By Sarah Hayes, West Coast Operations Manager
Why are these kids so excited?? Because they’re learning about how awesome and diverse Armenia’s ecosystem is! Seven years ago ATP launched our Building Bridges program, which has successfully introduced environmental education into schools throughout the diaspora.
This effort is generously underwritten by a leadership grant from the Thomas Kooyumjian Family Foundation. It has expanded from just a few schools in Glendale and Watertown to more than 75 schools throughout the US.
Since the program launched, we’ve created a series of tools that can be used by schools, teachers, and students to learn more about Armenia’s environment. We primarily focus on how ATP is a part of the solution to the environmental challenges that Armenia faces. Here’s what we’ve developed so far:
• A Building Bridges website full of educational content
• Six editions of an annual newsletter for students ages 6-10
• Interactive educational presentations for schools
• Two short films with educational and documentary content
• Tree planting opportunities for students to plant with their peers in Armenia
• A monthly cartoon series that runs in the Armenian-American press
• A Facebook page where we post updates and educational content
This program has generated a lot of excitement among students and families in our community. We find that children have an innate understanding of how important it is to protect nature and the environment. We believe that education is the key to developing environmental stewards for our future and for sustaining environmental security.
Every year we develop an environmental theme for our Building Bridges newsletters. Our topics range from waste and recycling in Armenia to forests. The newsletter and the recurring characters Aram and Maral were created by illustrator Alik Arzoumanian. Alik has a unique sense of style, is an active environmentalist, and is able to create age-specific content that is easily understood, informative, and fun.
We extensively research environmental issues to develop materials that are engaging and fun. Our goal is to help young Armenians feel proud of where they are from, not in an idealized or embellished way, but in a way that identifies some of our environmental problems and present solutions.
Earlier this year, we produced a film encouraging students to visit Armenia and plant trees with their peers. The film includes interviews with students from the ABGU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian High School in Pasadena and St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown. During these visits, we introduce diasporans to their peers from local schools and help them plant trees together. I hope you can take a few minutes to watch (click here).
Students have responded with great enthusiasm to Building Bridges, whether it’s a guest lecture or a visit in Armenia. “Planting trees in Armenia means a lot to me because it’s like planting your roots here and you’re leaving a little something here -- a gift to Armenia. It’s like you’re saying ‘Armenia you’ve given me so much, here’s something back,’” says Ani, a student from the fifth-grade class at St. Stephen’s School, which visited Armenia this spring.
Typically, this letter will come to you from our executive director. This time around, Jeanmarie invited me to contact you since I’ve been deeply involved in the content, creation, and outreach for this program. I consider myself fortunate that my passion for Armenia, the people, and its delicate ecosystem has also been the main focus of my career.
My journey with ATP began many years ago, when I was assigned to Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I went from having a young career as an environmentalist in industrial hygiene to a small village in one of the most remote regions of southern Armenia.
I started an eco club for girls, secured a grant to plant trees with seedlings provided by ATP, and incorporated ATP’s “Plant an Idea, Plant a Tree” environmental education manual into my lessons. I joined ATP nine years ago, and it’s been an enriching and rewarding experience in so many ways.
Of course you know that ATP’s core program area is trees, and we do have ambitious plans for this season. Our goal is to plant another 200,000 trees this fall! We couldn’t do it without your support. I invite you to do your part to help sustain a healthy environment for generations to come! Click here to donate.
In closing, our friends Aram and Maral would like to tell you about a special offer.
While supplies last (and just in time for the holidays), we are offering a hand-made set of finger puppets for donations of $200 or more. These puppets were made by women artisans in a partnership with the Homeland Development Initiative Foundation. This set is the result of a collaboration that has stretched across many projects, from the creation of the Aram and Maral characters to our friendship with HDIF founder Tim Straight. Many of you know Tim as the honorary consul of Norway and Finland to Armenia, and he’s also the driving force behind HDIF and its empowerment of women entrepreneurs to make products such as this for sale and for export.
Thank you for being one of our partners in this journey.