This year, for some of Armenia's most vulnerable children, summer camp is back.
For the past several weeks, about 200 children who are supported by many of FAR’s projects, including CASP recipients, Syrian-Armenians from vulnerable families, and the children of Artsakh’s fallen heroes, have been spending their summer vacation at Aragats Summer Camp in the scenic Kotayk Region.
FAR has been giving the neediest children of Armenia, Javakh and Artsakh the gift of a memorable, carefree childhood experience through summer camp for nearly 20 years. And while last year it had to be put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer staff and children are following all necessary precautionary and safety measures, including regular testing to make this experience possible.
The Aragats camp program, which is full of interesting cultural and physical activities for children and teenagers, also encourages the children to practice leadership, get out of their comfort zones, make decisions, and handle consequences. Many of these experiences stay with them for the rest of their lives.
“Many of the Syrian kids were shy at first to talk, but now we have built solid connections and they dance and sing with everyone,” said Armenuhi Sargsyan, 19, a FAR Mathevosian Scholarship Student who volunteered to be a camp counselor this summer along with six other FAR scholarship students. “It was also hard to build a relationship with the children of the Artsakh's fallen soldiers. They would sit apart and often cry when we asked them to dance or sing. But soon we started to talk to them to understand the reason behind their sadness. As a future teacher, I realize that these children are stronger than us, and I have much more to learn from them. I’m very proud of my group.”
Having come from difficult childhoods themselves and finding the support they needed from FAR, Armenuhi and the other six young ladies are now anchors in the chaotic and disruptive lives of many of the children at the camp.
For 10-year-old Hovhannes Avetisyan from Gyumri, a CASP recipient, he found the strict no screens and low-tech policies of the camp tough at first, but then quickly found it beneficial and has since forged two close friendships with other Gyumri boys, Narek and Armenak.
“We play football, volleyball, chess, intellectual games; we participate in sport competitions. We visit cultural spots, and learn national songs that we didn’t know. It’s very cool here,” Hovhannes said as he put his arms around his two friends. “I would love to be back here next year.”
The amazing gift of summer camp is made possible to FAR year after year thanks to kindness, care and generosity of the SJS Foundation.