Looking back to Nederland
Impressions from my trip as guide with Armenian children
for Pax Kinderhulp,
by Sona Amirkhanyan
Hi, my name is Sona Amirkhanyan. I’m 24 years old, I was born and still live in Vanadzor, Armenia, with my family. I want to tell you how it happened that I and 20 children from Vanadzor went to The Netherlands (Nederland, Holland).
My first contact with Pax Kinderhulp was in 2011.
Pax Kinderhulp is a charitative organization in The Netherlands, relying on volunteers, with the aim to help children from poor families, mainly from Easter-European countries, by providing them a holiday with a host family. The Pax Kinderhulp group in Apeldoorn, Nederland, is fully concerned with Armenian children.
At that time I was working in the Vanadzor orphanage as a social worker. I knew that Pax Kinderhulp is an organization, that invites Armenian children to The Netherlands to have their winter holidays there. Already many children from the orphanage have been in The Netherlands. When I asked them how it was in Nederland, they told me that it was the best time of their lives.
In september 2011 the Pax Kinderhulp delegates Maria Goris, Till Gros and their friends came to the orphanage. At that time I didn’t know that their mission was to select a guide for the children. The final group to go to Nederland would be composed of 10 children from the orphanage and 10 from the families who live in harsh, poor conditions. In addition they needed a guide who knows how to look after the children. Besides me Maria Goris would interview another girl as candidate for the job. One or two months passed. Then one day the director of the orphanage called me and said that I had been selected as guide for the Pax Kinderhulp group, so we should start to prepare the documents. However, an hour later he called me to say that the trip for this year 2011 was canceled and we would probably go to Holland next year.
My first steps with Pax kinderhulp
It was October 2012 and I didn’t work in the orphanage anymore; I was sad that I had no job. Suddenly I received a call from the director of the orphanage. He told that this year the children, who had been selected in 2011, would go to Holland. He added that as I had been selected, they would like me to be the guide of the group. I agreed immediately. I knew that accompanying the children to Holland was a great responsibility. It would be my first visit to Europe11 Armenia is not Europe – Europe stretches until the Caucasus and Armenia is just south of it. . I was not afraid, because children that had been in Nederland previously, had told me about their trip, so that I knew that we would have a great time there.
Maria Goris explained to me what my tasks would be and what had to be done first. At first I should prepare the documents, as the children had already been selected. I had no idea that the preparation would need so much energy and time. I had to go to Yerevan many times. I also met the children and their parents. I was glad that they trusted me their children. Gayane …. [family name], who is the social worker of the Evangelic church, helped me to gather information about the children from the families. I gave Gayane my Skype name, in order to keep in touch and be able to share the children’s pictures. I also gave instructions to their families as to what to tell their children how they should behave in the foreign country, to avoid problems.
Maria Goris helped me whenever I had any questions; then I would call her and she would explain to me what I should do.
I kept in touch with the leader of the other group from Stepanavan, a group of 20 children, that had been in Nederland.
I heard about Hayastan Mashakarian, who was the guide of the group in Nederland in 2010. I knew her phone number and I called her to hear some details about our trip. Hayastan helped me too. She told that my host family probably would be Paul and Nans Ritter and that the representative of Pax Kinderhulp in Apeldoorn was Cobi Alink. She gave them my e-mail address, with the result that they started writing to me. Hence, we were already acquainted from far. Paul and Cobi gave me some instructions, these also proved very helpful.
The trip was set for January 22 till February 15 2013. So, when we had gone through all preparations, we were all waiting for D day, January 22, 2013. When finally that day came, we first went to pick up 10 children from the Evangelic church at 11 o’clock, then we collected the children from the orphanage. We reached the airport “Zvartnots” without problems at about 01:40 AM (at night). There we met the other group from Stepanavan with Till Gross and Olga, who accompanied us during the trip. Our flight would leave at 04:20 AM, so we went to check in. Little could we know that our plane would be delayed. They told us that due to fog the plane couldn’t land. They also suggested us to go home and come back next day. That suggestion, however, we didn’t like, so that Till Gross and Olga went to speak with them, explaining that it would be very difficult for us with 40 children to return home and come back. So they told that if we didn’t want to go back, we would have to wait. At that point it was already 8:30 am and the children were tired, because they hadn’t slept all night. So we decided to have a breakfast just in Zvartnots. After this meal we went to have a rest. A great surprise was waiting for us. Allthough we knew that our plane was already ready to fly, we suddenly had to hurry not to miss the plane. The children were happy, as they all saw a real plane for the first time in their lives. The flight plan was to Prague with a changeover on a plane to Amsterdam. But between Yerevan and Prague the airplane landed in Kosice, Slovakia , where we had to wait another two hours. The stewards of the airport offered us a cup of coffee, tea or juice and cakes for the children. Those two hours passed slowly, because we wanted to be in Apeldoorn as soon as possible. Then we were in Prague, where we didn’t have to wait long .
New life in Apeldoorn
Finally we arrived at Schipol – Amsterdam Airport. Cobi, Harmke, Wil and some of the host families welcomed us. We knew that the Armenian community had rented a bus for us, but as we were so late, they couldn’t keep the bus. That’s why host families were there to take us to Apeldoorn with their cars. Thus, 2 hours later we were in Apeldoorn, in the community center Het Vogelnest (“The Bird’s Nest”). The members of the organization and host families were waiting for us there. Of the host families I already knew Samantha Zimmer, with whom I had chatted on facebook. We were happy to see each other, but as we were very tired, we went with our host families to have a shower and sleep, because new life was waiting for us.
