GROW Teaches Environmental Awareness to Children in Armenia

By Michael Chen
Oct. 10, 2017

I am a TEFL Volunteer serving in Lori Marz of Armenia, but in addition to teaching English to my community I always had the desire to help with local environmental problems. The improper disposal of trash is a widespread sight in Armenia and an issue that I felt I could make a difference with.

My passion towards the environment was passed down to me by my father, who now teaches biology and ecology at the University of Illinois in Springfield, Illinois. Though I didn’t inherit his drive to further the limits of scientific understanding, I was nevertheless completely amazed by the forests I visited with him in Oregon. We used to hike out to research stations so he could collect samples and those memories of climbing over wet, moss-covered fallen logs as the sun shined through the canopy reside fondly in my memory.

Environmental Awareness in the Armenian population is low, especially in the villages where it is common to find trash thrown on the side of the road. Garbage collection is infrequent or at times non-existent and most of the trash ends up being burned, potentially releasing harmful chemicals into the air. Of the trash not burned, it is seldom disposed of properly in landfills or recycling plants.

Fortunately, there is a renewed effort to teach environmental awareness to children in Armenia. GROW (Growing and Renewing Our World) camp is one of those initiatives. GROW Armenia was started in 2016 by a Peace Corps Volunteer with a mission to educate Armenian youth on the environment and how to take care of it. This year GROW decided to partner to the Armenian Tree Project (ATP).  I had the privilege of helping out at one of the camps in Lori Marz.

Kids watching a video about plastic trash

Over 30 children of all ages from the village participated. On the first day I walked into a session on how trash can affect local habitats and species. We watched a video of plastic trash being discovered in the stomachs of seabirds. The children, dressed in yellow camp shirts and green hates watched astutely. 

After lunch, we split up into different groups and made bird houses and feeders from recycled wood and plastic bottles. My group of younger children made a ring toss game with plastic plates and a paper towel roll. We painted our favorite animals on the rings.  Some kids painted lady bugs while others painted hummingbirds. The whole activity was to encourage children to recognize how different trash could be utilized creatively and by the end of the day, we had a whole set of beautifully crafted and colored upcycled projects.

The next day, we started the morning off with a short yoga session across from a beautiful view of the mountains.  The older boys were hesitant at first but I coaxed them to join. The second day’s session was focused on the ecosystems near the village. We also had a discussion about why water was important to the village and what we could do to protect it and keep it from contamination. The children chirped in excitedly with different ideas, many so outrageous that you would never hear at a formal conference.  Hearing their unique perspective and passion about what should be done was inspiring.

Exploring our environment

In the afternoon, we walked as a group to a stream near the village. As we walked I learned more about the students and why they were interested in the environment. Though the stream was small it was filled with surprising number of different species. We had containers and nets to capture insects and fish. Though we didn’t find fish we did find frogs, tiny shrimp, water insects, and even leeches. After we found leeches I quickly jumped out of the water but the children didn’t seem to mind, enraptured with trying the most creatures. With each new species we found we had to match the species with the ones photographed on a local species chart. At the end of the session, we marked all the different species we had found on in. My group had found over 13 unique creatures and my kids beamed with pride. 

By taking the children out into the environment it made the environmental problems the community faced real to them. It became more than just something you read in a textbook or heard from some adult. Though I spent less than two days at the camp, afterwards I was much more enthusiastic about implementing my own environmental awareness clubs in my community. Caring for the environment is something that is learned and curiosity about nature and animals cultivated. As I left the camp I thought back about my own experiences and how my own curiosities about the environment were fostered through my parents, my community, and educational opportunities like GROW.  Environmental awareness is something that is worth advocating for so that the next generation will be better engaged to deal with the environmental problems of Armenia and our planet’s future. Because of the enduring efforts of GROW, ATP, and most importantly the children involved, the mission to educate Armenian children on the environment and how we can protect it will continue. 

Michael Chen