On a small slice of land, landlocked in between four large and powerful countries, lives a people who understand pain, exhibit hope and have the strength to persevere. And in the north of that small country named Armenia, is Spitak, a town that is hard to find in any guide book and a name that is not heard on the news. The community of just over 15,000 people carry the burden of a genocide, the recent disaster of an earthquake and the visible aftermath of the Soviet Union. 

The people of Spitak don’t have much, but they share what they have. They insist that when you sit at their table you must eat and when they drink, the toasts are dedicated to you, your parents and the memory of your grandparents. They teach you their dances and sing you their songs. If you are lucky, you may even have a chance to hear a gentle old soul play the duduk, Armenia’s national instrument. They are proud of their culture, as they should be. The hurt of their history is seen in their eyes and can be heard in their stories. They welcome you in like family and are an important reminder that strangers can become the closest of friends. 

I spent the Summer in Spitak in 2014 while staffing a Travel Service Program through the YMCA's Becket-Chimney Corners summer camp. This program fosters leadership development training and cultural immersion with an emphasis on service work while offering American teens an opportunity to integrate themselves into a foreign culture and a new environment. These photographs are from our month learning about and traveling around Armenia. I thank the friends I made and the families I hope to return to one day for their hospitality, their insight and their acceptance.