16 Nov, 2020

Internship Experience at the Ohanian Center

Interview with Liana Simonyan, an undergraduate correspondence student at the faculty of Natural Sciences of VSU. 

Twenty-twenty marked the third year of a joint-internship program between Vanadzor State University (VSU) and ATP’s Ohanian Center for Environmental Studies in Margahovit village. The mission of the program is to impart ATP’s vast experience and knowledge to the future professionals in the fields of education and science, in such a way that will have a multiplying effect in terms of educating the generations that follow. 

In October 2020, ATP’s Ohanian center held a week-long training with another 24 students of the Faculty of Natural Sciences of VSU. The training was aimed at strengthening the students’ theoretical knowledge through hands-on-experiences and practical knowledge. The Ohanian Center provides all the necessary equipment and tools during these training sessions. 

We talked to one of the students, Liana Simonyan (32), to learn about her experience.  She is an undergraduate correspondence student at the faculty of Natural Sciences of VSU. 

What was your impression about the Center and what new things did you see and learn there?
Honestly, I think that ATP’s role in the environmental field should be highly valued, partially based on the fact that agriculture is our country’s primary industry.  During a week-long training our team was able to conduct research on different topics ranging from biodiversity to assessing the water quality of the nearby Bldan river, determining the importance of organic fertilizers and bio-humus, the role of birds, the propagation of new cultivars, etc.

For me it was quite interesting to taste for the first time a variety of a cucumber known as kiwano or African horned cucumber. It had quite an unusual taste as it was sweet and reminded me of a fruit rather than a vegetable. We have taken the seeds and plan to conduct a research to see how well it can be adapted to our climate and what are the health benefits of this plant. 

Another plant that caught my attention at ATP’s experimental garden were the different species of Barberry shrubs. We have collected the leaves and want to experiment to see if we can extract natural dyes from them. If this proves to be doable I think my friends and I can even initiate a start up business, why not? 

What was the most alarming issue that you discovered during your experiments?
We assessed the degree of water pollution of the Bldan river through identifying invertebrates in the river, and found that at the clean areas, where there is no pollution, such as headwater streams, the water was comparatively cleaner and the quality was of second class. In comparison, at the urbanized part of the river, the pollution was of fourth class. I should mention that the distance between these two sections of the river is just 6km. By the way, at the headwater streams there were plenty of red trout and cod fish whereas at the urbanized section of the river we couldn’t see any. The main reason for this is because the river is contaminated with domestic wastewaters. This is a very big issue in many of our villages that need to be addressed. 

You also visited ATP’s Mirak Nursery, tell us a little about that.
Besides the fact that it was a very picturesque location with many beautiful seedlings - I  especially adore the small pine trees -  we were very excited to see the section where blueberries were cultivated and to actually taste them. Blueberries are not only a great source of vitamins and minerals but can also become a great source of income for farmers. 

What do you think about organic fertilizers and organic gardening?
I think we should work in harmony with nature and I really value the small organic gardens that our grandparents used to have back in the old days. In my mind, anything that has the word “chemical” should be eliminated. The only way to restore fertility on a field exploited with chemical fertilizers is with the use of vermicompost; a field that is no longer good for agriculture can be productive again thanks to the use of biohumus. ATP is doing a great job by using Californian worms, which help create healthy soil. Earthworms are also valuable as they feed on soil and dead or decaying plant remains. They are the principal agents in mixing dead surface litter with the soil, making the litter more accessible to decomposition by soil microorganisms. But in recent years, unfortunately, there has been a decrease in the number of earthworms in Armenia and there isn’t any scientific research about that yet. 

Will you choose any of these topics for your thesis?
I really like the  topic of organic fertilizers but I still have one year of college left and I may  change my mind if something more interesting comes along.

What do you think about recent events, in particular regarding Artsakh forests that have partially been destroyed by chemical weapons?
It’s a tragedy for the whole nation and we will feel the effects of this disaster for a long time.  I totally agree with the deputy head of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Science, Education , Culture, Diaspora, Youth and Sports Affairs, Hovhannes Hovhannisyan who stated recently that the natural sciences suffer because so much emphasis is put on IT. The deputy believes that the high salaries associated with the IT sector are what attract youth, so they don’t continue their studies in the sciences and don’t contribute to the field. 

But in reality, this war has proven to us that we need more professionals in the fields of natural sciences and environment. We would have been able to avoid many failures during the war if we had developed this field. In short, we need more financing both in the environmental and science fields. 

Did you like the Center, were the trainers able to provide all the necessary information you needed?
In addition to being a good-natured person, Gayane was also a very skilled and knowledgeable trainer who had complete answers to all our questions. Thanks to her, we were able to enrich our theoretical knowledge with hands-on experiences available at the Center. It was also great to explore the rich biodiversity of the village.