By Ani Melkonian
YEREVAN and WATERTOWN — Environmental education has been one of the strategic priorities of the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) since 2005, with trainings and workshops conducted all over Armenia. Thousands of schoolchildren visit ATP’s two education centers sponsored by the Ohanian Family of Boston. The centers — one located on the grounds of the Karin Nursery and another in Margahovit Village — provide interactive lessons focused on all aspects of the environment.
The year 2015 was a record-breaking year as more students visited the centers than ever before. Sixty four school groups (1,646 students) from Yerevan, Kotayk and Armavir attended classes at the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center in Karin, which significantly exceeds the number from previous years. In Margahovit, 74 school groups (1,971 students) visited the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies from Lori, Tavush, Gegharkunik and Shirak.
“Our approach is that planting trees is not enough when there is limited awareness about environmental issues in the country,” explains education manager Alla Sahakyan. “Through our environmental education program, ATP aims to raise a responsible generation of Armenians that will take on their roles as caretakers and protectors of the environment. To support that goal, our team works hard to instill respect, care and understanding towards nature in the youth.”
Melanya Sarukhanyan is a 13-year-old schoolgirl from Margahovit and a regular at the Ohanian Center. She’s a member of ATP’s eco-club, the inauguration of which in 2012 was cause for great excitement in the village. Sarukhanyan was introduced to the club at school by her biology teacher Gayane Markaryan, who also happens to be the eco-club trainer. The club has 35 members in two age groups — middle and high school students — and they meet three times a week. “Making the extra effort after school is no inconvenience for the students because they enjoy learning new things in a stimulating and peaceful environment,” says Sahakyan.
The Ohanian Center is like an illustration straight out of a children’s book. The building itself is camouflaged to reflect the surrounding green rolling mountains, with the Hrant Dink Memorial Forest in the background and the Mirak Family Reforestation Nursery within sight of the gardens. The front yard is a beautifully laid out garden and an exhibition of the children’s projects. The delicate flowers, plants and vegetables are a result of all that the children are learning in the eco-club.