YEREVAN — For many young Armenian diasporans, outside of visiting Armenia with family members, very rarely do they have an opportunity to become immersed with the country and engage with local communities there. However, the AGBU’s Discover Armenia Program (DAP) provides a unique experience for diasporans aged 15-18 to visit Armenia, volunteer, meet local youth and adults, and also bond with other like-minded diasporans. After a two-year gap due to the pandemic, AGBU relaunched their program in 2022 and had 30 participants from over 8 different countries participating in a variety of humanitarian work activities.
The program was founded and run by Hermine Duzian of AGBU France for the past 20 years, and consistently received much interest from young diasporans. “Young people love community work..[participants] have asked to have more time to do things in the community. In the youth there is happiness, they feel the importance of helping,” Duzian remarked. This year’s participants had several projects, some which included working in Dilijan’s national parks to set up infrastructure, helping families in Artashavan to build homes, and spending time with children and families from Artsakh.
One such participant this year was 17-year-old Hayk Achemian, currently a senior at Providence High School in Los Angeles. His decision to apply for the program was motivated by several reasons, but primarily the desire to make more real change in person in Armenia. “During the Artsakh war in 2020, I had been here [in Los Angeles] protesting and helping with fundraising, but when I saw the opportunity to go in person to help, I wanted to take it”. In his view, actually being in Armenia, connecting with the people, and doing something himself was a very rare and rewarding opportunity. For Hayk, the highlight of his experience was volunteering with children who had fled from Artsakh after the war. “It really caught me off guard, I wasn’t expecting that they would like us so much,” he reflected. “They recognized that we came for them, that we knew about them, they’re not forgotten and that we want to help them.” Beyond volunteering, he and the other volunteers had the ability to meet with one another, creating cross national connections.
Duzian fondly describes the joy in seeing generations of young adults not only participating, but networking and keeping those ties after their time volunteering. And that is a crucial component of the program, for youth to make connections with one another and local Armenians. Though other initiatives provide similar opportunities for diasporans to be in Armenia, DAP distinguishes itself on staying away from touristic activities and provides more substance to visiting the country. “It’s a different way to see Armenia and it’s a bonding experience,” Duzian emphasized. In some cases even, the Discover Armenia Program has turned out to be the original meeting place of couples who later on got married.
After participating, volunteers take on several different paths, and oftentimes their younger siblings and friends follow in their footsteps. Many express their desire to return and invest in Armenia again as volunteers, partaking in more programs such as AGBU’s Armenians Come Together (ACT) program, the AGBU’s Global Leadership Program (GLP), and eventually Birthright Armenia once they become eligible. Participants upon returning home are often active members of AGBU chapters in their own countries, but carry with them a renewed energy and passion toward Armenia and the global Armenian community. In Hayk’s words, “It was an experience I can never forget and the change I was able to make is something I will always remember. I definitely want to go back in the future.”
This upcoming summer the AGBU Discover Armenia Program will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, and for young adults interested in learning more and applying the details are on the AGBU’s website at https://agbu.org/discover-armenia .