Karen Young, from Scotland, is spending a year in Armenia as part of a volunteer exchange programme, the international youth volunteering programme.

Well, yet again I am starting my blog entry by saying that we are very busy here in the Armenian Red Cross Youth Department!  We have been finishing off our campaign to promote awareness about lonely elderly people in Armenia as well as doing school sessions on HIV and setting up a new branch of our Smiley Club for kids in a second dormitory.  I love the fact that we are always busy here – it can be very tiring, but it is good fun and we know that what we are doing is really making a difference to people’s lives.

The HIV programme is fully up and running at the moment – we have been going to schools all across Armenia to give sessions on HIV and also to organise a basketball tournament.  The tournament is part of the “We play against HIV and AIDS” programme – which uses sport as a way to educate people about HIV.  Schools play against each other to generate interest in the cause; afterwards we conduct the peer education session and leave posters and information leaflets in the school gym for the kids to read over the next few weeks.

I have helped out with a few of the matches and sessions now, including going with other members of the team to a school in Gyumri (Armenia’s second city).  It was really interesting to see the difference in the response between Yerevan and Gyumri, which is a very small city and, as a result, somewhere where young people are significantly less well informed about sexual health issues than their peers in Yerevan.  This is something that the Armenian Red Cross are working to change, and the response from both staff and pupils was very positive.

Las week we had a charity dinner as part of our campaign to raise awareness about lonely elderly people, and the results were very positive; especially when you take into consideration the fact that this was the first ever event of its kind for the ARCS, and also not a very common type of event in Armenia.  It was a massive achievement for us – we raised over £800 and, more importantly, passed on our message to some very influential people.

We have also been out collecting money again in the streets of Yerevan, again in support of our grannies and grandpas, and the response has been very encouraging.  Again we received a lot of thanks and encouragement for the good work we do as volunteers, as well as of course raising a bit of cash!

All in all it has been a very active and productive period for us, and it is very nice to have a “quiet” week or so where we are mainly writing reports!  What with all the extra hours we have been putting in for the campaign, and the fact that I spend the best part of my spare time climbing mountains and hiking across the countryside with my fellow volunteers, I am exhausted!  But exhausted in the best possible way – and at the moment I wouldn’t swap my volunteering experience for anything – even a well paid job!

Being a volunteer in Armenia, especially when jobs are so few and far between and financial matters still dominate the headlines, is a welcome reminder that there is so much more to life than money and security, and that we volunteers are “paid” in rich experiences and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Photo: Trygve Utstumo via Flickr

Karen’s time in Armenia is funded through the Youth In Action programme from European Voluntary Service. To find out more, email InternationalYouth@redcross.org.uk