GEORGIA: we were moved to help

Posted by Johanna Holtan in Organizations Edit

I am a returned Peace Corps volunteer was evacuated from my placement in Georgia last August due to Russian attacks. After Peace Corps released its volunteers, a group of us returned to Georgia to help. Since we have been back, we have witnessed the struggle and resiliency of many Georgian people, such as Sophio Khubulashvili.

Until the conflict threatened to take everything away, Sophio was one of the brightest and hardest working students in Georgia. She was a member of Gori University’s student government and various faculty advisory boards. She participated in programs sponsored by the Model UN and taught piano in her spare time.

Like many Georgians, Sophio's family depends on agriculture for their livelihood. They lost their harvest during the Russian-Georgian conflict. Without a steady income, Sophio could not afford to return to school and continue pursuing her dream of being a teacher. Thanks to The Gori Regional Education Fund (GREF), Sophio was granted an educational scholarship to get back into the classroom. She told me, "Because of the financial hardship my family doubted that I could continue my study, but with [GREF's] great support, I can."

Other families share the plight of Sophio’s. During the conflict, over 125,000 civilians left home to seek refuge in camps and vacant municipal buildings. Scores of refugees were housed in schools, hospitals, kindergartens, and open-air camps. Many were able to return home, but like Sophio's family, their lives have not returned to normal. The cold weather approaches, another semester begins, incomes are lost and many are still reeling from the events of last August.

Needless to say, we were moved to help. A group of returned Peace Corps volunteers created The Megobari Project ("megobari" means "friend" in Georgian). It is an entirely grassroots initiative fueled by the relationships we created with Georgians during our time here. To support our work, our team in Washington, D.C. created The Megobari Foundation, which is currently applying for nonprofit status. All our time and energy are volunteered.

Since I’m based in Tbilisi, I have had the pleasure to work with several of our dynamic partner organizations, GREF among them. A local organization, GREF supports student victims of the conflict by subsidizing their studies at Gori University, which serves mainly low-income families and is the region’s only public university. Many of these students have lost a home, been forced from their villages, or lost a harvest due to the recent conflict. Kakha Gordadze, a GREF staff member and Gori University alum, describes GREF’s mission as to "assist the [displaced] in rebuilding their lives and to be strong members of our society". The organization recently awarded the first ten scholarships for the upcoming spring semester at a ceremony at Gori University.

Like GREF, our other partners are doing their part. Charity Humanitarian Center "Abkhazeti" is well-established local organization that operates 15 “child-friendly spaces” for 638 displaced and war-affected youth. These spaces provide psychological, educational and recreational activities. The Borjomi Project and the Marneuli Youth Bank & Volunteer Georgia distribute warm clothing and school supplies to displaced people throughout Georgia.

Despite our successes, there is long road of work ahead.

The Megobari Project

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