Personal Observations from the Executive Director: Before I left for Georgia in 1995, the Director of Save the Children told me about an extraordinary nun, Abbess Mariam, rescuing street children. Mother Mariam is the dynamic young abbess of the Transfiguration Convent, which is in the center of Tbilisi. When I met her, I was pleased that she spoke English, so that we would not need an interpreter. She is a remarkably spiritual person who radiates compassion and joy. She is also practical with the unique ability to find simple solutions to solve complex problems. Her work has led to the most successful humanitarian projects in Georgia.
Mother Mariam told me that street children were a shocking new development in Georgia and the Patriarch had given his blessing for her convent to rescue them. The first children, some as young as three, slept on the convent’s balcony, then in tents and then in a donated abandoned psychiatric institution near the village of Dzegvi. There were 60 of them at first, living in the Dzegvi building which was a shell with no windows, no heat, no water, no plumbing and no electricity. To keep warm the children gathered sticks for firewood in the nearby woods. Although the conditions were terrible, I could see that the children were loved and they knew that the grownup volunteers and nuns cared about them very much. By respecting the children and listening to their needs, Mother Mariam is able to help each child to reach their full potential.
In 1998, Mother Mariam realized the need for the rehabilitated children living at Dzegvi to move onto a more home-like environment. She saw the opportunity to purchase nine small houses in the village of Bediani where some of her nuns were working in a local hospital. Mother Mariam and I traveled in the U.S. to raise funds to purchase the houses. In Bediani, groups of 6-10 children now live in individual houses with one or two teacher/parent volunteers. Currently, there are over 60 children living at Dzegvi Orphanage and over 60 children living in Bediani. Mother Mariam also wanted housing for the homeless elderly and single mothers who had appealed to her at the convent. She envisioned a community where the children and adults all helped each other and worked to become self-sufficient. In 2002, the volunteers and nuns living with the children at Dzegvi Orphanage/Bediani Village took over this project because Mother Mariam is focusing her own energies now on the Mercy Center hospice, School for Hospice Nurses and Shelter for Single Mothers.
Educating the children is still the greatest concern
for the volunteers and nuns at Dzegvi/Bediani. In Dzegvi, 18 of the younger children are being transported daily in a minibus donated by a German NGO to attend public school in Tbilisi. As tutor Data Kizeria says, “This opportunity no longer makes them feel different from other children.” In Bediani, several of the older children wanted to go to university. In a house in the mountains near Karsani, they are being tutored in the subjects they need to continue their higher education. Already two of these former street children have entered university. Some of the other older children have chosen to train for skilled jobs in Tbilisi.
AFG Accomplishments: AFG and many other humanitarian organizations have been supporting activities at Dzegvi Orphanage, Bediani Village and Karsani for many years. Among the highlights of AFG’s efforts include:
- Raised funds to turn the ruined Dzegvi building into adequate living quarters including plumbing, electrical, windows, classrooms, heating equipment, etc.
- Provided funds for purchasing food, medicines, clothing, shoes, classroom equipment and supplies, kitchen utensils, beds and bedding for Dzegvi Orphanage
- Initiated World Bank involvement in renovation of additional outlying buildings at Dzegvi Orphanage for reunited families of the street children
- Provided funds to purchase houses, domestic animals and seeds in Bediani
- Initiated conversations with Chevron Oil Company in Georgia which led to their purchase of two houses in Bediani for the children
- Provided funds to purchase a pick up truck for Bediani
- Provided funds for school supplies, books, food, clothing, shoes in Bediani
- Shipped six used computers donated by the United Nations, a dental chair, school supplies from the D.C. Rotaract Club, camping equipment, blankets and bedding, personal hygiene items, clothing and shoes to Dzegvi/Bediani in our container in 2003
- Shipped to nuns in Bediani warm black tights, boots, sweaters, scarves and gloves
- Provided funds for refrigerators in Bediani
- Provided funds for heaters in Karsani
- Funds to pay tutors for older children preparing to enter university and for computer skills training for other children who will be seeking jobs. Other older children, like Lekso who loves animals and is training at a veterinary clinic, need funds for enrollment in work training programs.
- Funds to purchase additional houses in Bediani for the growing population of rehabilitated street children
- Funds to purchase books and school supplies in Dzegvi, Bediani and Karsani
- Funds for food, electricity, petrol, medicines, heating fuel, clothes, personal hygiene items and other daily needs. Unfortunately, in 2004 the German organization, Diakonishes Werk, stopped its donations, which had covered $5,000 of the $8,300 needed each month to operate all three projects.
- Funds to continue the charity soup kitchen. The tofu is prepared in Bediani, the soup is prepared in Dzegvi and the children serve it to the street elderly in Tbilisi. The volunteers and the nuns want the children to learn to give back to those less fortunate even than themselves.
Current Needs: The former street children at Dzegvi Orphanage, Bediani Village and Karsani need: