My friend Caroline gave up a life of general comfort and house parties in Washington, D.C., to join the Peace Corps–forfeiting her mid-twenties to do good. I advised against this decision because her assignment came up Armenia. Learning Armenian isn’t an especially lucrative life skill, and what’s more, search engine research revealed that morning jogs in certain parts of Armenia were dangerous undertakings because of the wild dogs. Caroline paid her nay-saying friends little attention,[ref]My wife was enthusiastic, actually, and come to think of it most friends were all “you go girl.” So really, I was the lone Negative Nancy.[/ref] did a bunch of good, and I was way wrong. The following is an insight into what she’s doing abroad, and how you can help.
“I don’t want to just be a ‘housekeeper.’ I want a profession and a career. I want to be a writer so that I can share my words with the world.” – Lilya A., Berd, Armenia, Age 17
BERD—For the past two years, I have been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and living and working in Berd, a small, isolated town located in the mountainous region along the closed border with Azerbaijan, a four-hour drive northeast of the capital of Armenia. I have been privileged to work with the women of the Berd Women’s Resource Center (BWRC), a start-up nonprofit organization with the mission to assist the women of the Berd region by creating employment opportunities, advocating for their rights, and increasing their awareness and self-confidence through educational programs and trainings. In just two years, the organization has implemented several successful projects and GirlsLEAD is our newest initiative.
GirlsLEAD is acronym for Leadership, Empowerment, and Development Camp, a new initiative with the purpose to inspire big dreams and instill the self-confidence for girls to make those dreams become a reality. The camp will bring together girls ages 14-17 from all over the Berd region of Armenia for one week of trainings and activities promoting gender equality, women’s leadership, volunteerism, health, fitness, and creativity. Our goal is to empower girls to become active, self-confident, and well-rounded members of their communities and give them the tools for success.
Despite the fact that 75 percent of women in Armenia have received higher education, they are woefully underrepresented in leadership positions both in the workforce and in the government. Out of the 886 villages in Armenia, only 24 have women mayors and just 11 of 131 national assembly members and two of the 18 ministers are women. The statistics for household life don’t bode much better; 59.6 percent of Armenian women have reported experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to a national survey conducted by OSCE in 2011.
Due to the cultural status of bearing sons, Armenia has one of the highest gender-selective abortion rates in the world–second only to China. It’s estimated that by the year 2060, over 93,000 Armenian women will be missing from the population if the same gender-selective abortion rates continue, according to a recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund this past year.
GirlsLEAD is about combatting those statistics. It’s about empowering these girls to grow into the women who will take up more leadership positions, who will stand up against domestic violence in their families, and who will make healthier life choices based on the knowledge that women can be strong, successful, and active members of their communities. The women of the BWRC want to create a better life for their daughters. If you develop the girl, you are investing in the future of entire families and communities. Our goal is to make GirlsLEAD a life-impacting experience and give a rare opportunity to the girls of this rural region to learn the skills they need to build the life of their dreams.
Here’s the call to action part. For just $45, you can sponsor a girl from Berd to attend the GirlsLEAD summer camp, and $65 sponsors a girl from one of the rural villages. Every dollar counts! We’re raising funds now on Indiegogo. Check out our campaign, scope out the rewards, and meet some of the amazing girls and women from Berd in our short video.
US Peace Corps Volunteer
When Caroline isn’t making us all look like spoiled Americans with modern luxuries like Velveeta and apps that stream Drake singles, she enjoys rooting for the third-best school in the Research Triangle.