This week all of the trainees participated in job shadowing, meaning we found our own way around the country to meet up with Peace Corps volunteers already working at NGO’s or at schools. As an IOD (individual and organizational development) trainee, naturally I went to an NGO. Most IOD volunteers went in teams of 2 or 3, since there are more IOD trainees than current volunteers, but I was selected to venture out alone … for whatever reason … to an IDP (internally displaced person) settlement … for whatever reason. Just lucky, or just cursed, depends on your point of view. 🙂
So, a little background on the IDP situation here in Georgia. There have been two waves of displacement due to conflict with the Russians, the first in the 1990’s, and more recently, in 2008. Most of these IDP’s come from either South Ossetia or Abkhazia. There are about 280,000 IDP’s in Georgia, or approximately 6% of the population,. About half of this group live in settlements, or camps – there are about 40 camps throughout the country. Some settlements are made up of cottages built by the government, built quickly and not very sturdy; others are abandoned government buildings, barracks, etc, which tend to be even worse – no running water, no electricity, that sort of thing. These people are Georgian, but with a few exceptions from South Ossetia, they can never return to their homes and communities due to the political situation. It’s not too surprising to learn that poverty and unemployment are extremely high, integration into Georgian culture is halting, and general malaise and lack of motivation sometimes overwhelming.
I visited two camps. The first, Tserovani, is one of the larger camps, with about 6,000 people, located just outside Tbilisi.There are several stores, a large school, and a small nonprofit consisting of one dedicated Georgian woman and an equally dedicated Peace Corps volunteer. The second camp, Prezeti, is smaller, and much more isolated – it’s about a 45-minute drive from Tserovani, up a windy mountain road with enough potholes and gravel to sink a large truck. There are only two martshutkas (small vans that transport people) a day to Tbilisi, and almost no industry or business of any kind, other than 3 very small stores.
In Tserovani, the nonprofit I visited (For A Better Future) works to better the lot of IDP’s in general, and women in particular. They run a great social enterprise program for women who create really beautiful enamel jewelry, as well as offering training on employment skills. They also run the U.S. Embassy “Bookmobile,” an ancient schoolbus that’s been repurposed as a traveling library. The bookmobile goes to four different camps on a weekly basis to offer kids exposure to english books, language and programming. In Prezeti, I gave an impromptu presentation on California to a group of only mildly interested children, heavy focus on Micky Mouse (yes, they did know who that was!), Hollywood and surfing beaches.
Hopes for the future include constructing a coffee shop in Tserovani to help with employment and community-building.
I enjoyed my time there, especially the supra (party) I went to on my second night, which included copious amounts of homemade white wine, many, many toasts, and definitely the best kingali (meat dumplings) I’ve had yet! I also enjoyed making my way to and from Tserovani, via Tbilisi, on the martshutkas by myself. It was good to get out of what’s become the usual routine here in Khashuri and do something independently. A little scary, I’ll admit! But all went well, and I have to say that as I was on the way back, I started getting a little bit of that “I’m an intrepid traveler” feeling that I like so much. Last, gotta say, it was really nice to get back “home” to Khashuri and my host family here, who do try and help me out by speaking very slowly and at least pretending to understand my broken Georgian!
Last picture. These poppies grow all along the road and in meadows this time of year, often in huge swaths right next to other purple and white flowers, very beautiful. I just cannot resist a beautiful flower.