History of Peace Corps in Armenia

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The Peace Corps program in Armenia began in 1992. During the first years, conditions were very difficult, with no electricity or heat. The country was reeling from the aftermath of the devastating 1988 earthquake, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave. Since then, more than 500 Volunteers have served in Armenia.

Today, conditions have significantly improved. There is electricity throughout the country. Yerevan, the capital, is an increasingly modern city with a European atmosphere. More restaurants, cafes, jazz clubs, and Internet cafés have opened in and around the city; and new hotels and restaurants are being built near Lake Sevan, Gyumri, and other regional cities. Still, rural poverty is pervasive, and the loss of hope among some Armenians forces many to emigrate to other countries.

After years of Soviet rule, Peace Corps Volunteers were the first Americans many Armenians had ever met. Living with the people in their communities, Volunteers have brought hope of a better future, and many have formed lifelong friendships with Armenian counterparts, friends, and neighbors.

There are now approximately 85 Volunteers serving in villages and towns throughout the country. Peace Corps is well-established in Armenia and has a strong reputation for effective grass-roots development work.

History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Armenia

Peace Corps/Armenia has four projects: teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), community and business development (CBD), environmental education, and community health education (CHE). Our objective is not to teach Armenians “American” values, but to help them help themselves within their own cultural framework.

Volunteers in the TEFL project have been teaching English at village and town secondary schools, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning since 1992. In 1999, a teacher-training component was added. Teacher-trainer Volunteers also work at teacher-training institutes and methodology centers.

CBD Volunteers work with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), educational institutions, and business support centers to build capacity for effective participation in the emerging market economy. Almost all Volunteers in this project support at least one local NGO in capacity-building. They also help implement projects in environmental protection, youth development, education, career development, women in development, and computer and English training. Several Volunteers are carrying out small-scale projects in community development, such as Boys Reaching Out (BRO) camps, sports tournaments for students, and tourism development.

The CHE project aims to increase preventive health measures at the community level and raise awareness of public health issues. Volunteers in this project are placed in clinics, educational institutions (e.g., schools and medical colleges), and health NGOs. They work with partners to teach health classes, conduct health workshops, develop grant proposals for health improvement projects, conduct informal health education sessions with community residents, organize environmental health awareness hikes and camps, develop health curriculum guides and materials, and translate and adapt health education materials for the Armenian context. Community health education Volunteers encourage people to understand the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and to make good health a priority.

Peace Corps/Armenia started the environmental education project in 2003. Volunteer work includes capacity-building for environment-related NGOs; working with conservation areas and reservations to develop strategies to minimize the impact of human traffic and assisting with wildlife management through data collection and monitoring; ecotourism (e.g., merging ecological concerns with tourism to develop programs with a low impact on the environment); and incorporating environmental education topics into the English and health curriculum and into regular teaching assignments.

In addition to project-specific activities, Volunteers collaborate with each other and community members in other sectors. Volunteers integrate cross-sector initiatives such as HIV/AIDS awareness, gender and development, information technology, youth development, and civic education into their activities. They work to increase understanding of gender roles and to encourage the active participation of both men and women in their communities. Volunteers help Armenian communities gain access to, and make effective use of, information technologies and reach out to empower Armenian girls and boys through education, community involvement, and exposure to new ideas and approaches to proactively manage their quality of life.

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