This summer, 13-year-old Hrant Papyan’s creativity reached celestial heights when he was chosen as one of the 15 winners of the My Universe essay competition at Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO).

This was the third year of My Universe, which is sponsored by both FAR through its Breaking the Cycle of Poverty Program (BCPP) and BAO, and aims to boost children’s creativity and promote science. Children from the Berd Region of Tavush Province, between grades 8 and 12, are able to enter by submitting an essay about what they consider to be the components of their “universe.” All topics are up for grabs. In addition to an encyclopedia about the solar system, winners are able to visit BAO and they present their essays for an audience during an awards ceremony.

“My Universe is huge, full of planets. There I have everything but peace, which is the most necessary thing in the world,” said Hrant, reading from his essay, referring to the everyday violence that he and his family face in their village, which frequently experiences firefighting along the border with Azerbaijan.

The first day, BAO Director Areg Mickaelian welcomed all guests and organized a tour. Children got to meet with BAO’s staff, and they even visited the observatory’s enormous 2.6-meter telescope. That same evening they were able to do a night watch to observe the planets and stars.

“The moon seemed so close I felt I could touch it,” said Hrant.

The children also visited some local sites like Amberd Medieval Fortress, Saghmosavank, Hovhannavank, the Park of Armenian Letters, and the museum of world-famous astrophysicist Viktor Hambartsumyan. They also took part in a small business training where they learned how local farmers dry and sell fruit.

“This is one of the most successful programs from FAR and BAO’s long-lasting cooperation,” said FAR’s Education and Science Program Manager Eduard Karapetyan. FAR and BAO have also partnered together on the ANSEF program for years. “The children were very impressed by their visit. It was really very pleasant to see how enthusiastic and involved they were in every activity.”