AIWA San Francisco Empowering Teenage Girls at the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School in Armenia

By: Gaiane Khachatrian

Fall of 2014, AIWA-SF established a partnership with the newly opened Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School located in the Malatsya district of Yerevan, Armenia. Through weekly classes focused on Leadership Development and Comprehensive Health Education, these sessions continued to promote the importance of understanding self-development as one blossoms from girl to young adult. 

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AIWA – SF first met with school Principle, Melanya Geghamyan, during the summer of 2014. The members of the organization were inspired to initiate the program, realizing very quickly that Mrs. Geghamyan is a one of a kind leader and educator. A remarkable woman and an inspiring mentor, Mrs. Geghamyan holds the highest standards of education at the school. The Ministry of Education in Armenia recognized her outstanding work by awarding her a Gold Medal for the “Best Administered School” in Yerevan!

Empowering the Youth through Expanding their Knowledge on Comprehensive Health Education

Public health specialist, Ani Jilozian, has been working closely with AIWA-SF to implement educational initiatives.  Ani has worked extensively in the field of women’s health after receiving her master’s degree in global public health from the Icahn School of Public Health at Mount Sinai in New York City. She has developed a curriculum and carried out the Comprehensive Health Program both at Mer Hooys, a center which houses disadvantaged teenage girls, and Avedisian High School.

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The main goals of the program sponsored by AIWA – SF is to transform current normative values and practices using culturally aware and evidence-based practices.  The initiative charter is to teach girls about their bodies, reproductive health, reproductive rights, encourage adolescents to make informed relationship decisions, act responsibly, and employ self-respect. The series of the workshops delve into different facets of sexual and reproductive health, including healthy lifestyles, biological processes, healthy relationships, communication, safe sex, family planning, and gender equality.

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Empowering the Youth through Promoting Leadership Skills Development

In collaboration with Women Resource Center in Armenia (WRCA), AIWA – SF offered Leadership classes to the students at the Avedisian High School. Founded in 2003, WRCA is the first resource center created in post-soviet Armenia to address the needs of young women in the country, helping them acquire the necessary skills to succeed, and empowering them to become active community members.

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Ms. Elvira Meliksetyan, who led the Leadership sessions, holds a MA degree in Management and Organizational Psychology from the Yerevan State University, and serves as the Adolescent Girls Program Coordinator at the WRCA. Her sessions focused on leadership and choice; she taught the importance of creating one’s vision, promoting a shared vision, building alliances, learning from differences, problem solving, and effective communication.  The collaboration and learning that resulted from these sessions was inspiring and heartwarming.

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The Girls Talk at the Avedisian High School

The students who attended the sessions had a positive response, the testimonials and responses affirm that such sessions are impactful and leave lasting impressions. We have shared some quotes from the girls below. 

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“I never thought that I could talk to someone about myself, share my interests, address my problems, and most importantly, that someone will actually listen and provide feedback. These sessions helped me realize that I need to spend more time with myself.’’ – Arpine

“After these sessions I started developing new ideas and thoughts. The sessions made me think deeper.’’- Elen

“I have learned a great deal about how to communicate effectively. My approach is different now when I find myself in a conflict situation. I have a new way of dealing with it.’’- Manan

“These classes have changed my perspective toward everything that happens around me. I try to always stay positive and calm. I think I am a wiser individual now.’’ – Mane

“When I feel saddened, and I do at times, my mood instantly changes when I walk into the Leadership class. I always look forward to it, and leave the classroom by taking something very valuable with me home.” – Gohar

Teaching by Example

As part of the “Creating Your Own Vision” session, Ms. Meliksetian invited guest speaker, Ms. Sona Barseghyan, a young football player representing the official women’s football team in Vanadzor, Armenia.  Sona represented the team for over eight years and shared the challenges she faced as the only female player on the team. This is unusual in the Armenian culture, especially in the rural areas of the country. As she shared her own perspectives with the girls, she highlighted the importance of setting goals and working hard toward those goals, regardless of the difficulty of the process.  Sona’s powerful message: “Believe in yourselves and always have courage and a can do attitude” was moving and very well received.

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Creating Student-Centered School Culture

In addition to holding high academic standards at the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School, Mrs. Geghemyan, the Principle of the School, is keen on promoting the development of life skills. 

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Embracing a “whole child” teaching pedagogy is a priority that Mrs. Geghemyan focuses on.  She wants to instill her students with the ability to navigate through the challenges of life. Empowering students with critical skills so they can become active citizens who positively impact their community, and succeed globally. “We are truly grateful to AIWA-SF affiliate for creating this unique opportunity at our school by offering Leadership and Comprehensive Health Education classes to our students,” said Mrs. Geghamyan. “The impact was very visible right after the initial few sessions, and I am very pleased with the outcome. I trust that what AIWA – SF does today in Armenia will certainly contribute toward shaping the futures of the next generation of leaders, learners and entrepreneurs in our homeland”.

By developing and supporting educational initiatives in Armenia, AIWA – SF aims to empower the next generation of Armenian women to believe in their own unique leadership qualities, have the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential, and participate in, and contribute to all aspects of life.

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To learn more about AIWA, please visit www.aiwainternational.org.  To get involved with the AIWA SF affiliate, please visit www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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