Many know Camp Haiastan as “the greatest place on earth.” It has given Armenian youth in the diaspora a wholesome camping experience for over 70 years. Each year, our youth are immersed in a community where they not only play, swim, dance and sing, but they also learn about who we are as a people.
Camp is a place where you meet Armenians from everywhere, forging friendships that last a lifetime. Whether you stay at camp for two weeks one summer or return each year, and maybe even go on to become a staff member, you belong to a special fraternity. As you go through life, by accident or on purpose, you will run into the camp friends you have made. Each meeting will fill your heart with true joy as you reminisce about the time you spent together in Franklin, Massachusetts. Campers make countless memories and gain important life lessons that will broaden their childhood development. These gifts will be part of who you become in later years.
Keeping our culture and heritage alive through what we learn at Camp Haiastan is the bridge that attaches us to our homeland. Camp magically links us to Armenia even if we have never been or may never go. The experience keeps our youth engaged long after the summer is over. Camp most assuredly is the beginning of the link between understanding who we are and heartfelt activism.
I am 60 years removed from when I first attended Camp Haiastan. My attachment to Camp Haiastan is as strong today as it was when I was in my teens. I am now retired and spend a few weeks each year in Armenia with Fuller Global Builders helping to build respectable housing for needy families. This year, I’ll lead a Fuller group to Armenia with 10 volunteers. Six of the volunteers will be Camp Haiastan alumni. Where did those six learn to give of themselves? Where did they learn that their homeland calls out to them? Where did they learn that they can make a difference?
AYF interns travel each year to Armenia and immerse themselves. This summer in Armenia, AYF interns will work alongside our Fuller team for a few days when we build a home. They will also do outreach with several other organizations while in the country. Of the eight interns, five are Camp Haiastan alumni. What gave these five young individuals the curiosity to visit our homeland? What made them want to be ambassadors to Armenia from America? What gave them the idea that they can lend a helping hand?
Last year, my wife June (a Camp Haiastan alumna) and I collected donations to renovate a school gymnasium in the village of Ginevet/Nor Ughi. The work will be conducted by the Paros Foundation of California, and it is well underway. Last week, I reviewed the list of donors—58 of the 74 donors who helped fund the first phase of this project are Camp Haiastan alumni. What made them give so generously? What possessed them to help a school so far away?
The experience you get at Camp Haiastan is not the answer to every question. However, there are some things that you can be sure of. If there were no Camp Haiastan, there would be one less Fuller team helping a family to move out of a domik and into a respectable home this year. If there were no Camp Haiastan, there would be a facet of the AYF intern’s 2023 experience in Armenia that would be missing, and if there were no Camp Haiastan, there would be another neglected school in a rural village in our homeland.
The reach of Camp Haiastan goes far beyond Franklin, Massachusetts. When someone passes through the gates of 722 Summer Street, they are effortlessly transformed into someone with a nationalistic pride that will only insure that we as a people will long endure.
A shameless plug: If you are interested in joining our Fuller team in Armenia this summer, we have room for a few more volunteers. Or if you are interested in donating to better the Ginevet/Nor Ughi school, you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.