The people of Georgia, like the people of the Ukraine, have chosen the route of westernization and democracy. As a result, Georgians struggle with the economic impact on their country of
the continued Russian military occupation of two large Georgian territories—Abkhazia lost in 1993 and South Ossetia lost after the war with Russia in 2008. These two territories amount to twenty percent of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory. Russia continues to destabilize Georgia in an effort to prevent Georgia from succeeding in its vision to integrate with Europe and NATO. In 2011, Russian troops started erecting fencing and barbed wire along the administrative boundary line between Georgia and South Ossetia called borderization. Since then the fence, which now reaches over 250 miles, has been gradually moved into Georgian territory, advancing the occupation line inside Georgia to enlarge the Russian-held territory. Families are cut off from their orchards and water for irrigation, which were their livelihoods. Children are cut off from attending school. All this is happening less than a mile from the Nikozi Art Education and Rehabilitation Center.
Nikozi Art Education and Rehabilitation Center
Your donations as well as a major grant from the Embassy of Japan to American Friends of Georgia to (AFG) made possible the construction and opening on September 19, 2013 of the Nikozi Art Education and Rehabilitation Center located in the Georgian village of Nikozi. Ambassador Toshio Kaitani of Japan and Ambassador Richard Norland of the U.S. attendthe ceremony with much excitement. The Center is an after school program for over 100 war-affected children
(ages 8–18) from Nikozi and surrounding villages. It is also a place for adults in the community to meet. The principal goal of the Nikozi project is to provide psychosocial rehabilitation for Nikozi children and adults through art experience and vocational education and to spur development in this region that remains on the frontlines in a conflict that continues today. The Center was the brainchild of Archbishop Isaiah, one of AFG’s Georgian partners, who stayed in Nikozi during the bombing in 2008 and inspired villagers to return to their homes. As a former animation filmmaker, he began by teaching animation filmmaking to the children. The Center has become a hub of activities that expand beyond the arts with foreign language studies and technical training.
Testimonial about Nikozi Art Education and Rehabilitation Center
In April 2014, Deputy Chief of Mission Bridget Brink at the U.S. Embassy in Georgia visited Nikozi and wrote, “Bishop Isaiah’s art school is an amazing place which made a huge and positive impression on the Foreign Minister, Minister of Sports, and the diplomats who were in the area to donate sports equipment tochildren along the Administrative Boundary Line with South Ossetia. The art school, warm and full of light, really is a wonderful place of refuge, support and creativity for these children who live in the vicinity of the 2008 war with Russia.”
Each September since 2010, Nikozi holds an International Animation Film Festival attended by celebrated animation filmmakers from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, U.S., Moldova and Germany. These filmmakers spend a week with the children, showing their own films and teaching the children in master classes. Archbishop Isaiah began this film festival as a people to people peace building activity. He wanted this festival to radiate good, creative energy so that it could be felt across enemy lines to reduce the level of conflict in the area. In fact, a well-known Russian animator said at the festival “Please excuse us on behalf of our government” after seeing the difficult situation for the wonderful children in the area and how eager they are to learn. AFG is now beginning the next stage in the community building process in Nikozi. Currently, there is nowhere to stay in Nikozi for animators and artists who are coming from all over the world. Funds are needed to begin by renovating a couple of houses in the village to become bed and breakfasts so that the artists can spend more time teaching skills to the children. Small businesses such as these will provide income to adults, helping them to rebuild their community and supporting economic development and growth of this war devastated area of Georgia. Since the war, this region which once thrived by selling fruit to Russia, is now experiencing high unemployment and poverty.
Together for Real Changes
One of AFG’s new partnerships in Georgia is with the NGO Together for Real Changes (TRC) founded by Nana Lomadze, whose son has severe muscular dystrophy, and Ruta Casabianca, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. Nana Lomadze and psychologist Mariam Kviralashvili are working with parents of disabled children in rural and mountainous regions of Georgia, to start parent clubs on the U.S. model of empowering parents and people with disabilities to identify the services they need and then advocate for them. The clubs will provide leadership and advocacy training, and support for parents to help them become assertive in obtaining services. For example, asking a psychologist or occupational therapist to travel from larger cities like Gori, Kutaisi and Tbilisi. People with disabilities and their families in vast areas of Georgia are completely isolated, hopeless and helpless. There are almost no day centers in the smaller cities and villages of Georgia, which means that there are no services in those areas for families with disabled children. Many disabled children are hidden, confined to their homes, because parents often do not know that they are eligible for assistance. Although there are some laws in place requiring inclusive education and other supports, the reality is that children with disabilities are denied access to local schools.
TRC’s pilot project in Borjomi has been successful. Organized parents have formed an NGO and have obtained a commitment from local government to help them establish a day center for children and adults with disabilities. Currently there is only a monthly government stipend for these children and adults. The thrust of the program is to create further parent clubs in smaller cities and villages throughout Georgia. The next step will be to create a network of parents across Georgia to continue improving services by lobbying local and national
government. Funds are needed for salary support of the director and the psychologist as well as transportation costs. The cost of outreach to each community is about $8,000. Please give generously!
And please email me at email@example.com if you would like to see for yourself what we do in Georgia on AFG’s Tour of Georgia from October 2 – 16, 2014, while experiencing Georgian sites, vineyards and cuisine.