by Ani Melkonian
YEREVAN--Armenia Tree Project is not just any environmental NGO. It is one of those great stories you wish you could be a part of. A story set in the early 1990’s about an Armenian-American activist named Carolyn Mugar who had the wisdom and foresight to start an organization that would work to prevent Armenia from desertification.
Flash-forward 22 years later and the organization is responsible for planting more than five million trees throughout Armenia and Artsakh. ATP has created hundreds of green jobs in Armenia and even taken important strides in the sphere of environmental education. Its mission is larger than life: planting and caring for trees, these mystic beings without which life on earth would not be possible.
The story has inspired thousands of people as well as organizations such as Birthright Armenia, Armenian Volunteer Corps and the US Peace Corps, whose volunteers have offered their time and skills to ATP over the years.
Birthright Armenia in particular aims to tie diasporan youth to the homeland and to strengthen their identity through volunteer service and internships. So, naturally, ATP and Birthright have collaborated for many years.
“Partnerships multiply the reach, the impact and the value that each organization creates. Our 12 year collaboration with ATP embodies this spirit,” says Birthright Armenia Country Director Sevan Kabakian.
“Volunteering with ATP offers the perfect opportunity to give back and make a difference. It makes for a rich and diverse experience. Whether you’re looking to learn and see more of Armenia, exchange skills, work with village residents, or help educate children in the ways of the environment,” explains Communications and Outreach Manager Kristine Hovsepyan, who also manages ATP’s volunteer program. “Whether you’re a ‘treehugger’ or just someone who cares about nature and people, ATP has a green job for you.”
There are several areas where volunteers can assist ATP: in the Community Tree Planting program, the Forestry division, the Environmental Education department, the PR department or at one of ATP’s tree nurseries.
Natalie Shahbol, a Water Science major from California was the latest ATP volunteer from Birthright. During her two month stay Natalie went to Karin Village on a weekly basis to assist with lessons at the Michael and Virginia Ohanian Environmental Education Center. Her activities included assisting the teacher, preparing presentations, and conducting games and activities for visiting schoolchildren.
“Having the chance to interact and learn from students has to be one of my favorite parts of volunteering at ATP,” says Natalie.
Details about ATP’s volunteer program are posted on the “Get Involved” tab of their website. Typically, volunteers are required to be a part of the Birthright Armenia program, which provides some financial support and structure including homestay housing, language training and a network of other volunteers who participate in excursions and group events.
Candidates for the ATP program must be 20-32 years old and must have graduated from high school. Candidates must also have a minimum stay of four weeks in Armenia in order to be able to volunteer for ATP, and placement depends on the candidate’s background and specific area of interest which should be outlined in their ATP application form.
“When it comes to non-profits, every small action contributes to something bigger. Ultimately, when volunteering for ATP you are volunteering in the greening of Armenia so if the cause strikes a chord with you then be prepared to get your hands and shoes muddy,” notes Hovsepyan. “If this speaks to you then it’s time to sign up and help create a greener, more sustainable Armenia.”
Armenia Tree Project has planted more than five million trees since its inception in 1994. The NGO is the only major tree planting program in the country and in its 22 years has successfully established four nurseries, two environmental education centers and has greened community areas in every province of Armenia and Artsakh. In the process, the organization has provided employment for hundreds of people and provided vital resources to thousands of village residents. For more information, visit the website www.armeniatree.org.