I received a Pax telephone, so that I would always be reachable for the host families and for the members of Pax Kinderhulp - whenever they had any questions, they could ring me up.
From the meeting moment with the host families, everything was perfect. The organization did everything to make our days unforgettable and fine. The children could see things and do activities they had never seen and done before. We went to a swimming pool to swim, to a skate court skating, to a skateboard center to roll on skateboards; the children also went to the Kid’s Playground to be active, to the Kids’ Discovery Center to make al sorts experiments themselves, they learned how to paint, to play various interesting games, to dance on Dutch songs, to sing and to taste delicious food. The children learned some words in Dutch. To their surprise some of the children found their host parents to speak some Armenian words and some had lots of fun teaching their parents Armenian words. They learned and felt how it is to live in a Dutch family, to get to know their habits, good manners, etc. They also saw the people’s kindness, attention, they knew that their families did everything voluntary. The committee of the Armenian Community in Almelo invited us to have a nice day with them. We saw the Armenian church in Almelo, we got acquainted with Armenian people from Armenia and from Iraq. They did their best to make our day amazing.
I would like to add, they they gathered money from Armenian committee and transferred it to Pax Kinderhulp’s bank account. It was very good and nice. During the party I got accuainted to an Armenian nice family. They invited me to have a nice day with them. We enjoyed our time together in Amsterdam, in Arnhem and also at their place. Everything was perfect.
During our holiday the children did not have serious problems. Only two of them suffered shortly from small pocks (water pokken), with no permanent effects.
Me and members of Pax Kinderhulp visited every family at least once. I made the visits with Cobi, with Wil and Harmke. I enjoyed these visits where I met the families in their own home with the children. I could feel the difference inside the children day by day. As I knew the children before, every time I saw them, I could notice that they were changing for the better. That was great to observe. Our relationship was full of love and respect. February the 5th was one of the boys’ birthday. His host family invited me to celebrate with them. That was so nice. I saw that the host parents didn’t separate the children from their own children, and they called them mama and papa.
Saying goodbye to our families in Apeldoorn
February 13 was our last evening in Apeldoorn; the farewell party was a very touching moment for me. The children knew that it was their last day, that’s why they were upset. They told me that they didn’t want to go back. They liked their families and that was mutual. Unfortunately, our three weeks holiday was going over too soon.
The next day we were in Het Vogelnest. The bus was waiting for us. I asked the children not to cry while saying good bye, but I myself couldn’t keep my tears, and I saw tears in everyone’s eyes.
We are back in Armenia
Gert and his son Martijn accompanied us on the trip home. They are members of Pax Kinderhulp from Alkmaar. On our way home we didn’t have to wait for the plane, without problems we reached Yerevan on time. Martijn and Gert wanted to see the orphanage, so we went there together. After meeting the director of the orphanage, I explained them all about the orphanage. After 3 days back in Vanadzor, I met the children and their families in Evangelic church. The members thanked the Dutch people, Pax Kinderhulp organization for everything they did for the children and when the pastor asked one of the boys whether he had missed his parents, he answered “no”. Everyone was laughing.
I liked the children, they were nice, they were dear to me. I wish them all the best.
My overall impressions
My impressions are really great. I can talk about it over and over again. I’m impressed by the people’s kindness. They showed me another world. Me as well as the children saw new things. I liked my host family very very much. Every day they tried to show me new things, new places, I tasted very delicious food that Nans made - I liked everything Nans cooked. (I miss …). Paul taught me how to ride a bicycle and I could ride through the city. I enjoyed it very much.
With Paul and Nans I went to Zutphen, to Deventer, to Schokland, to Dwingeloo, to Utrecht. I liked those places, I saw many historical buildings. Every day I thanked God for the days he gave me in Nederland and in general. I’m very happy to get to know these people. On 8th February Cobi Alink and her husband Frans took me to Amsterdam. It was amazing. I liked everything I saw. It seemed as if I was in a fairy-tale. When I was looking around, everything was very nice. Everywhere I went, I took many pictures. We had a sightseeing trip on a boat. I saw many interesting and famous buildings. It was evening as we returned to Apeldoorn. With Samantha Zimmer I had a very nice time together… I love and miss all of you …
When looking back, I see that Dutch people live right. You guys do everything to help people who need it. When I tell my Armenian friends about the program, they are surprised. The children saw things that I would like to be in their lives, elementary things like kindness, unselfish friendship, love and respect. I would like them not to forget about these values. I would like them to study better, to have a good job, then be able to visit their host families in Nederland. With your help I looked at life from a different angle. I saw a lot of different things between Armenia and Nederland. I learned to appreciate the way you live.
I’m sure, that God sees everything and will reward you for everything you do for the children, who you didn’t known before. I learned that it’s not necessary to be rich or very rich, if you want to help someone or to do good things, you have a rich soul and that’s enough.
Mijn lieve vrienden, Ik zal je altijd herinneren, Ik hou van en mis je elke dag. Ik wens u alleen het beste. Ik hoop je weer te zien in Armenië.
God zegene u.