Ella Baroyan had visited Armenia briefly in 1998, but a few years later one of her friends approached her with the idea of volunteering at a summer camp held at the Shushi Music School, in one of the ancient cities of Nagorno-Karabagh. As Ella stepped off the bus in Shushi, she was surrounded by children. The American counselors’ arrival was a big deal in town and most neighborhood children -campers or not - seemed to know they were coming. Tugging at her shorts and grabbing her hands, most of them wanted pieces of dzamoon (chewing gum). At first this was a somewhat saddening experience, but it helped Ella to understand the situation she was facing in Shushi.
Over the course of the summer, Ella warmed up to Shushi and had a great time teaching campers dancing lessons. Her bedroom was a sleeping bag laid out on a gymnasium floor. However, in Shushi Ella learned that you should take nothing for granted – the sleeping bag was soft, after all!! Aside from the typical camp activities like sports, music, and arts & crafts, these campers also received life lessons from their counselors (like how to brush your teeth!)
So why did Ella want to go to Armenia in the first place? Two reasons: 1) She felt something inside of her telling her that the visit would help her understand what it was to be “Armenian.” 2) She felt connected, and she wanted to help. Volunteering at the Shushi Music School Camp during its pilot year gave Ella a chance to make a difference in the community. By the time Ella left Shushi, she had fallen in love with the place, and made a few friends on the way.