Raffi Wartanian

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Prelude to a Symphony of Change By Raffi Wartanian "The Armenian Weekly", Volume 73, No. 32, August 11, 2007

"And this continent is Africa." I drew Sudan and circled the Darfur region. The chalkboard wobbled. The nails supporting its corners shook as I carved the chalk into its worn and crumbling surface. The wood under my feet came loose again, and I kicked it back into place. "Can anyone name this country or region?"

Their baffled stares startled me. How could they not know? This is Armenia! The acts perpetrated by the Janjaweed mirror the unspeakable crime which has become a hallmark of our history. I explain the situation in Sudan. They stare with disbelief.

Perhaps I was naive to believe my village students would know of such things. But I don't doubt their intelligence for a second. Perhaps I was naive to believe my village students are getting what they deserve. How can I expect them to know about things as grand as international politics when their school lacks the most fundamental necessities-a playground, gym, unbroken windows, a floor that doesn't come loose when you step on it, a bathroom you can walk into without covering your nose, a road you can walk down without falling into a pot hole, a library, seats without splinters, internet access. The list goes on. Knowledge of the world is a luxury afforded to the fortunate few. My village students deserve better, not because they are my students, not because they are Armenians, but because they are humans.

Unfortunately, the distribution of wealth among individuals and nations is designed to make the strong stronger and the weak weaker. A few empty gestures can lead us to believe that the strong and powerful do enough to help those in need. Why can't these villagers have internet access? Why must they sit on splintered seats? Where is their library?

It is up to us, the fortunate few who have seen the strongs and the weaks of the world, to open our eyes. As Armenians, we can work to solve a global crisis by focusing locally on our nation. Interning through the AYF and facilitating the resources of Birthright Armenia have taught me so much. I can make a difference. I can step into a village classroom and expose my students to an array of information they don't have access to, not because they're unintelligent, but because they have been neglected by policy and poverty.

I have seen my people with my own eyes. I used to roll my eyes in Armenian school, bored to tears by something so distant and irrelevant to my American lifestyle. Now I'm here in Armenia and I role my eyes at how ignorant I once was. What an amazing nation. What a history. Our ancient monasteries, our gorgeous Ararat, our lasting people.

I care about my village students and I want them to receive the minimum in adequate resources. Sitting in Armenian school, I never could have imagined who my people were, what they looked like, or what they sounded like. Now I know.

I hope my summer in Armenia is just a prelude to a symphony of change. Armenia's republic is young, its economy expanding. The opportunities here abound, not just to put money in your pocket but to improve the conditions of our fellow people throughout the country and other areas where Armenians have once populated. I want to be a tuba in a sea of instruments, playing together, a tune for a better Armenia.

Raffi Wartanian, an AYF member, is a student at Johns Hopkins University currently interning in Armenia. He wrote this article for the Armenian Weekly.