EVS in Armenia (European Voluntary Service)

From June - November 2005 two Dutch EVS volunteers have been working in the 'BEM' Youth Progressive Action Center in Yerevan, Armenia. A report by our volunteers Marieke and Sanne:

Why not Armenia?

‘Why did you choose to come to Armenia?’, is a question we hear at least once a week. We usually say that ‘we didn’t choose Armenia, but Armenia chose us’. Six months ago we were both looking for an adventure abroad. We wanted to experience another culture by living and working in one place for several months. Then we saw the vacancy for two EVS-volunteers for BEM Youth Progressive Action Center. As it happened they looked for two Dutch people under the age of 26 that had time and interest to work abroad for six months in an NGO working with youth, civil society and independent media. There we were: both Dutch, 25 years young and wanting to work abroad in the field that BEM represented.

Then we saw Armenia? ‘Romania’, people would say. –‘No, no, ARmenia’. ‘Ah, where is that?’ Before applying we more or less knew where Armenia was, and also the Armenian Genocide rang a bell. But overall we didn’t know much about Armenia, and despite all the stories Falkor told us, we did not really have a clear image of the country where we would eventually go to. But we did want adventure, didn’t we?

The first week we experienced a big culture shock. Soviet looking but chaotic Yerevan surrounded by mountains, and high tempered Armenians speaking an impossible language, is obviously quite different from the flat, organized, familiar Netherlands. BEM volunteers took us on an on-arrival training and showed us Yerevan, Armenian culture, how to use marshrutkas (small mini-vans used as public transport), and… how to cross the road. It might sound funny, that you have to learn to cross the road at the age of 25, but definitely a necessity in Yerevan. Cars, marshrutkas and the lot are passing you in a high speed, ignoring traffic lights and avoiding the holes in the road. It needs some practice, believe us!

After the on-arrival training Vahagn (BEM’s project director) introduced us to some partner NGOs. We participated in meetings at other NGOs, in a summer school on leadership, and in other seminars; we visited press-conferences about environmental issues, the constitution, and more. This was a very good way to get to know the insides of Armenia. We got to listen to different views on various Armenian issues, and got the chance to debate with other Armenians, also discussing about Armenian youth and the role of BEM. We got to know a lot of people: Armenian youth, journalists, people working in the field of civil society, environment and human rights. And everybody is showing a lot of interest in youth and BEM’s plans.

We work in several BEM-projects. Sanne went with BEM to Ecotopia in Moldova and is now doing research on youth in Armenia, and organizing 'Loesje' workshops (creative poster making and sticking, see www.loesje.org). Also she is figuring out how the connections with Turkey can be improved within youth organizations and - projects. Marieke is working on the BEM-website and is making some improvements (www.bem.am). She is also developing the independent media tool and doing promotion for that as well.

Last but not least, we started the challenge of learning Russian which is a lot of fun. The first lesson Anna, our teacher, would talk a lot in Russian and we would not understand any of it. Four months later, she still talks a lot, but fortunately we understand more day by day!

BEM really feels like home (also because it is our home ;-)). The BEM-volunteers and other Armenians are very kind, fun and inspiring. An experience not to forget so we are more than happy that Armenia chose us!

Marieke Kitzen and Sanne de Kieviet.

see also the pictures!


BEM Youth Progressive Action Center is building an active movement to foster the growth of civil society and effect positive change in human rights, ecology and the social situation in Armenia, particularly among the youth. The BEM YPAC centre brings together young people, NGOs and anyone interested in independent media, civil society, art, photography, films, and activism. We stimulate young people to participate in our activities and programs by providing a space to come together and enjoy music, concerts, documentary and film-watching and making, and photography, while at the same time providing an outlet for artistic and journalistic impulses, as well as the training and facilities to realize those impulses.

see also www.bem.am

BEM is an initiative of Falkor I.C.Y.

Thanks to Pluspunt Individu for the financial support of the volunteer's activities in BEM (http://www.pluspuntindividu.nl)

Disclaimer: The information published on this website does not necessarily represent the opinion of Falkor I.C.Y.

Stichting Falkor I.C.Y., P.O. Box 1649, 9701 BP Groningen, Netherlands, info@falkor.org