For the past five consecutive years, the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” has been welcoming the Children of Artsakh, in the mythical but sadly still demolished city of Shoushi.
Conceived, planned and prepared by Aida Shamlian, from Canada, with the assistance of her husband Haytoug and along with their two children Dessyl and Badrouyk, this event - which is of course totally free of any charge whatsoever for the participants - took place for the first two years with practically the sole means, financing and resources of this family devoted to the Armenian world at large and Artsakh in particular.
During this initial phase, the number of attending children reached 57, and Aida was the only educator and animator at their service, working with infinite patience and dedication, total devotion, and also, with always a peaceful smile on her face.
During the following three years, Aida and Haytoug joined forces with the Naregatsi Art Institute, and with the latter’s valuable and much appreciated support and contribution, the project took place in the NAI community complex of Shoushi.
Implemented over a period between two and three weeks (including weekends), the program of this daytime Summer Camp is founded on the notions of culture, arts, nation and faith, and it includes numerous playful and instructive events, various athletic games, a class of cultural expression, science experiments in an amusing form, movies, and a special session of handicraft and artistic activities. Elementary dental care, hygiene and environmental subjects are also covered by the educational program. Nutritious hot meals, fresh fruits and vegetables, quality snacks, natural fruit juice and spring water are also served to the children.
Each and every day of the Camp, along with their feelings of joy and satisfaction, the children take home the original works of arts and crafts which they put together during the day. At the end of the Camp, all the material brought from Canada and used for the program is fully distributed to the children.
In the month of July 2009, the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” once again took place in the Naregatsi Art Institute’s cultural and community Centre of Shoushi, at the initiative and with the patronage of the Aida-Haytoug Shamlian family.
For this fifth consecutive yearly version of this special event, 150 children were expected to attend. By the time Aida, Haytoug and their children got there from Canada, in conformity with the totally non-restrictive registration policy regarding this event, Nara Avanesyan, the regional executive director of the NAI, had already registered more than 300 participants, aged 4 to 16. During the course of the Camp, some 50 other children joined in... Counting the hired staff, the volunteer workers and the teams of young helpers, the Naregatsi Art Institute Centre of Shoushi had to accommodate 400 people during the course of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” this year!
Once again, something truly magical was taking place in the legendary city of Shoushi, in Artsakh.
The major management issues were soon under control, with the active and devoted participation of all parties concerned, including notably the direct and on the ground involvement of Nareg Haroutiounian, from New Jersey, founder of the Naregatsi Art Institute and a very dear friend of Haytoug and Aida Shamlian. The NAI’s administrative personnel of Yerevan was also at the disposal of the project, for all necessary purposes.
During the course of this particular version of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” in Shoushi, several initiatives and events took place. Among them, we should enumerate at least the following:
* Considering the number of participating children, supplementary furniture was necessary, to be able to form the classes and serve the meals. Tables and chairs were thus graciously lent by the Arsen Khatchadryan Humanitarian and State College and by the Khatchadour Apovian School, for the whole duration of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp”; (Several students of said College also attended the Camp, as volunteer helpers and trainees, in the framework of the corresponding academic program).
* Some local suppliers of the nutritional products used for the preparation of the meals (grocery store, juice and spring water supplier, a newly opened bakery…) granted discounts and special prices, as their contribution to the project; Their service was also impeccable, in terms of schedule, quality and delivery;
* A sizeable quantity of various items was stored during the past year in the Naregatsi Centre of Shoushi, some of which were brought there by Nareg Haroutiounian, and some were sent by Aida and Haytoug, with the participation of their friends and relatives in Canada; All these goods (clothing and accessories, linen, toys, handbags, functional material, dental health products, etc.), compiled at the NAI Centre of Shoushi during the previous months with the joint efforts of the Naregatsi administrators of both the Yerevan and the Shoushi Centres, were carefully sorted, divided, put in discreet packages, and remitted to the children, during the course of the Summer Camp; this donation program was in addition to the usual distribution of the material brought by Aida&Haytoug for the purposes of the Summer Camp, and which is always distributed to the children at the end of same;
* A qualified, professional, Ms. Diana Danyelian, specialized in the field of support and assistance to children with special needs, was present at the Naregatsi Art Institute Centre of Shoushi during the first days of the Summer Camp, and she provided her services to certain children and parents; There is an enormous need for this type of social and professional work in Shoushi, and we can only hope that similar initiatives will be repeated and implemented in the future, and not only in the NAI Centre;
* Just like the previous years, the Summer Camp had an experienced nurse on duty, on the premises for the whole duration of the camp; Equipped with all the necessary medical items, accessories and basic medication, she made sure that proper care was dispensed to the children, volunteers and staff, whenever required, whether in relation with the Camp activities or any other external reason;
* Karekin and Rita Baghdassarian, a couple with two children from the region of Montreal, Canada, sent a special donation to Aida&Haytoug, with the specific wish to use it in order to provide new footwear to the children; Accordingly, with the help of a dedicated team of young helpers, 120 pairs of different types of shoes were purchased, store by store, at the Stepanakert market, and distributed to the children; (once they understood – thanks to the kids in charge of carrying the bags - for what purpose the large purchase was being made, all the merchants granted reductions of up to 80% on their merchandise, loudly encouraging each other to do their share in this gesture… Even for a market where prices might be subject to some discussion, the extent of the discount and the behavior of these merchants were extraordinary).
