Our next day in Tblisi began in a meeting with The Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN). We were hosted by the Executive Director, Nana Janashia, and several of her staff who gave us a very comprehensive introduction to environmental concerns in Georgia and CENN’s efforts, particularly as it involves women. Nana described the difficulties Georgia faced after the breakup of the Soviet Union when there was no electricity and no safe water in Georgia. Georgians stood in lines for bread and most lived on beans and potatoes. CENN had to use electricity from the Post Office to initially get things started. In the 1990’s, corruption was a big problem. Donors did not trust giving money to the government or large Georgian organizations, NGO or not. In the early days of CENN, the U.S. and other organizations gave money to trusted individuals to help get CENN off the ground.
CENN works with rural women to help them learn how to farm in a sustainable manner. For example, in rural areas, cows frequently roam free through the towns and fields. Originally this free method of cow management provided enough meat and dairy to feed a family. CENN developed a program to teach these farmers to increase their production in sustainable ways so that they could also sell their meat and dairy products. They are also learning how to make cheese that would meet the standards necessary to sell in Europe. CENN also focuses on environmental education for school children.
Georgia’s most important natural resources are its forests and water. These resources have faced numerous problems such as earthquakes, mudflows, human pressures (deforestation) and old roads that need to be replaced. Much of the energy consumed in rural areas is from burning wood, much of it obtained illegally. Once again, in the 1990’s there was a lot of corruption associated with the management of the water and forests. CENN has worked hard to expose and eliminate this corruption and the situation has improved. CENN is working with the European Union (E.U.) and the Coca Cola Foundation to address water sanitation which remains a problem. CENN is working with schools to provide toilets and water supplies. They especially focus on vulnerable communities such as those of eco-migrants, social migrants, women and children. They are also working with the E.U. to help rural communities develop Environmental Community Organizations. There are currently no toilet or hygiene standards in many schools which leads to poor health among the children. Many school children have to go to a neighbor’s house to drink the water or use the toilet.
CENN is also concerned about mining companies from Russia and China which may not be concerned about the environmental health of Georgia. Without rural development independent of the mines, many residents have no choice but to work in the mines. One of the greatest threats mining poses is the pollution of ground water. Over 50,000 people now live in areas of ground water pollution.
CENN has discovered that its best partners are the Rural Women’s Councils. Women want more education and more responsibilities for the resources with which they have direct contact. It is the women who are typically responsible for obtaining water and disposing of waste. However, culturally women are not encouraged to be involved with issues outside their domestic responsibilities. Men say they are not opposed to women’s involvement in many cases as long as it does not interfere with their domestic duties. Even with these restraints, these women’s councils have been successful in establishing irrigation, registering pastures, and educating the children to continue these efforts in the next generation. CENN also works to help socially vulnerable populations such as the LBGQ (Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Gay, and Queer) communities, working to educate the population and provide jobs. Many students find their professions through CENN. Youth empowerment is a major focus. In the Muslim culture, many women must marry by the age 14 and 15, and CENN is working to empower these women as well. As is evident, this was a hugely informative meeting.
We ended the morning with a visit to Gallery 27, owned and operated by Nino Kvavilashvili, one of the many artists we were very fortunate to meet throughout our trip. Nino is committed to supporting local Georgian artists who work in a variety of media and developing the local arts community. Before opening Gallery 27Nino was a member of one of the most famous art studios in Georgia, La Maison Bleu, established by five women graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts. Nino is a founder and board member of Women For Tomorrow.
During the afternoon our group was divided in two. One group met with The Social Services Agency of Georgia. The other group visited Avlabari Hospital.
The Social Services Agency (SSA) of Georgia The group met with Mari Tsereteli, Head of the Division of Guardianship and Care, whose first profession was pediatritian and cardiologist. The SSA falls under the Ministry of Labor Health and Social Affairs and works with children’s rights, foster care, small group homes, and the elderly and institutionalized. Services include shelters, rehabilitative services, day care, and small group homes for the elderly.
The social work profession is only 18 years old. There are currently 239 social workers employed in Georgia, all certified by the E.U. By 2021, it is expected that more than 400 social workers will be certified. Since the social work profession is so new, there are still many challenges. Previously, all social work agencies were centralized; however, they are now being moved into the municipalities.
There used to be 47 orphanages with a capacity of 112 children in each. Georgia is beginning to close orphanages and place children in alternative care facilities; of these, 60-75% are placed with families at the outset. Others are placed in foster care facilities or small group homes. There remain only two functioning orphanages with 29-50 children. It is especially difficult to find foster care for children with disabilities. At this time, there are 3.5 million residents of Georgia and 8100 children waiting for adoption.
Domestic Abuse Legislation was recently passed in Georgia; however, enforcement is limited and there is much need for education of the police. The responsibility for adult abuse and human trafficking fall under the Minister of Health. Thus the work for too few social workers is overwhelming. Churches offer some services. Volunteerism is not part of the Georgian tradition.
This hospital is a six-bed in-patient hopice facility, founded and overseen by Mother Miriam. The hopital is within the grounds of a beautiful Eastern (Georgian) Orthodox monastery, located in the Aviabari neighborhood of old Tblisi. The nuns run a nursing school as well and plan to provide support and training for caretakers with in-home hospice patients. Death is a very difficult issue to discuss in Georgia, and Mother Miriam and her very small staff are devoted to helping families and caretakers accept dying with dignity. All of us who met with Mother Miriam, and her small staff were deeply moved by her devotion and clarity of mission.
That evening, we dined in the beautiful garden of The Writers’ House of Georgia. The Writers’ House was built and owned by philanthropist David Sarajishvili in 1903-5 and was an important center of cultural life. The home was recently re-opened for the purpose of supporting and developing cultural and literary activities.
[Kim Harms, Recorder]