forward thinking.” said Tara Baghdassarian, 23 years old of California.  Since landing in Armenia over two months ago, Baghadassarian has been running a series of workshops with the Tumo Center on shadow puppetry and stop motion animation.

Birthright Armenia provides diaspora age 20 to 32 from across the world with the chance to explore their ancestral homeland while volunteering in Yerevan, Vanadzor, and Gyumri, often staying with local host families. 

Since early June, Alec Ohanian has been engaging with youth from some of the thousands of families still living in “domiks,” with the organization Depi Arach. Children in the program get access to supplementary meals, school supplies, tutoring, and even pro-bono dental care.  A few days a week Ohanian meets with young people to help them with physical education, team building exercises, and fun activities to help relax them from their everyday lives.

“Its definitely been quite the adventure,” for Jessica Labbe of Maine, “even though I’ve worked with kids of all different ages for many, many [sic] years at this point, usually they know at least a little English and here that always hasn’t been the case in many of my classes.”

Despite a working in Gyumri for a short time, Labbe who prior to being accepted to Birthright Armenia worked as a youth counselor was quick to recognize the local efforts towards youth development, “I think in a lot of the centers there are multiple opportunities to learn English, to learn computer skills, things that are actually difficult skills to get.  Its pretty good I think. “

For many volunteers their “Journey of Self-Discovery will come to an end this August but for the youth of Shirak, the journey does not end there.  Birthright Armenia will be extending their Gyumri operations from seasonal to year long for the first time in their decade long relationship with the city.

For more information about Birthright Armenia and their operations visit