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Mr. Vardanyan who showed the way to achieve dreams


Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Vanik Vardanyan
Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Vanik Vardanyan
Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Vanik Vardanyan
Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


All children, regardless of where they were born, a well-developed city or a disadvantaged, socio-economically challenged village, have the right to attain an excellent education. Many of Armenia’s rural communities, however, face severe shortages of teachers for many years at a time. It is common to see one teacher teaching several subjects, where at times some subjects are left out of the curriculum entirely.

 Teach For Armenia is a two-year leadership development program for graduates and top professionals who speak Armenian and are willing to change not only their lives but also the lives of children living in Armenia. After training at Summer Institute, an intensive and rigorous five-week training program for Teach For Armenia Fellows, the Fellows are being placed for two years in communities where there is a need for teachers. Fellows not only contribute to the development of children's personal growth and academic knowledge, but also to the development of the communities through extracurricular and community development projects. Currently, the 42 participants of the program teach in 35 partner schools across five regions.

Who are these young people who are not afraid of change and difficulties who leave their comfort zones for the greater good, all to inspire children to discover their talents and realize their dreams, while inspiring the future generations.

Through the support of VivaCell-MTS, Mediamax and Teach For Armenia have launched a new project to shed light on the work and life of Fellows serving students in the most underserved communities of Armenia.

Everyone in Bagaran village calls Vanik “Mr. Vardanyan,” even the ones who don’t have students in their families. “Mr. Teacher” is Vanik’s second name. A 22-year old engineer from Nor Khachakap Village, he says, “I never thought of becoming an educator even if you would tell me as a joke, I could not imagine it”.

According to the mantra “never miss any opportunity” formed during his school years, Vanik applied for Teach For Armenia’s program. “When I passed the first phase of the application process, I became more thoughtful, I wasn’t sure whether to get happy or be sad,” he says, “I went to the second phase and succeeded again. This was a very important and decisive period in my life, I relied everything on God. I had to go to mandatory military medical checkup, I decided that if I passed the military medical checkup, then I would go to the army; if not then it’s a sign to participate in the Teach For Armenia program. Eventually, I didn’t go to the army and chose the pathway that led me to my classroom.”

Vanik Vardanyan Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Months after Vanik had been accepted into the Fellowship, he learned that he was only 160 kilometers away from his next most important mission. He moved from his village in Lori Region and became part of the Bagaran community. In the community, the school has a total of 68 students and all of them were patiently waiting for their only Maths teacher to arrive. Vanik teaches the most lessons in the school, from 5th-12th grades, and has 42 students in total.
 
 “I didn’t realize how the months of September-October flew by. I used to go to school at 8 o’clock in the morning and come home around 3:30 pm. I had my dinner, prepared my lessons for the next day, and suddenly I looked at the clock and it was already midnight or even later. Then I would go to sleep, and repeat it all over again the next day. Thank goodness I have adjusted to this routine now.”
Vanik Vardanyan Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


According to Vanik, the community members from Bagaran helped him to adapt to his new life. Young people from the village came and met with him, offered help, and wondered what kind of issues he was facing and how they can be helpful. The house Vanik rented had been vacant for over 7 years. His neighbors helped him to clean the house and to settle in. Vanik has already made many new friends who help him with his daily routines.
Vanik Vardanyan Vanik Vardanyan

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“The whole village carries water from the well, which is about two kilometers away from my home. My neighbors gave me water until February. They even bring meals for me. I am very grateful to the village for their hospitality. If it were not for their support, I might have not survived. The workload is bearable, but when daily duties add up, it becomes intolerable.”

It’s very hard without a car in the village. Vanik remembers how he used to stand on the main road for hours during the winter period. He would be lucky if a car would turn up and would take him to town. There were days where no car was available, so he would go back to the village and try his luck the next day. Fortunately, for him and his students, he has purchased a car. His students and fellow teachers have become his passengers on his commute to school.

The age difference between Vanik and his students is very little. “The small age gap is helpful but at the same time is very challenging. It is very hard when someone who is only a few years older than you comes in to your classroom as your teacher.  Boys from the 12th grade are very tall, smart men who are getting ready to go to the army soon. You can’t force them or impose. You have to try to find ways of reconciliation in order to maintain your authority, not allow them to cross any boundaries, but you cannot be over-authoritative with them. I understand that we are almost the same age and I make some exceptions at times that are appropriate.



It was just 5 years ago that I was a student myself. Now I am trying to walk in my student’s shoes, to understand and relate to them. As a student when I was not behaving and our teachers would get angry at us, we used to say ‘seems like they have never been students.’ Of course if it’s not an issue of discipline. I encourage my students to participate during the lessons, to ask questions, to take part in the discussions, solve exercises, be a part of everything, at times we can even laugh together.”

