- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 August 15, 2003 

Labor of Love: Land and Culture Organization offers working vacations

The LCO experience is meant to be a working holiday.

Since 1989, the Land and Culture Organization has been uniting willing workers with worthwhile projects, giving Diaspora volunteers a summer of memories in the Motherland.

This summer, LCO divided its program into two missions. Twenty-five volunteers left July 31 after three weeks, and a second group of 29 picked up their work the next day and will continue through August.

As the first group gathered at the Sergey Parajanov Musuem the day before leaving, the yard will filled with excited voices in French, English, Western Armenian, sharing a common conversation about their experience.

Some, such as 24-year old Shant Minas of Los Angeles were making return visits. This was his third LCO stint. Previously he helped reconstruct churches in Karintak, Aghdam and Gandzasar. This summer's work took him to Ayrum to help build a drying room.

Another group was sent to Shushi, in Karabakh, to work on water pipes in a hospital.

LCO director Raffi Niziblian is himself a veteran of the organization's volunteer program. Niziblian volunteered in 2001, then moved his family here from Montreal to take up permanent residence and direct the LCO program.

"The main goal of the organization is to make Diaspora Armenians get into closer contact with their homeland by means of the work," Niziblian says. "They live in the same house during three weeks. They eat together, talk with each other and work together. They go through difficulties and successes together. Living through all of that they see the real Armenia."

In addition to the local office LCO has offices in the United Kingdom, United States and France. Its work stated 26 years ago by French volunteers who refurbished monuments throughout the territory of historical Armenia, in Turkey.

After the 1988 earthquake, LCO began work in Armenia, building houses in the disaster zone. Its summer work program is financed by private donations.

Twenty four year old Armen Atmazhyan, from Paris, is among the group that arrived August 1. It is his second LCO trip.

This year's volunteers included two different groups, each spending three weeks on projects in Armenia and Karabakh.

"Every time when I visit Armenia my heart aches," he says. "For understanding more deeply the life in Armenia it is necessary to visit remote regions and realize vital problems by living there."

Many of the volunteers like Armen say that they come to their homeland to do something for it, but what they get here is much deeper.

The program is not restricted to Diaspora.

Yerevan volunteer Lilit Harutyunyan, who was in the first group and worked in Ayrum, says: "We worked six hours a day. It was hard but it was interesting. Girls from Diaspora were especially active. Even villagers noticed that."

Nor is the LCO program just for the young.

French Armenian Nshan Efeian is 68 and has made 11 visits to Armenia with LCO.

"Armenia was a dream for me that came true," he says. "I think that even if I am physically unable anyway I will come here to do something for my homeland."

Niziblian says that the beginning is especially hard, when these strangers with their backpacks invade remote villages and experience a bit of culture shock.

"However that kind of difficulties last for only a few days," Niziblian says. "Volunteers fill the entire village with their energy. It's harder when they are parting. Villagers start to be surprised at the fact that young Armenians from the other side of the ocean come to take care of their problems."

The LCO volunteer program defines "working vacation".

"Many volunteers are not ready for the manual labor that they do here," Niziblian says. "Their hands and muscles start to ache. Scars appear on they bodies as a result of work. They work by the sweat of their brow for this land and that is important."

According to Agnes
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Hey Europe and UK! Stop complaining!

While the UK broke temperature records with 38 C (100.4 F), Summer in the City was a hotter tune in Yerevan. The Opera House thermometer registered as high as 48 (118.4).

On August 10, temperatures in high elevations were said to have reached 55 (131). The Ministry of Healthcare advised residents to eat more fruit and easily digestible foods.

By Friday, things had "cooled down" to 30 (86).



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