An annual Fletcher tradition is the “Faculty and Staff Waits on You” dinner, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  And an annual tradition of the event is the auction of, well, all sorts of interesting stuff provided by the community.  And a tradition of the auction is to provide the funds raised to a worthy organization.  This year, the funds went to AYO, an NGO with which a 2012 LLM graduate, Sevan Karian, is working.  Sevan contacted me recently with information about AYO and the auction.  I asked him to tell me more.

AYO means “YES” in Armenian (and could also mean “Armenian Youth Organization”).  This is the new name we’ve just chosen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of our organization.  Today, AYO’s mission is to help the unprivileged kids of Armenia through education programs, using sports and arts as tools for their development.

AYO builds or improves schools, orphanages, and kindergartens in very poor and remote villages of the country, as well as the infrastructure to practice sports and arts around these buildings.  In addition, AYO organizes summer camps every year in these villages, thanks to dozens of volunteers coming from France and elsewhere to spend a month with the children to teach them new skills.  This video tells AYO’s story:

I became involved in AYO after 2005, when I had lived with indigenous communities in southern Mexico (Chiapas).  I realized that I really wanted to be involved with a development aid organization in order to help people, and particularly children, in need.  Back in Paris, I met by chance with the former leaders of AYO.  They were looking for young people to revitalize this organization, which was falling apart.  With a few friends, I devoted my free time over the next five years — when I was a law student and then a lawyer — to restructuring the organization, restoring contact with local populations in Armenia, as well as finding and organizing new projects in poor villages, which have taken place every summer since 2007!

Originally a lawyer in the energy and business sector in Paris, I came to Fletcher in 2011 for the the LLM program and I took the amazing John Hammock’s class on NGO Management and Ethics.  This helped me a lot to frame my goals for AYO toward professionalization of the organization, and its expansion.  I am now working almost full-time with AYO, trying to find more funds and more projects.  Better organized and more efficient, AYO currently has an office in Paris with two interns, two workers in Armenia, and now a branch of the NGO opening in Boston!

With auction bids on prizes such as a dinner for two at Dean Bosworth’s house or a bow tie offered by Professor Henrikson, AYO collected around $7,000 and has new volunteers in the U.S.

I hope we will continue in this way and that AYO will be able to run several construction projects and summer camps in 2013 in Armenia, with the participation of French and also U.S. volunteers!

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