A village rebuilt by war refugees in Georgia

350,000 people were forced to leave their homes and start a new life in other parts of Georgia after the war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. This is the story of three refugee women, brought together by their desire to rebuild the community of the village Tsintskaro; a village almost abandoned in the south of Georgia.

“This is where the road becomes broken,” says Gia, as we go through a dense fog barely able to see more than 10 meters in front of us. The road is full of pits and we can’t see anything around us, except for a couple of boulders. We drive on this road for about forty minutes until we get to our destination, the village Tsintskaro. After passing a couple of houses that seem to be abandoned, we stop in front of a concrete building, a bit larger compared to the other surrounding houses. This seems to be the only noisy place in this village; there are lots of sounds, music, and laughter coming from inside the building.

There are three women waiting for us in front of the building. After we say hello, they greet us in Georgian and they invite us inside the community center. We first enter a narrow hallway and we immediately notice a room to the left, full of kids singing carols. They sit in a circle looking at their teacher; a volunteer who comes here from time to time to teach them music. The building has three more rooms — the kitchen, where you can find all the resources necessary which transform this community center into a shelter for emergency situations and floods; a room with some sports equipment; and another with two computers.

We sit around a table together with Gia and the three women. George Datukashlivi, known as Gia, is the community facilitator from Caritas Georgia, and he is the one who taught the community from Tsintskaro how to protect themselves from floods and what measures need to be taken to reduce its negative effects. Mrs Nora, Mrs Neli, and Mrs Tsiuri are three refugees who now live in Tsintskaro, and became the informal leaders of this community. Until 2008 they lived in Kodori, a beautiful rich region in Upper Abhkazia, where the soil was fertile and the weather was good most of the time. They were living a quiet life there; “We had a farm with 80 pigs, but we didn’t even call it a farm, it seemed to be something usual to have so many animals,” says Mrs Nora, smiling.

But everything changed after the war with Russia, which started on 8th of August 2008. After just one day, the Russian army forced the families in that region to abandon their homes. The families took what they could, and in a short time they were in a truck with other refugees, on their way to Tbilisi. Now their homes and land was on Russian territory, and it was forbidden for them to get close to that area.

They spent a month living in a school in Tbilisi, together with many other refugees who came from Upper Abkhazia or South Ossetia. They had a tough life there, and in September as the school was about to start, they received two options from the Georgian Government: they could either accept an amount of money equivalent to 7000 dollars at that time, and buy a small place in Tbilisi, or they could receive a house in Tsintskaro; a village with many homes abandoned by a Greek community. Georgia always had a significant Greek population, but the community had dwindled in the ’90s due to repatriation or emigration to Russia, when the conflicts started. “Many of the refugees chose to stay in Tbilisi, especially because Tsintskaro had so many problems. But we decided to take this option, we liked more the idea of having a house and a small plot of land,” says Mrs Neli.

The Tsintskaro community was already mixed and complex, with different ethnic and religious groups. In the past 20 years a lot of refugees came from Abkhazia after the conflict in ’92; eco-migrants, who were coming from places ruined by natural disasters, and a significant number of Azerbaijani, who lived isolated from the rest of the people because they didn’t speak the Georgian language. A lot of people were living without electricity, gas, or clean water in houses that still legally belonged to the Greeks. On top of this, the village was flooded every spring. Even though this affected only a few homes directly, the whole community suffered because access to a spring was cut during floods, and the spring was the only source of clean, drinkable water in the village.

Once the last group of refugees came to the village in 2008, things started to change. In addition to the 570 families living here, there were approximately 70 new families coming to begin a new life in the village. Among them there were these three women, together with their families. The houses they received needed a lot of changes made to them for them to be able to live comfortably. After they managed to refurbish them, they began to see all the problems the village had.

In a community that had already become used to having a hard life, and where the municipality weren’t involved in fixing their problems, the three women decided to lead the change and to involve others in their activities. It was very hard in the beginning, but with the support of a local foundation Taso, and UN Women, they started two self-support groups, led by Mrs Nora and Mrs Neli. Their goal was to gather the community to discuss each and every one of their problems, and also the problems of the whole village.

Becoming so involved in solving the problems of their community gained the attention of other organisations who also wanted to help. This way, Caritas Georgia became the first in 2012 to make a water supply system in Tsintskaro. They came back later in 2014, when they had the opportunity to help them further through other projects and funds, and so they helped them with their annual problem — the flooding. Supported by Caritas Romania, they managed to attain the necessary funds to implement an educational project in Tsintskaro to reduce the effects of the floods. The collaboration with them started because “Caritas Romania has a great experience in community based Disaster Risk Reduction methodology, and it’s seen as an example in the region regarding the work they did in this field, so they are definitely someone who can teach communities about how to protect themselves from natural disasters,” says Irene Spagnul, Italian Donors Relations and Private Fundraising at Caritas Georgia.

This methodology is much appreciated because it has a different approach. It involves the community in generating solutions for their problems, instead of them waiting for answers from the authorities. This increases the chances for the community to find, not be given, the best, customized solution for their situation, and for the project to produce results even after it has officially ended. During the workshops they had, people learned how to identify the problems that the community is facing and how to generate solutions, as well as learning how to involve other members of the community. As a result, the most involved participants were the children, who proved to have a very important role. This also connects the two major ethnic groups — Georgian and Azerbaijani. Azeri children were the ones who managed to involve their parents in the activities of the project, even though their parents did not speak the Georgian language.

This story is part of Romania’s national work plan for the European Year for Development 2015 and financed by the European Union and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania. The content of this material does not represent the official position of the European Union or of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.