Change Starts with You!

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By Armenuhi Nikoghosyan, AEN Project Manager

In high school our teachers often asked us to compose an essay with the title of “What I would do if I were a millionaire”, and I always wrote the same thing – I would renovate the Hrazdan community park, the park that hosted me, and many others, almost every day in my childhood. I can’t count how many times I have imagined how it would look if I were a millionaire… Now, this vision is becoming reality through my work with AEN.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the park was an active place for recreation and relaxation. Children, adults, and seniors frequently visited the park for community events, such as concerts and winter games, all of which boosted the level of quality of life in the city. I often hurt my legs and elbows while running wildly throughout the park, trying to find woodpeckers by following their drumming sounds. There was even a radio speaker that announced the main events over the park and beyond. As I grew up and the park underwent changes, I lost the picture of this wonderland …

 The state of Hrazdan Park prior to cleanup efforts.

The state of Hrazdan Park prior to cleanup efforts.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the park was abandoned. From 1991-1996, a considerable number of trees were cut in Hrazdan Park for heating homes because of the energy crisis. No trees have been replanted in the park, and even the children’s carousel has been stolen. The flowers faded away, and the radio went silent.

Now, there are very few people visiting the park, and those who do can be categorised into four groups. The first group represents those people who live adjacent to the park; they use the park as a short cut from one district to the other. The second group of visitors are children, though in very small numbers. Children have no social or creative outlets in Hrazdan and, consequently, parents often have no choice but to take their children to the capital city of Yerevan for community-oriented events and entertainment. Since most families cannot afford such trips, some children come to the park to at least play football (there is an asphalt space in the park and children use it as a football field). The third group is generally elderly people who come to the park to reminisce about the old days when, at least, there were benches, but now … there is not a single bench for people to sit down and rest. And lastly, the fourth group of visitors are groups of males who come to the park to settle some quarrels. Such kind of “gang violence” happens frequently and discourages people from entering the park, especially after 6 pm.

Unfortunately, now the park has become a neglected place. And the first thing that you come across is the trash all over the park. The park is often used as a dumping ground for many locals for their household waste, and the park is littered with plastic bottles, plastic bags, and other rubbish. Like all cities in Armenia, Hrazdan residents are unaware of the environmental and public health hazards of improperly disposed waste, as well as methods of proper disposal. There is no public sense of ownership over the park as there once was, which reflects the sense of overall community detachment.

Though I haven’t become a millionaire, I have great supporters and my dream to see the revival of Hrazdan Park is about to come true! AEN recently launched its new project, “Green Hrazdan” that will help revive the park. We are starting a public awareness campaign on waste management that will involve local schools, and community members, as well as the Municipality of Hrazdan. AEN will train 10 coordinators from 10 different schools in Hrazdan in order to spread the culture of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling by establishing green thinking among local people. Information leaflets will be distributed by AEN in Hrazdan. A number of cleanups will be organized in the park involving volunteers and community members, and signs will be put up in the park calling for people to not pollute but protect the park. To start, AEN and its partners and supporters in Hrazdan have already carried out a cleanup and begun the construction of the playground in the park with a Birthright Alumni Next Step grant, granted to AEN Armenia Office Director Armine Sargsyan. With all of these efforts we hope to revive the park to its former glory as a place for recreation and relaxation for everyone in the community.

I’m thrilled to be a part of AEN’s team as AEN strives to bring positive change to the Armenian reality. Remember: Change starts with you. Start acting!

 An abandoned building in Hrazdan Park before and after AEN staff and volunteers cleaned up the area

An abandoned building in Hrazdan Park before and after AEN staff and volunteers cleaned up the area

AEN