Watertown Tab: St. Stephen’s fifth-graders visit Armenia

Pilgrimage to the ‘homeland’
By Monica Deady / Staff Writer

Friday, May 21, 2004

St. Stephen’s fifth-graders visit Armenia

Principal Houry Boyamian hugged each child goodbye as they passed
through the doors of their school and boarded the waiting bus. After
a bus ride, two flights and several hours in limbo, the students will
arrive in Armenia, their “homeland.”

Twelve fifth-graders at St. Stephen’s Elementary School in Watertown,
along with their families, left for a 10-day trip to Armenia Tuesday,
marking the first time the school is sending students to visit the
country; it’s also the 20th anniversary of the school.

“We’re not pretty excited, [we’re] very excited,” fifth-grader Tina
Halvadjian said, “just for the fact that we’re gonna see our homeland.”

Halvadjian, who had tears in her eyes as Boyamian hugged her on her
way to the bus, explained that this would be the first time they
“actually see what we’ve studied.”

“This is our first time going and it’s our homeland, too,” Hovig
Karahousaran said. He said he was excited to see cities and everything
on their itinerary.

Other excited students and parents said they could not say a specific
thing they were looking forward to, but that they were just excited
to see their “homeland.”

While in Armenia, the students will stay in Yerevan, the capital, for
a few days. They will tour the foreign ministry, as well as several
museums, visit two schools and meet children there, and see several
important religious places.

In addition, the students will be in the country for Republic Day,
or Armenian Independence Day, and be able to attend celebrations.

To raise money for the trip beforehand, coordinator Shari Melkonian
said the families held several fund-raisers and collected money outside
various stores. Several local vendors also contributed to their trip.

Melkonian said they raised about $15,000, half the total cost of
the trip.

In a brief ceremony prior to boarding the bus, archpriest Rev. Torkom
Hagopian gave each child a gold cross, and blessed them.

“It is nice [that they are going],” Hagopian said before the
ceremony. “It is very nice that the children at this age will see
the motherland.”

Boyamian, who has been principal at St. Stephen’s for 16 years, agreed.

“For the past eight years they have learned so much; now they will
see with their own eyes,” she said.

“You don’t get to practice [a language] until you’re in the country,”
said John Altandilian, co-chairman of the board at St. Stephen’s
School and a former French teacher. “They’re going to feel their
whole eight years of school in 10 days.”

While the students are gone, the rest of the school will track their
progress on a map in the lobby, and two fifth-grade students who did
not go will report to the school on their progress each day.

“It’s going to be memorable, definitely memorable,” said Lori
Orchanian, a mother who went with her son, Nicholas, a fifth-grader,
daughter Stephanie and husband Zareh.

Monica Deady can be reached at [email protected].