Story and Photos by Amy Williams | Peace Corps Volunteer | Heifer Armenia
The Tsakhkadzor meeting hall was buzzing with excited youth wearing yellow T-shirts and red baseball caps. Final preparations were being made by 220 youth and adult mentors as 30 YES! Youth Clubs, established by Heifer Armenia and partner Development Principles NGO, convened at the 10th Youth Parliament General Assembly to present their activities on April 26-27, 2013.
Each group had only a few minutes to describe the projects they carried out in the past year. The audience clapped along to familiar songs with new lyrics, which participants wrote to tell about their activities. Some groups used poetry. A group from Lernagog even brought a handmade model to present their achievements around the placement of street lighting in their community.
YES! Youth Clubs are based on the U.S. 4-H model and teach 10- to 16-year-olds practical skills in seven areas: business education, ecology, agriculture, health education, civic education, logic/analytical thinking and journalism. Heifer International provides the curriculum and the community provides one adult mentor for each area the local club chooses, as well as an adult leader for the entire club. The mentors also participate in Heifer-led trainings.
This year's focus was cooperation with local governance bodies, and the youth learned about civic participation and responsibility. Many of the groups met their mayors, presented their concerns and offered to help solve their communities' problems.
The Meghvik club from Gyumri raised issues regarding garbage collection and the mayor agreed to install bins to collect plastic for recycling. They enlisted school children to distribute posters about the "Clean City" project. They also got a donor from Gyumri to provide shopping bags made of a reusable, environmentally friendly material and asked stores in the village of Akhuryan to use them instead of the usual plastic bags. Meri Nzhdryan, one club participant, said, "We learned about the environment, so now we must take care of it."
Trash cleanups, tree plantings, installation of garbage cans, collecting money for food and clothes for senior citizens, water accessibility, soccer field improvements and street repairs were some of the projects these clubs were able to complete in cooperation with their local governments. In addition, YES! Youth Club journalism students participated as observers in Armenia's recent presidential election.
"Together the youth have a voice," said Seda Galstyan, an expert on civic education from Development Principles NGO. "They have a knowledge base to ask questions about their community."
Vardouhi Torosyan, 13, participates in the Nalbandyan club. She received 40,000 Armenian drams, or about $100, to start her now profitable jewelry-making business. She has passed on the seed money to another club member so that he can also start a business. The clubs use Heifer's Passing on the Gift® (POG) model to help others.
Aram Manukyan, 13, from the Nurnus club, eagerly shared the success of the agricultural component of their group, "We received a calf we could raise and when it had its first calf, that was passed on to another family. By now eight calves have been born from the first one we received."
Adult mentor, Arevik Margaryan of the Getap club, said her youth have started a pastry business, "I am proud that the children have an idea and can carry out a business. I love to see it. At first I thought they could not do it, but I was convinced that they can."