Back Home: Visiting Manana Youth Center

By: Christine Soussa

While I was in Armenia I had the pleasure of meeting with Manana Founder and CEO, Ruzanna Baghdasaryan. Manana Youth Center was established in 1995, with a mission to ignite and develop children’s imaginations while giving them the platform to express their views and the reality of their surroundings. It was refreshing and joyous to be surrounded by stories told by Armenia’s youth.

Giving children the tools and learning to tell a story, Manana helps children learn journalism, photo journalism, creative writing, animation, and film making. Once every two months Manana produces a magazine named “Khabarbzik” that brings the children’s stories to life. Stories are also published online at www.17.am.

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The uniqueness of their work is clear upon entry. Lining the office walls are works of the children who contribute content. Moving images, mantras and stories unleash an emotion that reminds us that each individual has a story and life perspective that matters.

The story of their growth and expansion is inspiring; Manana originally started in the living room of its Founder’s apartment 20 years ago.  Within Yerevan, Manana brings to life the works of children ages 8-23.  For the past three (3) years, they have expanded their reach to children within towns and villages throughout all the regions of Armenia including Shirak, Vayots Dzor, Ararat, Syunik, Lori, Aragatsotn, Kotayk, Armavir, Gegharkunik and Tavush. Through local workshops and distance learning techniques they are able to empower children and bring their stories to life.

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The publications and stories are superb and distinctive. Each page is covered with the works of children. Some of the stories share the sad realities that Armenia faces as it learns to grow as a developing country.  Popular topics include: impacts of the Gyumri Earthquake, lack of potable water and gas in rural area homes, unemployment and elderly.  Baghdasaryan says, “The children have the ability to address complex and layered issues.”

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During my visit with the team, it became very apparent that Manana doesn’t have enough cameras to provide the children to make their own films and photo stories.  Thus, AIWA-SF is encouraging its members and supports to donate new or used cameras and video cameras, AIWA-SF will deliver the cameras directly to Manana in Armenia. For information please email, aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

A governing principle at Manana is that they do not teach children, instead they work with them towards learning—this is a powerful philosophy and teaching pedagogy. We look forward to continuing to support Manana as they continue to expand and teach children how to tell and share their story!

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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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