Building construction is complete on this center and an animation festival and opening ceremony were held in September 2013.
Metropolitan Isaiah was living in Nikozi (a Georgian village 1 kilometer from Tskhinvali,capital of Tskhinvali Region or so called South Ossetia) in 2008 when the Russians invaded Georgia. He and an old woman were the only two people in the village who did not flee and were able to care for the domestic animals left behind. Bombs destroyed his monastic residence. After the war, he lived in an unheated trailer and rebuilt his residence. His example led to Nikozi families overcoming their fear to return to the village. Trained early in life as an artist, Metropolitan Isaiah knew the healing power of the arts. He started an after-school art and education program teaching animation filmmaking, web design, drawing, ceramics and other crafts but soon ran out of space when over 100 war-affected children came from Nikozi and surrounding villages. He asked AFG to help him reconstruct a ruined kindergarten donated by the Governor of Gori. AFG raised funds, including a major grant from the Embassy of Japan, to build this Center, which has become a hub of activities that expands beyond the arts with foreign language studies and technical training. It will enable the residents of Nikozi and nearby villages to further grow and develop their own community. Now that the building is complete, funds are needed to continue art and vocational classes and bring educators to this remote area.
While Russian bombs exploded around them, Metropolitan Isaiah and his fellow priests sought safety in the Nikozi church and monastery they had rebuilt brick by brick, window by window over the past two decades.
Their work was destroyed in an afternoon barrage of explosions – over 30 bombs landed near the church and monastery – but 20 years of faithful service and Metropolitan Isaiah’s courage to stay helped save the village while it was occupied by Ossetian militia and Russian troops during the August 2008 war.
Metropolitan Isaiah was a student in Communist Georgia when he first read the bible – borrowed from a classmate because there were none to be bought – and caught a glimpse of the faith of his forefathers.
Life for the faithful under the Soviets was dangerous. While the state no longer actively persecuted the clergy and the Church, propaganda against religion was strong and an undercurrent of distrust and distain toward Christianity and the Georgian Orthodox Church threatened to erode centuries of faith and sacrifice.
In 1995, when Metropolitan Isaiah arrived in Nikozi to take up his duties as the head of the diocese, Georgia was independent, and the Church was actively working to reclaim its flock. But seven decades of forced atheism peppered with propaganda had taken their toll: the metropolitan and his colleagues had to prove to the community they were in Nikozi to serve the people.
Ironically, the 2008 war gave Metropolitan Isaiah – known as Meuphe in Georgian – an opportunity to do that.
The conflict – which had simmered between villages and communities for nearly fifteen years – boiled over into war on August 9, 2008. Nikozi is a predominately Georgian village near Tskhinvali, the de facto capital of the separatist government, and was targeted during the war.
Meuphe’s congregation faced a difficult choice as bombing increased in the early days of the war: abandon their homes and risk a dangerous trip through the fighting in a bid to escape to safety in Tbilisi or stay and try to wait out the war.
According to Meuphe, some villagers made the courageous decision to place the good of the community above their own personal safety: one woman decided to stay because “an empty village is no longer a village.”
So Meuphe also stayed; stayed to stand by his congregation, to protect the defenseless during a military conflict that quickly unraveled into simple robbery, assault and arson.
While he could have left – they had sent the nuns to a neighboring village that was comparably safer – Meuphe decided it was more important to help on the ground.
“It was very important for the people to see that the priest stood by them during the war,” he said.
In the power vacuum that followed, Ossetians systematically burned and pillaged Georgian homes.
Meuphe was able to reach out to a Russian officer, and attempt to negotiate with the Ossetians through him when villagers were robbed and threatened. The immediate dangers of the bombs gave way to a constant threat of murder and assault.
“The people were in such a state they could not even protect themselves from Ossetian children who came to ransack their homes,” he said.
Meuphe stood by villagers, hiding with them, seeking ways to survive the Russian occupation, as the ceasefire dragged on and Russian forces refused to turn the village back over to Georgia authorities.
After peace was restored, and the Russians moved back, allowing Georgians to reclaim the village, Nikozi remains on the frontlines in a conflict that continues today.
And Metropolitan Isaiah remains, a steadfast symbol of security as the village rebuilds.
“We wish that there was no war and there would be peace,” he said.
“That there would be education [for the young people] – so they can take care of their families…and [have the means] to rebuild.”
AFG plans to assist Metropolitan Isaiah with his beneficial work for the youth of Nikozi In order to provide art education and vocational programs. In order to provide art education and vocational programs, AFG starts art and crafts making classes at Nikozi. AFG also seeking funds to assist Metropolitian Isaia’s animation and ceramic workshop, cloisonné courses as well as English language and art history classes.
The principal goal of Nikozi Art rehabilitation and education project is to provide psycho-social rehabilitation for NIkozi children and adults through art experience and vocational education.
The program will teach young people valuable – and marketable – skills in art and folk arts, like animation, crafts and felt making, making marionette dolls, ceramic and pottery making, and cloisonné jewelry design. The courses will be organized at Meuphe Isaia’s parish school
The international community, specifically the European Commission, recognized the need to support Nikozi, both with the rehabilitation of the monastery as well as the creation of an art education center – in a 2008 resolution.
“Art Education center will help spur new development within the region,” Lena Kiladze, the Georgian director of AFG, said.
“The rehabilitation of Nikozi Monastery as a religious, public and cultural centre and a tourist destination is in the interests of the entire private sector functioning in Nikozi.”
Funds need for ceramic, animation, crafts, cloisonné workshop, English , drawing and history classes: salaries for teachers, transportation from Tbilisi to Nikozi, art supply.
AFG plans to finance a project for 40-45 children and teenagers, ages 8-15. A six month program would require an estimated: ceramic-needs $4.000 (materials, sallary, transportation), crafts -$5.000, pupet – $4.000, amination – $5.000, English and history ($3000 each).