On June 5, 2008, the youth of Tsmakahogh village were offered the tools to create a committee to implement a youth development initiative. What commenced with a round table discussion with the youth on how they wanted to organize their summer, developed into an absolute successful completion of the Initiative.  

Learning the essentials of community service was an integral part of the Initiative, which provided the Tsmakahogh youth the opportunity to acquire organizational and leadership skills all while serving their village. In addition, the Initiative gave them opportunities to work together to implement change in their community, become active in service, improve their lives in school, work in groups, make decisions, vote, learn through hands-on experiences, solve problems and more.  

Upon my arrival in Tsmakahogh, the only success of the Initiative was dependent on one element: the youth. Even though I was the designer of the Initiative, I knew the need of ambitious youth was necessary to adopt and implement it. In essence, the Initiative would remain just a theory if the youth were unwilling to take charge of it. Hence, I gave the youth an absolute freedom in adding or removing any project or event idea from the Initiative. 

At an early stage, the youth established a committee, which they voted on calling Humanitarian Committee. Afterwards, they arrived upon a few rules that would govern their Committee. For example, per 14-year-old Tatev Avanesyan’s suggestion the Committee members adopted a rule to remove any member from the Committee if he/she had three unexcused absences from meetings. Aside from the first 4-5 Committee meetings chaired by me, with hopes of setting an example on some basics of facilitating meetings, each youth was responsible for chairing at least one meeting.  

In addition, the youth decided to have two meetings per week. When I challenged them with the question on why they preferred to host two meetings as opposed to one or three, they argued that the first meeting, which took place every Monday, would give them the opportunity to discuss upcoming events and projects for the week and month. The second meeting of the week, held on Saturdays, would provide a space to look back at the week’s projects and events and discuss what they had learned from and improvements to be made. Aside from the Humanitarian Committee, the youth also established subcommittees, each focusing on different projects/events.  

The first two days of our meetings were spent brainstorming. The youth came up with ideas on projects and events they wanted to implement during the summer. When I arrived at the village I had already prepared more than a dozen ideas for them. Because I was also one of the Humanitarian Committee members, I proposed the ideas I had originally prepared and was happy that the youth adopted the ideas I presented as well as a few others they suggested. For instance, the youth suggested creating a children’s program specifically for younger children. This idea was theirs and not a part of the original Initiative. You may read about the children’s program by clicking here.  At the end of the two brainstorming sessions the projects and events that the youth wanted to be responsible for and organize were evident.  

Providing direct service was a powerful way to pass on the values of caring, social responsibility, citizenship and compassion to youth who took on the role of difference makers during the summer of 2008. This experience clearly empowered and inspired them. I strongly believe that one of the major elements towards the success of the Initiative was that the youth maintained a huge sense of ownership over the Initiative, which was sponsored by Birthright Armenia by a $2,500 grant and supported by several individuals.