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


You will never see complete silence during Vanik’s lessons. Sometimes Mr. Vardanyan’s voice is the lowest. Everyone is engaged in the lesson as much as their knowledge and skills allows. If they can’t solve the exercise, then they listen carefully to learn.  Vanik says that they have had major achievements in his classrooms. Nowadays you can’t scare students with low grades, you can’t force them to study for higher grades.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


 “During the first lesson I showed my students a pyramid where their actions will lead them in life: first is the school, if they study well, they will have the opportunity to go far and achieve their dreams. I give my students an opportunity to choose the outcome of their life, I show them examples of what will happen to them if they study well and what will happen if they don’t. When you force them to do something, you get a counteraction. I had a student who didn’t study well but I persuaded him and now he studies much better.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Now he can’t stay calm during the lessons, he is completely engaged in the classroom he wants to answer questions, go to the blackboard, and share his opinion. It doesn’t matter what grade it is, fifth or the tenth, I want my students to understand why they come to school, and what is the importance of school. I almost never assign them the lowest grade [2], because I don’t want them not to come to my lessons because they are afraid to get a 2. I am trying to remove the idea of marks. I don’t want my students to be dependent on marks.”

Vanik talks about his important mission and the aspiration of giving everything to children in a modest way. But when he talks about children, he always says “my students” with such pride. Vanik has become “ours” for the school and community. He always stands by Bagarantsis (people from Bagaran) and offers his help with whatever he can.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


According to Anahit Kocharyan one of the senior teachers at the Bagaran school “It’s a miracle that Vanik came to our village. This kind of people are very important for such distant villages. He has brought a new breath with him, and you know how important it is for our villages. He finds a common language with children, he is very friendly with them, children love him so much. It’s very hard with students, it’s impossible to be very friendly but when you are very strict it’s even harder. Vanik has found a golden middle.” She felt Vanik’s positive impact not only at school but in her family, as well. Her daughter is now applying for the Teach For Armenia Fellowship following Vanik’s example.

 “Am I capable?” Vanik was searching the answer to this question before entering the school. He overcame all the concerns after the Summer Institute in Dilijan, where future Fellows get all the necessary skills for becoming teachers. In villages, besides professional difficulties, you face daily problems that are visible only for people living in villages as Vanik says: “Winters are very cold, the lessons are shortened to 20-30 minutes. In the classrooms where two different grades sit together, you have to share those precious minutes. However, the cold days are over and then the agricultural season starts.”

Despite all the difficulties, Vanik is trying to show that education is the key and is the way to achieve all your dreams.

“The first important step that we’ve done is that we took our children to UWC (United World College) college in Dilijan. The visit to UWC was life changing, many parents told Vanik that children’s mindsets had changed since the visit, the students saw a future that they also could be a part of.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


One of my students decided to become an economist and wants to work at a bank, the other one is studying at Tumo and wants to be a programmer.

 “Vardanyaaan...” you can hear from different parts of a field. There is no teacher and student in the football field, everyone is equal. It’s difficult to differ Vanik from the other boys in their sports outfits. Twice a week they go to play football after school. Football is a very “respected” sport in this village, people say that there are many professional football players from Bagaran. By creating a football club Vanik wanted to change children’s daily routine.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


“I remember when I said that we will go to the football field for the first time, I didn’t have a car yet, and the field is on the other side of the village. I was walking there and people were asking me on my way ‘Are you the teacher? Hurry up! Children are waiting for you for an hour already.’ They were so excited to play that they went earlier to the filed. They were very happy with the fact that their teacher was playing football with them. Even other young people or elders sometimes join us for a match.”

Bagaran is on the border with Turkey. Even cars in Turkey are visible. The football field is surrounded with barbed wire. The balls that they buy from the shop only last for a couple of days. Vanik wrote a letter to the Armenian Football Federation and they gave them better quality balls.

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Vanik says, “I’m trying to be honest with my students so that they don’t lose the bond and trust we have established. If those are just words, nobody will believe you. I am trying to keep all my promises; if I say that we are going to do this, we do it, otherwise they’ll not trust me”.

I am trying to gain the confidence of my students. I want to eliminate lies. When we were children and didn’t do our homework, we always came up with different excuses. I told my students to never lie, just be honest and tell me the truth. I encourage them to just simply say, ‘I didn’t do my homework,’ no one will punish you for that. Show me how much you have completed, and from there we will together to make sure the full assignment is completed

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


Vanik says that during the two-year program he will try to be as useful for the community as possible. He also talks about the positive changes that have taken place in his personal life. Vanik has learned to live alone in Bagaran, solve his problems by himself and succeed at the work.

 “If I did not apply for the Teach For Armenia program, I would have migrated to Russia upon graduation. When I found out that I can study at Gyumri’s Pedagogical University parallel to the Teach For Armenia program, all my doubts disappeared. When your dreams come true, you start to live with greater pleasure. I am very happy with everything I have”.

Vanik treats all the difficulties in his life as a math problem. “I may not drop the pen for the whole day, think till late at night and when I open my eyes in the morning, the solution comes to my mind and I start to enjoy those minutes of victory”. 

Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan/Mediamax


 I started to believe in myself and my children started to believe in themselves. We share the same difficulties, which means that we can change everything together. Not everything goes the way you would like it to, you just need to be very diligent and be a strong person.  I keep telling my students ‘you can do it, you can learn.’ When I used to tell them that ‘one of you may be the future president or the prime minister,’ they doubted themselves, now they believe it. The most important thing is to believe and have faith in yourself.”
 
Lusine Gharibyan

Photos and video by Vaghinak Ghazaryan (for Mediamax)

VivaCell-MTS is the general partner of the project

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