BAREV! From AEN's New Armenia Office Director


by Armine Sargsyan, AEN Armenia Office Director

My arrival to Armenia has been long expected; in fact, it has been planned ever since my move from Armenia in 1992 at the age of eight. Growing up in the States, I felt a sense of distance from Armenia yet I was attuned to all of the developing problems. I remember vividly the impressions made on me when I first visited in 1998. I was not able to get past the sight of trash all around, yet at the same time I loved the sense of community I had built with the neighborhood kids. Hence, it came naturally to me to put that community to work, and I organized a trash pick-up day during my stay. I never thought then that that small act to clean up my neighborhood would one day become a focal point in my life in Armenia. I have been back to Armenia on a few occasions since 1998, each time feeling a stronger pull to make the move. In 2011, I had come as a Birthright volunteer, and through that experience I became familiar with AEN.

Since I landed in Armenia this past August to serve as AEN’s Yerevan Office Director, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work that must be done. Many people I have come across have said to me that I have big shoes to fill, following Kirk Wallace. Someone even said to me that I have jumped in a very fast moving train. But at the same time, I feel that my growth has accelerated as well. Jumping into this new environment and new work, I have learned many things very quickly, and so much more still lies ahead.

One challenge that I am facing that I would like to share is the struggle of being named Armine in Armenia. Allow me to elaborate: my colleague is named Armenuhi, and in almost every partner organization there exists another Armine, one of whom not only has my first name but also my surname. As you can imagine, things tend to get complicated in mass e-mails.

Aside from the name issue, I feel very fortunate to be working for AEN in Armenia, as Kirk has left me to continue important work. Kirk, along with AEN’s partner organizations, designed a project that would address the solid waste issue in Armenia and the project was launched in the region of Berd with funding from the Norwegian Embassy of Moscow. The project is known as the Integrated Waste Management Project (IWMP). We’ve recently launched our second educational project in the Vardenis region, called the Vardenis Environmental Education Initiative, in which we are training teachers to carry out lesson plans dedicated to informing young minds about the dangers of unregulated waste management. This project has given me the opportunity to work directly with people from villages in Armenia, and it has been a very humbling experience.

Lastly, I would like to mention that working with the AEN team has been the most exciting environment I have been part of, since in my past work atmospheres there lacked a sense of community. Although a continent and an ocean divides our Armenian office from our staff in the States, I feel that we are all as close as a family. The everyday energy I get from the staff is encouraging in the challenging work we are doing in Armenia, and for this reason, I am very content as I continue to settle into my new life here.  In addition, I have been very impressed by all the environmental NGOs I have met with, as all of them are doing important work touching on different environmental issues, and I am looking forward to working with such organizations.