Tuesday, December 27, 2005

August 2005

This past August of 2005 I had a life changing experience. I went to Armenia with a French Armenian organisation called DAC (Diasporan Armenian Connection) and it was all sort of last minute as I had been itching to go there for quite a while but hadn't planned anything. It was hard work but it was extremely rewarding.

Working with children who don’t have a lot is so incredibly satisfying. Most of them had no more than 3 outfits and one pair of shoes – often too big for their feet as they had been inherited by an older sibling or relative. I recall one child actually owned a pair of sunglasses which he wore ever so proudly. They have no television, no radios or access to music in their curriculum, and no coloured pencils, papers, markers, crayons in their schools. They are working on dilapidated desks, sitting on dilapidated chairs on dilapidated floors and despite all this they don’t have want in their hearts. Never in my 10 days with them did one of them cry and say they want this or that or that they refuse to listen to me. They were so polite and well behaved and best of all they were real children as you would hope children would be - innocent, respectful, and a great awe for new things and learning. They did not behave like adults in little peoples bodies like most of the children around us are today. They had managed to maintain the sweetness of childhood that is so hard to find in our environment nowadays. They were even unaware of the concept of beauty. No one was favoured or even aware of their looks even though some of the children were stunning. No one was bullied, no one was neglected and they looked after each other like they were one big family. It was absolutely amazing. Every morning they walked up to the school with bunches of fresh flowers they had picked for us (the teachers) from their gardens and they handed them to us before the day began. I have never seen so much goodness.

The village I was in was very remote – up in the mountains and most of the men were land workers – dealing with farming, timber, and hay. These men are still using axes only to chop their wood and scythes to cut down entire fields. The women grow vegetables and fruits and often go to the bigger cities in hope of selling their goods. It is an unbelievably simple lifestyle.

Anyway, I didn’t want to come back. I fell in love with the way of life. We woke up in the morning to cocks crowing and in a span of 20 minutes we would see pigs, cows, donkeys, sheep, and turkeys. One group of animals would meander down the field and out would come another. As for the people, though they had almost nothing they wanted to give everything they had to us. They presented us with their best home brew, local honey, chocolates, meat so we could have kebabs, cheeses – whatever they had that they could give us. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.

I was working in "animation" which involved teaching the kids arts & crafts, music/song, theatre, and dance. We worked with them from 9 until 5 with a two hour break in between and then often had meetings and prepared for the next day most of the evening. We also had duties like washing dishes and getting water as there where 17 of us staying in the school.

I have decided that between now and the Spring of 2006 I am going to get back into that which I know and love most and that is my music. I have started to compose in Armenian for the first time and am hoping to return to Armenia in early April to collaborate with Armenian musicians and record a CD that will be dedicated to the village of Martz. I have managed to write 8 original songs thus far and amazingly it all seems to be flowing after I had a creative dry spell for almost 4 years. It is of a standard I am excited about as well and the general feedback has been extremely positive. I am really looking forward to getting back into the studio.

The hope is that the proceeds from concerts and whatever CD sales and possibly photo sales will aid in raising enough money to go back and help the village and other villages like it. I hope to return to Martz in the time that I will be spending in Yerevan (approximately 3 months) so I can go see the children and see what some of the priorities are as far as helping them out.

For instance, the school floor desperately needs to be replaced – it has laminate that is torn up so sharply in places it is dangerous (see photos). I will be collaborating with Yerkir (see http://www.yerkir.org/) this year who will be involved with helping to replace the school floor by depending on the aid of the school I currently work with in Leeds, England and perhaps any other donations that may come in until the summer of 2006. The electricity of the village desperately needs rewiring – they had live wires in the kindergarten sticking out of the walls, the water is in desperate need of fluoride as is the introduction of a dental hygienist. Some children as young as four have rotting black teeth but even though we introduced toothbrushes and toothpaste a lot of them were reluctant to brush because of bleeding. They were not made aware of the consequences of brushing after neglecting their teeth for years – there’s a lot to be done and this is only one village. There is a joiner in this village, but there is a need for a plane saw so as to take the raw timber and prep it so that desks and tables can be made. It is possible to purchase new tables and desks in Armenia for £25.00 a unit but the idea is to give the local villagers the work and pay them for their skill. We will need a water technician, a dental hygienist, a farming specialist, timber specialist and a few carpenters/construction people and anyone skilled in electricity/wiring.

This project has given me a great appetite for helping the children of Armenia. It all seems so much more meaningful when you are helping the less fortunate. Things like big houses and nice cars seem so trivial. It really puts things in perspective about how material things can be so unfulfilling compared to the genuine smile and gratitude of a child or a poor villager. One child insisted that I take her one valuable possession – a gold cross so that I would remember her. As you can imagine I blatantly refused – but it shows their mentality – their gratefulness to the work that we do for them there. Our involvement and help means so much to them. They feel that they are not forgotten.

After returning from Armenia I put my interior design career on the back burner and have started working for a primary school so as to gather more experience with children as well as to learn the supplies used in modern day school buildings. I hope any knowledge that I gain will be helpful in creating a safer and healthier environment for the children of Armenia. Every bit of advice, knowledge, and financial backing will find its way there. Through collaboration with Yerkir and personally being involved with the running and seeing through of these projects, I am sure of it.

God willing this project will be a success.