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Story by Liana Hayrapetyan | Communications and PR Coordinator | Heifer Armenia
Photos courtesy of Heifer Armenia Staff
Youth are among the most valuable assets that play an indispensable role in shaping the future of any country. For Armenia, a developing country with high levels of emigration, the rural youth and their empowerment have strategic importance for the country’s future. The Armenian rural youth need to be encouraged to live and work on native land and, most importantly, make all possible efforts to see it prosper with its people living in stable social-economic conditions and sustainable development.
For more than a decade, Heifer Armenia and its partner Development Principles NGO have significantly contributed to the development and empowerment of rural youth by establishing and running YES! Youth Clubs in different regions of Armenia. The YES! Youth Clubs provide vocational training and extracurricular education to youth ages 10-17.
The Youth Clubs also provide opportunities to develop creative and innovative thinking and leadership skills, thus empowering youth to become involved in their communities, propose solutions to local problems and, most importantly, become active citizens of Armenia.
The partnership of Heifer Armenia and Development Principles contributes not only to the empowerment of youth club members, but also their alumni, who have already made their first steps into adulthood. It has become a tradition for this successful partnership to have an annual retreat with the rural youth for YES! Youth Clubs’ Alumni Annual Forum.
This year 50 alumni from different youth clubs attended the Annual Forum on February 11. The forum was organized to discuss the salient issues that rural youth face, as well as propose the best possible solutions to those issues.
During the meeting Heifer Armenia Country Director Anahit Ghazanchyan presented new opportunities for the rural youth to be engaged in a regional cooperation project funded by the European Union (EU), Youth Action for Regional Coherence and Cooperation (YARCC), which is expected to increase awareness and appreciation of the youth regarding fundamental values of the EU and the rich cultural diversity in the Black Sea Basin. The project will enhance the ability of the youth to participate in healthy discussions and debates with youth from other regions in the Black Sea Basin. Most importantly, this project, with collaboration by extended networks of YES! Youth Clubs and Youth Centers in the Black Sea Basin, will enhance regional cooperation.
Ghazanchyan also encouraged the rural youth to participate in other projects, such as the youth leadership retreat called "Miracle Corners of the World." Shushan Grigoryan, a Sevan Youth Club alum, gave a presentation at the 2012 leadership retreat, during which she shared her vision for her community’s general well-being and the necessity to establish youth training and leisure centers in order to generate new interest and change the monotonous life of the youth in her native community of Sevan.
To motivate the rural youth to stay, work and create in their native village, Anna Arakelyan, an expert on business education and vice president of Development Principles NGO, proposed rural tourism as a type of business that can stimulate alternative economic development in rural Armenia. Arakelyan stressed the strengths of starting ecotourism and agritourism businesses in rural areas of Armenia, since every single corner of rural Armenia is remarkable for its nature, cultural heritage, sights and traditions. The presentation was followed by myriad questions on rural tourism, proving the strong interest of the youth in this area.
Meeting participants worked on and presented their community vision plans for possible future cooperation in the framework of community development projects implemented by Heifer Armenia and Development Principles NGO in different regions of Armenia.
At the end of the gathering the alumni expressed their gratitude for updates on the new youth projects they may apply for. Many of them shared that they were happy to be members of the strong and efficient network of the YES! Youth Clubs’ Alumni, which is continuously empowered by the efficient partnership of Heifer Armenia and Development Principles NGO.