* Gary and Salpi Minassian, a couple with two children from the region of Montreal, Canada, sent 70 solid pairs of brand new boots, at their full expense, all the way from their native Aleppo, in Syria, which were also distributed to the children;
* On the occasion of an international conference held in Stepanakert, an important delegation of participants cancelled their scheduled visit to other sites in Artsakh, preferring instead to visit the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” at the NAI Centre of Shoushi; these Armenians, living in Ukraine, Moscow, Djavakhk and other regions of Armenia and Artsakh, were overwhelmed by emotions of joy, enthusiasm and pride when they met the children, saw how dynamic, content and productive they were, admired their works of handicraft, and even played a moment with them; Razmig Tavoyan was among this group of visitors, and the venerable poet was deeply moved by what he saw and experienced; Another member of the delegation was a journalist from Moscow, and he took ample notes in order to prepare an article on the subject;
* Numerous other visitors, families, individuals, groups from different associations, journalists and media people regularly visited the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” at the Naregatsi Art Institute Centre of Shoushi, on a daily basis, as they do every year;
* For the second year in a row, Fire Department officials held a meeting with the children in order to explain to them the safety and security measures which should be followed thoroughly in the region, with regard to hidden landmines, unexploded rockets, fire hazards and dangerous reptiles;
* The School of Arts of the town of Togh, in Hadrut Region, participated in the closing ceremony of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” at the NAI Centre of Shoushi; Its director, Ms. Soussanna Balayan, made a public pledge with Nareg Haroutiounian, on the stage, to extend the collaboration between their two organizations beyond this initial instance; During the same ceremony, a piano was donated to the Naregatsi Art Institute by the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs of Artsakh, and this gift was announced, on behalf of the Minister, Ms. Narine Aghabalyan, by world-renowned photographer Hrayr Hawk Khatcherian;
* Previous participants of the Summer Camp, now brilliant teenagers, attended camp as general helpers; This brigade of devoted “veterans” is to be expressly commended for its appreciable assistance to the staff;
It should also be noted that, more and more with each passing year, several donations of all kinds are made, generously and spontaneously, by the relatives, close friends and social entourage of Aida and Haytoug, in support of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp”.
Without this non-solicited assistance, added to the financial, material and human resources provided by the Naregatsi Art Institute, it would have become impossible to welcome, serve and accommodate 350+ children in this program. The population of Shoushi is informed about all these donors and active supporters of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp”, and the children never fail to express their gratitude towards them as well.
Thus, for the fifth year in a row, the children of Artsakh spent a portion of their much deserved summer vacation at this Summer Camp. All efforts were made to offer them, once again, numerous activities, with a custom-made program prepared for their specific needs, liking and preferences.
In the words of Aida Shamlian, the creator, founder and soul of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp” : "We know that we once again succeeded, every time we see the warmest smiles, the satisfaction and the authentic joy on the faces of our wonderful children of Artsakh. As our camp logo also illustrates, a child’s joyful play can disperse any dark cloud. God bless them all. We are so grateful to them".
Enough said. Now, please just take a look at the pictures, above, only as a sampling of the privileged moments created and lived in Shoushi, during the course of the “Aram Manoukian Summer Camp”…