First Lines, First Prizes and our First Lady

by Lilit Avetisyan


For the last 8 years the National Poetry Recitation Contest has been attracting students across Armenia to participate in a poetry contest to encourage students to improve their English and build their self-confidence in the language. In 2018 the charitable initiative reached an extraordinary milestone, attracting 719 students from 226 schools across Armenia compared to the 453 contestants from 2017.

Davit Sargysan with First Lady Anna Hakobyan

Davit Sargysan with First Lady Anna Hakobyan

Set up in 2010 by a Peace Corps volunteer and their Armenian counterpart, the purpose of this charitable initiative is to help promote critical thinking and encourage public speaking in English among Armenian students.  The initiative is solely funded through donations and partnerships, attracting donors from all over the world. In 2018 we were able to launch a Creative English Summer School: a five-day camp for 60 contest finalists. The camp allowed some of Armenia’s brightest and best students (grades 7-12) develop a national peer network of English enthusiasts while, benefitting from career and academic mentoring. The camp allowed the students to develop their vocabulary, gain self-confidence and make new friends. Located in Hankavan, the camp was a unique experience for many of the students who were also able to enjoy yoga, art, music and dancing classes during those five days — they even met rescue dogs!

We were honoured by the presence of the spouse of our Prime Minister, Anna Hakobyan who visited the students and was impressed by the learning experience the camp offered these young students. Our poet-in-residence, Damian Gorman, one of Northern Ireland’s most renowned contemporary writers mentored and supported the students. He ran different sessions on poetry writing, inspiring participants “to write first lines of their poems”. Some of the poems which stood out for the students were Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, If by Rudyard Kipling, and I Carry Your Heart by E. E. Cummings.


They built a house
with books and flowers
They made a creature
with heart and feathers
She turned her face
to the pale blue moon
And glanced at the light
of the bright sunshine.
She took her first step
And opened her wings
And promised to meet the moon on her way.
"But is this the path I wanted", said she
"Is this the moon that attracted me?"

Poem by Diana, a student from Vanadzor

This year we had over 1,200 students participate across every marz (region of Armenia)!  Our project has been a huge success since inception as we have seen our participating students move onto higher heights and we feel their involvement in the National Poetry Recitation Contest has played a role. Emilia Simonian, from Yerevan, is now studying veterinary medicine at Cambridge University, Anahit Badalyan, a 10th form student from Kapan, will finish her last two years of high school at United World Colleges in Italy. Martin Ghazaryan, Lilit Poghosyan and Tatev Telunts, from the Goris area, are some of our students who made it to the third round for Future Leaders Exchange program—and they hope to be studying in the US next year. Diana Mitichyan was a member of the European Youth Parliament, Taguhi Torozyan took part in Summer Business School 2018 and her team project won the first prize as the best start-up idea. Davit Sargsyan, now a 12th former in Kapan, aspires to be Armenia’s Prime Minister in the future; he was particularly delighted to meet Ms. Hakobyan (left). We have lots of other would-be computer programmers, doctors and marketing specialists. We feel that our initiative is helping harness and support the future leaders, thinkers and innovators of Armenia. 

To support the National Poetry Recitation Contest and camp, please contact Ms Kristine Khanoyan at: