From a “rural” girl to a Hawaii-based student to an activist
Everything was different for Khanum Gevorgyan when she started her senior year at Waimea High School, Hawaii. Only months earlier, she had been in Karakert, a stony village in Armavir, Armenia. She had been living there all her life, with no plumeria trees, exotic birds, or oceans.
Khanum’s life started to transform when she was enrolled in COAF after-school activities in her community. “Starting from 2011, I tried every single activity that was available at the time – debate club, school council, psychological theater. In 2013, I joined the COAF English Access MicroScholarship Program, an English-learning project for kids from rural communities. At that time, I had very limited knowledge of English and I could not ever imagine I would become a student at American University of Armenia. Actually, I was planning to become an economist…”
However, Khanum had a chance to visit AUA for a few times – COAF Professional Orientation Program organized a study tour for students from Armavir villages. “I thought I would be happy to be a part of AUA, although I was convinced I would never be able to fulfill my dream,” Khanum says. “I joined Access, and… A few months later the magic happened – I started speaking English! We were able to talk with foreign guests, present our community, and conduct a tour around our village in English!”
Over the time, Khanum became so fluent in English that she was accepted into FLEX, a U.S. government-sponsored educational program for secondary-school students. Before starting her new schoolyear in Hawaii, Khanum took part in another COAF project on media literacy for children, polishing up her writing and photography skills. The project resulted in COAF Media Portal – an online platform for kids to post or share their stories. While being in Waimea, far away from her community, Khanum made her contribution to the project by writing a brilliant story on 5 Hawaiian things you can’t find in Armenia. She mentioned the things that had changed her life, such as the Hawaiian educational system, the oceans and plumeria trees.
“But the real change happened in my mind – I turned from an ordinary girl into a confident student,” Khanum says. “If it weren’t for COAF and Access, I would hardly become the person I am now. When I returned from the USA after a one-year study, I started having dreams in English language… I kept thinking about AUA and I decided to give it a try…”
In 2017, Khanum took exams and became an English and Communication student at American University of Armenia. “My dream came true. I don’t know yet what exactly I will do when I graduate but I am interested in politics and international relations. I like reading about international issues, but I want to act as well… Maybe I will be involved in peace-building projects. I would like to have my input in the development of Armenia… And I would like to mention one more time that COAF has greatly contributed to my growth. COAF people have been inspiring and encouraging me. It is a bigger investment than renovating schools and other infrastructures.”
In mid-April 2018, Khanum was among the students taking part in the national movement of civil disobedience in Armenia that led to prime minister’s resignation. In one of her Facebook posts she urges “Armenian parents” not to ever keep young people back from struggling. “Never make us give up, never say “nothing will change,” she insists. “Let us struggle for a better life today so that tomorrow we don’t blame ourselves.”
Khanum says she has already started “giving back” to her native Armavir region by conducting seminars on civil rights for young people, organizing English-language movie screenings, and coordinating a “community clean-up” running marathon.
“Like thousands of other young people, I don’t want to emigrate. Instead, I want to apply my knowledge and skills in Armenia,” she says.