What I do when I am not reading…

I told you last week that I would go out of town for a few days. I decided to tell you a bit of where I go and what I do when I don’t read and when I go out of Yerevan. As usual, I spent my days off with my closest friend in the town of Spitak. Spitak is a small town of about 15.000 inhabitants in northern Armenia. Now I live in Yerevan because that is where the jobs are in this country, but really my heart lies in Spitak. The first time I came to this country was in the summer of 2000 to work as a volunteer in a children’s summer camp. I made many friends there and have returned many times since, to do volunteer-work or simply to visit friends. Now I go there every so often for a weekend or a couple of days, mostly to relax and catch up with friends. Most often I stay with my best friend and her family, that is her parents, her brother, his wife and their two sons of 11 and 12 years old. Her family all joke that I am their fourth child (besides my friend and her brother, they have another daughter who lives elsewhere in Spitak with her husband and two children – they are also good friends). For the two boys I am like an aunt, and they call me that. I always spend quite a big part of my time there with the kids, playing basketball or volleyball or other games and now that they are learning English in school, I help them with that as well.

But I am also involved in some other things there that hopefully will bear fruit in the near future. My closest group of friends, some of which I have known since I first came to Spitak, runs a computer training-center plus stationary- and print-shop in Spitak. Very long story very short, they used to be connected with an NGO but cut off all ties personal and legal with that NGO after the director turned out to be corrupt. They are now in the process of setting up their own NGO and securing a building for it. It will offer computer-classes for children and disabled people, organize other projects and courses for children and disabled people such as environmental awareness, leadership development, vocational skills and there will be a resource center and a small library with books in foreign languages (this is where at some point in the future I will try to get you guys out there reading this blog somehow involved) and quality children’s books in Russian and Armenian and reading events (book discussions, reading books with and for small children and their mothers, etc.). These are all things which are relatively rare but very needed outside the capital. I am working with my friends to make this a reality.

Another thing I am involved in in Spitak is a NGO that was formed out of a friendship-connection between Spitak and the small Dutch town of Limmen. Together with our sister-association in Limmen we are working on projects in the social and health care sphere in Spitak. About to start in the very near future is a pilot project which aims to set up a system in Spitak in which women will be able to have free checkups on cervical cancer every five years. This is something that the state should provide but doesn’t, because of lack of money and lack of priority. Something else we are working on is providing diabetes-patients (of which there are relatively many in Armenia), family-doctors and polyclinics with bloodsugar-meters (of which there are not nearly enough in Armenia) and equipment to better treat and check for diabetes. These are fairly small-scale, but needed projects, filling up “holes” that the state should take care of, but currently can’t or won’t because of lack of money.

Two years ago a group of people from the association in Limmen visited Spitak and since a good friend of mine in Spitak was already involved in this, he invited me to join the group. One idea that came up at that time, was organizing a bicycle-tour through Armenia. One member of the Spitak-Limmen is an active cyclist and he gathered a small group of enthusiast amateur-sportsmen (and one woman) that started training. This summer, they came to Armenia. They are currently touring the country on their bikes for ten days. The start of their trip in Yerevan was even shown on national tv. None of us in Spitak knew about that, so when we caught that on tv we were very surprised!

Now I am going to be a major tease and ask you to go here for the rest of the story and pictures.

There are more pictures at my Flickr-page here.

Also, I am set to spent some more days with the cyclists until they fly back to Holland over the weekend, so this will likely be the only post this week.

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