My Trip to Armenia
By Grace Bottomley
My mom and I visited Armenia from June 20-26. I just turned 13 and this was my first visit. My mom, Jeanmarie Papelian, has been there a few times because she is Chair of the Armenian Children’s Milk Fund and is a Board member of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). This year, I have been helping my mom organize some fundraisers for the new Avedisian High School in Armenia.
Avedisian School Graduation
On June 21, we attended the Avedisian School graduation ceremony at the AMAA Headquarters in Yerevan. The ninth grade graduates put on a play based on a story by Hovaness Toumanyan. Halfway through the play, the eighth grade girls came on stage and performed a beautiful traditional Armenian dance. Toward the end of the graduation, some of the kindergarten students came on stage and wished the ninth graders good luck and farewell.
Then Edward and Pamela Avedisian, my mom and I got up on stage. Mr. and Mrs. Avedisian helped the principal hand out diplomas, while mom and I presented gifts to the graduates. The youth group at the Ararat Armenian Congregational Church that my mom and I attend in Salem, NH put together a gift to give all of the graduates. It contained a “USA” hat and t-shirt, and a card that had a picture of the youth group on the front steps of our church and personal notes written inside. We also gave each student a Grace Kelly CD. Grace Kelly, saxophonist and composer, is our cousin. She has given two concerts to benefit the School, and asked us to give the CDs to the graduates as a gift from her. The students were very thankful. One of the students was so grateful that she gave me the bouquet of flowers that her mother had given her! It was very sweet.
A Visit to the Avedisian School
After the graduation, some of the teachers invited us to go see the “old” school, where kindergarten through ninth grade students attend together. We gladly accepted the invitation. When we got there, I took one look at it and thought wow; I’m so lucky to be in the school I’m in now and to live in America. I understand now why the AMAA and the Avedisians need to build a new school. Compared to my school in Salem, NH, this building is awful.
There were tall, blue gates surrounding the school, but they didn’t look very sturdy. When we walked through the blue gates, we were standing on the paved area where they hold gym class. It’s a horribly paved ground with rocks sticking up everywhere, and five lines that were supposed to resemble a
track. I was on the track team at my school last semester, and I thought of how lucky I am to have a nice, evenly paved track to run on. They can’t really use the small gymnasium inside the building for gym class, because the basketball hoop is dangling off the wall and the kids break the windows whenever they play games involving balls. My school has a big gymnasium, which is very safe and no one has to worry about breaking windows. The drawings of the new Avedisian School show a gym which looks as nice as the gym at my school.
Some of the third grade students ran up behind us and tagged along with us. This class has been learning French, but they all knew how to greet us in English with “Hello, my name is …” When we stepped inside and I looked around, it was like a concrete palace. The floors are concrete, the walls are concrete, and the stairs are concrete. The stairs are also measured unevenly, so if you aren’t watching your step, you could fall and hurt yourself very badly.
We went upstairs to the third grade classroom and all of the kids sat in their seats. My mom asked if they knew any songs that they could sing for us and they said of course they do! The kids sang a song that they had learned in music class, about the tri-color Armenian flag.
As we continued our tour of the school, we looked at the bathrooms. The sink had a bucket underneath it to catch all of the water. I couldn’t believe that people actually use them. I know that I would never use such a bathroom in America. I feel bad that these students have no choice. After our bathroom encounter, we went into the teachers’ lounge, which is extremely small but is shared by all 28 teachers. The lounge connected into an even smaller room which was the Vice Principal’s office. It is about the size of a closet.
We went into the kitchen and cafeteria located downstairs. The cafeteria is also very small for a building where kindergarten through ninth grade students all attend together. Most of the students and teachers don’t eat lunch at school because there is no room to do so. Mr. Avedisian told me that the new school building will have a cafeteria big enough for all of the students to eat lunch. The kitchen is also very small and in need of a lot of updating. The size of the refrigerator was about the same size as the door to get into the kitchen. We also saw the gym teacher’s office, which is also used to store the gym’s class supplies.
As we were touring the school it was nap time for the little ones. We saw the kindergarten class sleeping. It was adorable to see them all lined up in their beds fast asleep, except for one little boy peeking his head out of the bathroom door. The teachers told him to speak to my mom and me in English. He came over to my mom, shook her hand and said, “Hello, how are you?” My mom replied, “I’m fine, how are you?” He said, “Thank you very much.” He was adorable! We asked his name and the teacher said he is Vartan Mamigonian! With such a name, and his ease with languages, this little boy will surely grow up to be an Armenian hero.
A Visit with Maria
After touring the school, we visited the nearby apartment of a nine-year-old student named Maria. Maria lives there with her mother and grandmother. Her brother attends a military boarding school and comes home on weekends. Her father left to find work in Russia, but doesn’t send any money home. The apartment is very small, two rooms and a bathroom. We noticed that the bathtub was full of water. We asked Maria’s grandmother why it was like that and she said the water service is unreliable so the tub is their backup plan.
We sat in the living room to interview Maria. On the other side of the room was a sheer curtain. We asked Maria to show us what was on the other side of the curtain. There was one full size bed and one twin size bed pushed up against the wall. Maria said that she slept with her mother and her grandmother in the full size bed and her brother slept in the twin size bed. The only other room in the apartment was a small kitchen. Maria is a sweet girl who loves attending the Avedisian School. She has many friends and is popular with the teachers. When she was younger, her eyes were crossed. After the Avedisian family saw Maria at her kindergarten graduation, they helped to find a surgeon who corrected her problem.
After we left Maria’s home, we went to the apartment of a ninth grade graduate named Ani. Her apartment is also in the Malatya-Sepastia neighborhood near the Avedisian School. It is a little bit bigger than Maria’s home. We interviewed Ani and her family. Ani’s little brother, Armand, also attends the Avedisian School. We recognized him as one of the little ones who spoke at the graduation ceremony. As he warmed up to us, he became silly, which reminded me of my own little brother. Ani will attend a local high school, and wants to be a lawyer one day. Ani’s family likes the Avedisian School very much. They appreciate all of the teachers’ hard work. Her mother mentioned that the Avedisian School teachers don’t require the students to pay to take “extra” classes to earn high grades, a practice that is common in other schools.
Groundbreaking for new Avedisian School
On June 22, we went to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Avedisian High School. There were lots of families gathered. All of the graduates and some of the younger students were there. One mother gave a speech on behalf of the parents group about how happy she was that her daughters had the opportunity to receive the high quality education the Avedisian School provides. Later, I met her 13 year old daughter who won a Russian language competition and a trip to Moscow.
Mr. Avedisian spoke about how excited he was that the school was being built and he couldn’t wait until September 2014 when it would be completed. After the speeches, the Armenian Education Educational Foundation asked some of the students to put a time capsule into the ground. Then the Avedisians and everyone on the committee took a shovel full of cement and put it into the hole. I got to put a shovel full in too. It was a hot day but a big crowd had gathered. The community is excited to have this school built in its neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Avedisian’s smiles were as bright as the sun!
We had a few more adventures in Armenia before heading home. My mom and I met many families in Yerevan and Gyumri who are assisted by the Armenian Children’s Milk Fund. So many cute babies!
I hope to return to Armenia again. I can’t wait to see what the new Avedisian School looks like! I shared all of my photos with my friend Julia Janjigian who is a member of the youth group at our church. She’s a junior at Pinkerton Academy and likes to make films. Together we are preparing a film about the Avedisian School, which I hope to show at the AMAA Annual Meeting in October.
*Grace Papelian Bottomley attends the Woodbury Middle School in Salem, NH. She is a member of the youth group at the Ararat Armenian Congregational Church in Salem.