Witnessing war drives Tierrai’s humanitarian work ambitions
A Bermudian living in Armenia when a war broke out over a disputed region said that the experience reminded her of the importance of humanitarian work.
Tierrai Tull, 20, spent four months in the country during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War while balancing work and her education.
She said: “It solidified what I want to do when I’m older, because now I know I want to work for international policy-forming organisations.
“I knew that, after seeing all of that and feeling connected to refugees who I know I have nothing in common with, I wanted to be a part of international policy-forming.
“Being connected to them showed me how delicate the human experience is.”
Ms Tull, who left Armenia in December, added that she juggled her volunteer efforts with working for a Bermuda insurance company and studying online at a Canadian university – a feat that she spread over three different time zones.
Ms Tull said that she moved to Armenia in 2018 after she graduated from Berkeley Institute and enrolled in a two-year course with the United World College (UWC) to complete her International Baccalaureate diploma at a school in the city of Dilijan.
She said that she graduated from UWC last June but stayed in Armenia while she was enrolled as an online student at the University of Toronto.
Ms Tull explained that the area was the cheapest place and saw it as the best option to live in while she worked to put herself through school.
But she added that she realised there would be a problem once the Armenian military mobilised.
Ms Tull said: “There was a huge shift in Armenia – I saw large protests, social media campaigns, war signs on cars and houses with political messages.”
The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War started on September 27 after Azerbaijan clashed with Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh over a claim to the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where Artsakh was established, and its neighbouring territories.
The conflict resulted in both countries mobilising their militaries and instating martial law.
The war was the second dispute over the area, with the First Nagorno-Karabakh War taking place between 1988 and 1994.
Ms Tull said that Armenia had the atmosphere of “a country in mourning” when the conflict erupted.
She added: “I was a visual minority there – obviously, because it’s Armenia – and I was no longer protected by my school’s gates because I’d graduated.
“It was a little scary, but I did feel protected by my friends and their family members who told me that if anything were to happen I’d be able to stay with them.”
Ms Tull said that she volunteered to help refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh region, known to Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh, by bringing food and organising supplies.
She added that her work was in stark contrast to her time with the UWC, which she said “sheltered” her from the rest of the country.
Ms Tull said: “Whenever internationals come into a developing country there’s always this level of privilege, so when I went back alone that’s when I felt like I was more connected to Armenia.”
A ceasefire was arranged, but tensions boiled over throughout this year, culminating in the 2021 Armenia-Azerbaijan border crisis on May 12.
Ms Tull said that she managed her life by scheduling her time as much as she could.
She admitted that she endured many late nights and some sleepless nights, but added that she used her weekends to catch up on sleep.
Ms Tull said: “I took very good care of myself outside of anything I did. I had to, because I thought ‘Tierrai, you’re going to burn yourself out’.”
She added: “Throughout the entire time I just stayed really focused and it was just a reminder to really prioritise my education.
“I finished my first year with a 4.0 GPA, so I was very grateful that I was able to perform that well in all of those circumstances.”
Ms Tull said that she planned to move to Toronto in September once her study visa was approved.