LEARNING ABOUT HERITAGE, HISTORY AND OUR STRUGGLE THROUGH THE AYFBy: Sarine Gulerian | Posted on: 22.02.2013
An almost horrifying amount of cherry-coloured blood was pouring out of little Albert Martirosian’s nose as he calmly lay on a table in the main hall of Camp Byng. It was as if someone left the faucet running in his sinus. Apparently, he’s prone to nose bleeds. His shirt, his pillow and the floor were glowing crimson red. Hagop, a St. John’s ambulance first responder, was attempting to dam the flood as best he could when, all of a sudden, an idea struck me. I had something that first-aid training probably overlooked. I tip-toed down the dark hallway carefully, not to wake up any of the girls. I could only imagine the exaggerated screams and ‘ew’-s that would follow if they saw poor Albert. Climbing on to my top bunk, I carefully unzipped my bag and found it. I picked a dark blue package—a manly colour, which wouldn’t raise any suspicions. I walked back into the dining hall, cut the cotton in half and snipped off the string at the end to disguise what it really was: a feminine product which is known to repulse all men. “Albert, can you put these in your nose?”, I said handing him the two pieces. “Uh-huh!” he grunted. Thankfully, to ten-year old Albert it was nothing more than a Band-Aid but Hagop smirked at me.
I looked around at Ani, Tamar and Sevan cleaning the floor, Haig attempting to make Albert laugh and Hagop digging through his first aid case. It may have been a tiny insignificant moment for the rest of them but for me that was the moment I realized it. Vancouver’s Armenian Youth Federation had been revived. It was back from the dead and we had just successfully managed our first semi-medical emergency.
I would never have imagined myself here; a part of an amazing team attempting to make a difference. In eleven months, I went from being a stranger in my own community to an executive member of the AYF, an organization I didn’t even know existed just two years ago. Vancouver fosters vibrant, creative and intelligent youth who, just like every other Armenian, are all searching for their cultural identity. And in just under a year, we had created an Armenian support system which we could all identify with.
I’ll admit to losing a sense of culture, especially in my teens, when I wanted to blend in and water down my differences. My Armenian friends lived far away and from the ages of twelve to sixteen, we rarely saw each other. None of us drove and being children of Armenian mothers meant we weren’t allowed to use public transit. We sometimes saw each other at the far and few big church services, but most of the time we were forced to make our rounds from one “nene” to the next. It was a miracle if we could escape the surprising strength and cheek pinches long enough to catch up. And now, as young adults, we were working tirelessly to create an opportunity for the Armenian youth to get together at least once a month, something we never had.
When referring to we, I mean the executive team; Hagop Agopian, Ani Elgudzhyan, Sevan Agopian and me. Each of us brings something to the group. All of us have a different role to play. Hagop is our fearless leader. He’s the responsible one, our connection to the Vancouver ARF and, of course, our first-aid responder, both literally and metaphorically. No one is more dedicated to this than Hagop. Ani is the brains of this operation. Although she’s younger than me, I often look up to her and her amazing ability to make magic happen. If we have a problem, she has the solution. Sevan, our social media manager, knows this community inside and out. Anything we need, she’s there. She’s also the creative driving force who designs all our eye-catching event posters. While we played games at camp, she crammed for exams – any other city girl would have just stayed at home. Sometimes we joke—since I’m four-foot-nine—that I am the muscle. If there is an issue at an event or we’re faced with a problematic kid, I step in as the wicked witch of the west and end the conflict. Like four pillars holding together the foundations of a building, we support each other. If one of us wasn’t there then the rest would surely crumble. Thankfully, we also have a lot of support from the youth volunteers, like Haig Basmadjian, Tamar Simon and “big” Albert Simon, who come out to participate and help out at our events.
My exercise regime consists of walking to, and from, my car. Pretending to be enthusiastic about a workout at nine in the morning in a moist and dewy forest, which is infamous for its bear sightings, just to motivate kids who probably want to punch me in the face taught me something: having a positive impact on someone, even at your own sacrifice, is more satisfying than the secret Tim Horton’s iced-caps that Sevan and I reward ourselves with when we humbly volunteer to pick up groceries during camp.
Through the AYF, I have learned about my heritage, my history and our struggle. But I have also learned that I am amazing at hide-and-seek as well as laser tag. I can’t bowl to save my life, and running up and down a hill while snow tubing may seem like hours of endless fun, but the punishment comes the next day when your thighs catch fire every time you run up and down a flight of stairs.
Sitting at a Starbucks planning this year’s camp while reflecting on the last year and a half, Hagop admitted, “Out of all the leadership conferences I’ve been to, nothing prepared me for this.” And he is right, nothing could have prepared us for how rewarding, hectic, stressful and joyful this project has been.