By Ana Chkhaidze
GEORGIA - For three years World Vision LIFE project staff worked alongside the Georgian government, Orthodox Church, schools, police, and various NGOs, aiming to change the fate of children and youth living and working on the streets of Batumi and Kutaisi, two of Georgia’s largest cities. Now, after three years of long and difficult work, the LIFE Project is reaching its end.
It leaves behind a legacy of lives transformed, like that of 12-year-old Achiko who lived and worked on the streets of Batumi, a Black Sea resort town in Georgia, to escape his family poverty. When he left, his family would go weeks without hearing from him. Achiko, meanwhile, would mostly spend the little money he made at Internet cafes playing computer games, spending many of his nights in those same cafes.
“Everybody thought that Achiko’s case was hopeless – he lived on the street, didn’t go to school, and fought with other children,” said Shorena Dolaberidze, World Vision Georgia LIFE project field officer.
“Our social worker had a difficult time working with him, but over time she managed to help him and he has since returned to his family and re-enrolled in school.”
In the beginning, project staff worked on the family’s economic situation; they provided Achiko’s mother with vocational training in cooking to then seek employment, and helped his father secure a loan to start a small business. Now, Achiko’s mother works in a bakery and his father runs a small fruit stand in the local market.
While the project staff helped the family earn an income, they also worked with Achiko with the help of a social worker and psychologist to help him transition back into his family and into school. All the while, Achiko also became heavily involved in the LIFE centre’s life skills training and recreational activities.
“I like being here, I study lots of things. I will not stay in the streets anymore,” Achiko told the audience at a recent LIFE project presentation in Batumi.
Children like Achiko made a swift about-face in many cases. According to project staff many of these children and youth in the beginning months hid from them and did not want to leave the streets.
“Simply reaching out to these children was one of the most challenging tasks our staff faced. And it was especially difficult for the Roma children,” Irine Javakhadze, LIFE Project Manager, said.
“However, after our committed and personable staff worked long hours on the streets reaching out to children, and created and trained mobile group workers to interact daily with these children, they were able to not only register many of the children, but they were also able to get them enrolled in our project activities and services to help them off the streets.”
Most of the children reached by project staff and mobile groups have been assisted, first through outreach to the children and their families, then by informing them of the project and its services, and finally by enrolling them in the various activities available, including hygiene classes, HIV and AIDS awareness, English classes, arts and crafts sessions, field trips to historical sites, and many others.
These results and the stories that came from finding and helping these children and youth, and their families, were exhibited in public presentations held in Kutaisi and Batumi this summer. Children were the major participants in the presentations and an arts and crafts exhibition was also on display, showing off the new skills the children learned from spending time at the project centres.
And in Batumi, the presentation kicked off with a pantomime. The theme of the pantomime was children living and working on the streets and the assistance they received from World Vision. But the pantomime also had a sobering ending and showed the reality of this problem – when one child leaves the street another replaces them.
“The work done by this project must be the example for other NGOs. Thanks to this project many children reunited with their families and returned to school to continue their education,” Mate Takidze, Minister of Education, Culture and Sports for the Achara region, said.
“Unfortunately, there are many families who continue to need this type of assistance and our Ministry is going to collaborate with World Vision on these issues.”
During the three-year project staff registered 212 children and youth, 192 of which were assisted. In total, 15 children returned to school, 24 children improved their attendance at school, 36 beneficiaries found employment, 41 received vocational trainings, 10 were placed in Small Group Homes, 83 children received life skills trainings, and 48 beneficiaries were enrolled in economic improvement activities.
“This project was more service oriented and at this stage it is difficult to make it sustainable; the Georgian government is not yet ready to receive this type of project. For this reason, our priority now is to advocate on the issue of juvenile justice and convincing the government to recognise this group as a vulnerable group,” said Tamuna Barkalaya, World Vision Georgia Development Director.
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