Extracurricular learning empowers girls in the Armenian-Yazidi village of Shamiram
Schoolchildren of the Yazidi-Armenian village of Shamiram have launched a creative art project with the help of UNICEF and Teach For Armenia
Alikhan, Gyozal, Telie, Termine and their friends are waiting impatiently for the heat press machine to end its work so that they can marvel at their new creation – a mug with a colorful depiction of a beautiful peacock.
This group of 8-graders in Shamiram village get together on regular basis at the Free Flight extracurricular club at their school to create art, their most proud possessions being mugs with images of animals and bookmarks with dried plants flowers – all native to their region in Armenia. The club was started by their biology teacher Tamara Martirosyan and has quickly become a favorite pass-time for students.
Shamiram is a Yazidi-populated village in Armenia. The traditions and customs in the village sometimes impede free pass-time between students, especially girls. Tamara Martirosyan noticed this when she first arrived to Shamiram for work two years ago through Teach for Armenia.
As a TFA teacher-leader, Tamara aims to not only provide academic knowledge but also discover her students’ potential, help them set goals and outline ways to achieve those. She felt that Shamiram needed a place where schoolchildren and young people could do creative work together, make art showing the beautiful Yazidi culture, and through that put their knowledge to practice, while learning new skills.
“My goal is to help my students to learn how they can apply the knowledge they gain at school in practice and how to acquire new skills such as drafting a project, assigning tasks, setting goals, working as a team. I noticed that the classroom setting was official from that perspective, so we tried to change that through the club meetings. We show that girls can develop projects, work together to do something new and useful. All children have dreams. Initiatives such as the Free Flight club reveal to children that they can make plans and pursue their dreams, even if in small steps,”
It all started with hand-painting on mugs. In the early days of the club, students used to run home with mugs that were still wet so that they could ‘bake’ them in the oven 450 degree. Soon, they started painting also on wooden pendants and making various souvenirs as gifts to their mothers or fathers on holidays.
When the idea of printing images on mugs formed, the club decided to turn it into a big project. With the support of UNICEF and Teach For Armenia, they soon obtained printing equipment, paint, and other materials.
“It was a bit difficult in the beginning, but we soon got the hang of it. Here’s how we work: we download the image from the internet, resize and print it, and then we stick it to the mug with duct tape to keep it in one place, and finally, we put the mug into the heat press machine. It is awfully hot when we take it out, so we let it cool off before removing the taped picture. And the mug is ready! We really enjoy this project, and our parents are proud of us, proud to see that Shamiram’s girls can make something like this,” said Teli.
“I was first skeptical when we were making the first mug. But we took off the paper and there it was - a clear and pretty picture! I was so happy,” Gyozal recalled their first experiment.
Tamara says that she has never seen the girls so excited and happy before. Although the initial idea was to study the nature and animals of the region in order to use them in images for mugs and bookmarks, for their very first mug, the girls chose a picture of their favorite boyband BTS. “The boys like another Korean band, Blackpink, but they haven’t printed a mug with them yet,” noted one of the girls.
The club has boy members too, who are often busy with agricultural and cattle farming. It’s Alikhan’s,13, first time at the club and he brought a selection of images that he liked on the internet or created himself. Trusted with the design of bookmarks, Alikhan is fully submerged into the creative process.
Children in Shamiram usually do not continue their education after they graduate middle school. Any clubs the school has had so far have been closely related to academic coursework. Tamara believes an extracurricular center is necessity, given that, as a rule, children in Shamiram do not get vocational education. At the center, they learn to use the computer, practice their drawing and painting skills, and work together toward a common goal.
“Both girls and boys should have all opportunities for education either at school or outside of it. UNICEF works to equip young girls and boys with the 21st century skills. It helps them to become self-sufficient, orients them in the labor market and opens the door for future learning. At the same time, we are trying to help communities in providing an environment for children that is conducive for their development, respects their individual needs and cultural customs,”
“Children are always keen to follow lead. The parents’ reaction in the community was very encouraging too. They thanked me for the opportunity for their children to do something outside of school hours to further develop their talents,” informed us Tamara. “The mother of one of the girls has really good artistic skills. She called me to say that although she never applied her talent anywhere, at least her daughter can now paint and find use for her talent.”
Next to mugs and bookmarks, students in Shamiram plan to also design t-shirts.