April 20, 2015
Last fall a select group of travelers toured Georgia under the auspices of American Friends of Georgia and Living Roots, LTD, a Georgian tour company. The tour was designed to show Georgia as a Eurasian treasure trove of cultural, historic and scenic splendor, while helping our travelers understand AFG’s commitment to the vulnerable children and elderly of Georgia. We visited several of the AFG-sponsored projects and three of our travelers wrote to me about their experiences.
Two of AFG’s guests were board members Susan Graham and Jon Kucera. Upon the conclusion of the tour, Jon Kucera wrote: “This was my second trip to Georgia and I hope it
won’t be my last. The physical beautyand diversity of this small country combined with the history, traditions, and hospitality and friendliness of the people is addictive. This time we
toured Svaneti in the NW corner of the country—a stunning rugged mountainous area which many Georgians have not seen. The Svans speak a different dialect (although most speak Georgian as well), but share the Georgian trait of warmth towards visitors and embracing life.”
Our tour visited several of AFG’s projects in Georgia.
These were the Mercy Center Hospice, the Tbilisi Day Care Center, the Community College of Decorative Gardening, the Nikozi Art Education and Rehabilitation Center, BedianiVillage,the Hematology/Oncology Clinic and Parents House and Qedeli Community. The following are observations by two of our travelers.
Bediani Village for Former Street Children
Over the years, AFG helped Abbess Mariam
purchaseseveral houses in Bediani Village. As the street children matured at Dzegvi Orphanage,they could move to a more family-like environment in Bediani. Zviad Khapava was one
of the young university graduates who
volunteered in 1995 to care for the street children. He now directs Bediani Village where the younger children live. He also overseas the older children who stay in an apartment in
Tbilisi attending university.
“Bediani is a small village in the hills south of Tbilisi. Zviad
Khapava met us at the school which was massive, decrepit
and attended by a small number of village children as well
as approximately 20 of the “street children”. Each room
had a small wood stove vented through a window for heat.
We toured several of the houses where the kids stay, each
house with an adult supervisor (some of which are
graduates of the program) Lastly we saw Zviad’s house
where he lives with his family—clearly the coldest and
flimsiest of the lot. Zviad and the kids are building a large
addition onto one of the more substantial houses. There
apparently is constant demand for new kids to be placed in
Bediani, but space has been a limiting factor. Zviad is a
quiet, modest man, but it is clear that the kids see him as a
father figure and he has devoted his life to them, he ferries
them into the city doctor visits, etc., and keeps track of the university students while he’s there.” Jon C. Kucera
Higher Education Scholarship Fund for Former Street Children
Since 1995, AFG has helped Abbess Mariam and her volunteers to raise 120 former street children in Dzegvi Orphanage and Bediani Village. AFG has sponsored the higher education of 25 of these young adults who have worked so hard to leave behind their pasts on the street to become real members of society.
“In Tbilisi, we met 5 young adults who grew up in Bediani: 4
university students and one soldier. They still remain a tight family,
supporting each other, sharing living space, mentoring the children
and youth at Bediani. We saw their apartment and had time to talk to
them individually. I was very impressed and encouraged by their
journey in life. One young man, a soldier, expressed his appreciation
of American soldiers. He has worked along side and trained with
both US Marines and US Army in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other posts.
He said how much he appreciated AFG. He wanted to help his
younger sister attend college, but he did not have the money. His
sister was present, part of the group we met; she is a student at the
State college. I was very moved by his words. He had received
permission from his military leader to take a day off work to travel a
considerable distance to meet us, in person, to express his thanks.” Susan P. Graham
This was my first trip to Georgia, my first experience of AFG at work,
and as you can see, I was deeply impressed by the quality of AFG
work. It was truly an extraordinary trip, and AFG is truly an
extraordinary organization.” AyletteJenness