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‘’What I liked most is the genuine care we received at the camp’’

This August around 80 children displaced from Syria spent one week of their summer holidays in ‘’Gugarq Camp’’ located in Lori Marz. A new environment, cheerful atmosphere, games, contests, cultural  activities, excursions, hiking, new friends… thanks to UNHCR in Armenia the displaced Syrian children were granted the opportunity to feel themselves as real campers. 

 

UNHCR supported this camp project to help displaced Syrian children enjoy their summer holidays in a new atmosphere, make friendships, learn about Armenian culture and traditions, hence, hence, to promote their  integration in the new society.

 

When talking to Ms. Seyfulina Danielyan, the Director of ‘’Gugarq Camp”, she mentioned that it was the first time that the camp hosted Syrian Armenian children.

“Initially I thought it would be difficult, but then, in fact, on the very first day, I changed my mind. Everyone got used to our camp rules and values quite quickly, and I think that sometime after they will understand the real meaning of our camp slogan: ‘’We are the camp and we are the owners of the camp’’.

 

‘’I was fascinated by the performances of Syrian children, their excellent knowledge the Armenian culture and traditions, traditional songs and poems. Hagob and Njdeh, smart and intelligent boys, they recited Tumanyan’s poems so well, we were so excited… “. Mrs. Danileyan said with admiration.

 

We met the campers during the shift change. Aram Arakelyan, a couch assigned to Syrian children, told us, ‘’I worked with Syrian children below 12 years. We tried to establish a bond between them and local children. We wanted to break the stereotypes that they had…we heard some children say that sometimes they experienced a negative attitude towards them in shops or streets… so we worked both,  the Syrian and local children, and I think that we succeeded to a certain extent. We try to convince the children to look  at things from a different angle’’, – said Aram Arakelyan.

 

This was the first-time camp experience for twelve-year-old Arno and Kevork: “We learnt many interesting things here in the camp, we played football, we made new friends, we also went to Hovhannes Tumanyan museum… it was really exciting to see Tumanyan’s personal belongings, such as, his bed, clothes, photos…’’.

 

 

Thirteen-year-old Arpi moved to Armenia together with her family three years ago. She now goes to school in Yerevan and as she says she does not have any difficulties to speak Eastern Armenian whatsoever.

 

‘’We had a great time here… after morning wake up we were doing physical exercises then having breakfast… the most I liked here is that everyone was very warm and nice to us’’- Arpi says sincerely. To our question what will she first tell to her parents about the camp when she goes back home, Arpi proudly showed to us her ’’Miss Gugarq’’certificate.

 

‘’The camp organised a competition during which we were required to demonstrate combinations of fashion styles according to the themes we were given. There were a number of awards we received, and I was awarded ‘’Miss Gugarq’’ title’’- Arpi noted shyly and happily at the same time.

 

While Arpi, Kevork and other children were saying goodbye to “Gugarq”, the second shift, a group of thirty-eight Syrian children arrived on the bus….all good sensations are ahead of them, including, the warmth that they cherish so much to help them forget the war and hardships.

 

Children’s ‘contagious’ cheer and thrill kept us away from asking them questions about war and displacement.  In fact, we already knew from other Syrian children that they prefer not to talk about the sad times they had gone through. Syrian children that they do not like to talk about war at all…

 

Garabed Arakelian (12 years) came to Armenia a year ago. He said he had the opportunity to spend his holidays at a camp last year, and he is looking forward to benefit from a new, ‘’Gugarq Camp’’, too.

 

‘’I love the nature… I made new friends and I learnt new games at the camp last year….’’ – says Garabed who wants to become an architect: ‘’I attend Guy school in Yerevan, and my favourite subject is geometry. I want to become an architect. My sister is a designer and she helps me a lot. I like designing buildings and houses’’- Garabed says.

 

Tsoler and Garni sat next to each other… they have known each other since Syria  times and they go to school  together here. They both have just arrived in Armenia. Garni came a week ago. “I haven’t been to many places in Armenia, the only place I have been to is the Republic Square… so, this is my first time I am away from Yerevan and I have never been to a camp before.”-says Garni.

When talking to Ms. Anahit Hayrapetyan, External Relations Associate at UNHCR, she mentioned that summer camp projects play a big part in child protection and serve as a best tool for their successful integration.

 

‘’The main objectives of UNHCR are reflected in its operation through various projects and activities accomplished by UNHCR and partners. Promotion of integration of refugee and displaced children is a priority objective. Hence, this summer camp project which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of UNHCR’s government and NGO partners: Ministry of Diaspora and Centre for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues NGO, served as a great opportunity to observe some achievements in that direction. Indeed, ‘’Gugarq’’ Camp gave the Syrian children the warm environment for genuine dialogue, cross-cultural exchange, friendships, leisure and entertainment.’’ – Ms. Hayrapetyan said.

‘’UNHCR has organised summer camp projects before: with its partners, Armenian Red Cross Society and Armenian UN Association. So, we know the benefit of a summer camp for a refugee or displaced child. The idea of in-town or in-village yard camps which has been brought up by the children and parents, is excellent, too, and it’s not difficult to materialise.’’- Ms. Hayrapetyan added.

 

‘’Organisation of a yard camp does not require huge financial resources, and it’s fun. It can gather young volunteers and groups of local and displaced children to open doors for genuine dialogue, enthusiasm, ‘common language’, cross-cultural education, exchange of values and traditions.

 

 

Experience shows that displaced parents want and manage to integrate in a new environment only if their children can integrate. So, when the children are happy at a new school, they befriend local class-mates, play in the yard, exchange books with friends, go to the same camp with the locals, they gradually feel attached to their new home and friends. The wellbeing and psychological stability of the children help their parents to concentrate on their own integration prospects, search for a job, involve in the life of the society, befriend the neighbours and start a normal life.‘’ – said Anahit Hayrapetyan.

 

Lilit Kochinyan

 

 

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