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Christian Millian

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Armenia Tree Project
65 Main Street
Watertown, MA 02472 USA
Tel: (866) 965-TREE (toll-free)

August 11, 2005

Diasporan Students Work in Armenia With ATP Summer Volunteer Program

WATERTOWN, MA--This summer, two university students traveled to Armenia to work as volunteers in the only environmental organization operating in the country with a broad-based diasporan support network.

The two, Christian Millian of Maine and Anais Kadian of Ontario, were selected as participants in the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) Summer Volunteer Program, which was organized in close cooperation with the Birthright Armenia program.

Soon after arriving in Armenia, the coalition of organizations and individuals opposing the construction of a road through the Shikahogh Nature Reserve was becoming very active, and the volunteers accompanied ATP staff to a forum on the issue at the UNDP office in Yerevan. In support of the grassroots effort in Armenia, the ATP office in Watertown initiated an action alert that resulted in over 700 people sending letters to President Robert Kocharian expressing their opposition to the proposed route.

Later in the month, Christian and Anais were able to attend the public forum at American University of Armenia, where the Minister of Transportation announced that the government decided upon an alternative route for the roadway, and a number of local experts discussed the reserve and related environmental issues in Armenia.

As the program became more hands-on, Christian and Anais assisted workers at the ATP nursery in the village of Karin with an inventory of available trees, extracting weeds, shaping irrigation channels, and sorting out cedar cuttings, but both truly enjoyed the experience. `I got to taste the most delicious mulberries,' exclaimed Anais when she recounted the day's work.

A gardener himself, Christian was very interested in the irrigation system used at the nursery. `I hope to implement it in my own garden when I return home,' he declared. `I was amazed how the workers, in the absence of pre-made materials, devised their own methods of building a greenhouse.'

Christian and Anais also assisted the teams of workers hired by ATP to perform coppicing at the Botanical Garden site in Yerevan. The two used hand-made acacia branch brooms to help clear the area of leaves and branches, and were treated to a tour of the Academy of Sciences greenhouse followed by a picnic lunch with the workers.

Because the ATP and Birthright programs strongly encourage homestays with Armenian families, the volunteers were able to improve their Armenian language skills and develop personal relationships with local people. These experiences were also cultivated when Christian and Anais accompanied ATP workers as they traveled to various planting sites throughout the country to monitor the health of the trees, ensure that they are being properly watered, and calculate amounts of fruit production.

The two traveled on monitoring excursions to ATP planting sites including Khor Virap Monastery, Armavir Zoo, Sardarapat Monument, and Nor Kharpert Children's Home. `The orchards at the children's home were absolutely gorgeous, and the trees at Khor Virap were extremely healthy and well cared for,' recounted Christian after the visits. `Khor Virap was beautiful and it was wonderful to see the trees greening such a sacred place.'

One of the highlights of the program for the volunteers was the extended visit to the remote Getik River Valley, where ATP has established backyard tree nursery micro-enterprises in Aygut Village and neighboring villages. During the trip, Christian and Anais were able to meet a number of the nursery owners, who are growing tree seedlings in their own backyard nursery plots. The seedlings will be purchased by ATP for planting into the adjacent forests, providing a source of income for the villagers and restoring the forests in the valley.

For one week, Christian had the opportunity to travel to Ijevan Town, where he assisted US Peace Corps volunteers who were field-testing ATP's new environmental education curriculum at an Eco-Camp for local children of ages 11-15. `ATP agronomist Genik Movsisyan showed the children a seed and they had to guess which tree it came from. Most of the time, they were very accurate, which was encouraging,' emphasized Christian.

Christian worked with the Peace Corps volunteers on environmental education lessons that included games and skits about resource management, discussions about conserving electricity and water, and cutting down on trash and other waste.

`Our skit featured an apple tree, a butterfly, a cow, a bird, and a small boy that all become sick from the pollution. Finally, at the end of the skit, a factory owner is convinced by a little girl that he should clean up the trash and pollution,' explained Christian. `When these skits were presented to the parents of the children, many of the parents got tears in their eyes and were so proud. It was evident that the children were educating the older members of the community about the environment.'

`The work dynamic at ATP is one of the things I enjoyed very much during my internship. I would like to thank all the people who have taken me along with them in their daily work, and who made me a part of what ATP is contributing to Armenia,' stated Anais. `I was curious to see how an NGO in Armenia truly works. In school we studied NGOs, but here I was able to experience first hand what it means to be a part of an NGO in a developing country. Seeing the logistics of this entire operation, its communication with the office in the US, and the concrete difference it makes in people's lives was very exciting.'

PHOTO CAPTION: (L to R) Summer volunteers Anais Kadian of Ontario and Christian Millian of Maine at the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) nursery in the village of Karin with nursery worker Grigory Kolayan