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10 young volunteers. 3 different projects. 1 hot summer in Georgia. Thousands of emotions, stories and experiences.

To find out more, read further!

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In the summer 2018, we participated in the European Voluntary Service in Georgia. Ten of us were working on three projects in three different cities, which were focused on informal education, intercultural understanding and inclusion of marginalised groups in the society.

Key topics of our activities were cooperation, tolerance, empathy, and non-aggressive communication. The whole project was facilitated by the NGO Droni based in Tbilisi and Be International.  People form Droni helped us a lot during the projects (research, creation of design of the activities, implementation of our plans), as they knew the context of the country, had many useful contacts and translated the materials for us. Thanks to them, it was much easier to get closer to the Georgian society and realise the projects.

Team of Veronika, Kateřina, Jonáš and Abdul

Our group of four people was working mainly on a project in Pankisi Gorge area. Pankisi is an isolated valley region in northern Georgia, encompassing nine villages. After the Chechen crisis in the ‘90s many refugees fled over the mountains into Pankisi. Therefore, there is now a Chechen Muslim minority called the Kists. Small number of people were said to leave Pankisi to join ISIS, which is the reason why the valley gained a bad reputation for violent extremism. However, most villagers dissociate themselves from radical beliefs and try to attract investors for the valley.  Our hearts were definitely attracted by this beautiful piece of land and by these beautiful people.

We had had several aims with the project. We wanted to boost cultural life in the area, provide a bit of entertainment to children during summer time, provide opportunity to develop soft skills and also contribute to better reputation of Pankisi.  

We cooperated with one of the local schools and organized the so-called “unusual summer’s day in Pankisi”. It was for children from 6-15, but everyone was welcomed. At the beginning, we played a role-play game, where children had the opportunity to try to think, how would it feel to be a different person. Then, we prepared several stations, where the children could do some tasks and try new activities.  We were very lucky to meet many interesting people in Pankisi, who helped us a lot with the organization such as Nazy’s guest house or the director of the local school. Thank you, once again!

 

You can see more of Veronika’s photos here.

Team of Kateřina and Barbora

Our working group was mainly focused to work in a village Udabno. We had this huge aim to build up a connection between our group of international volunteers and Udabno citizens, to enrich ourselves meeting each other and to have a great pleasure from this process. First we organized a picnic afternoon in Udabno when we met with the local youngsters and got to know each other and our needs.  We became friends very quickly and so we couldn’t wait for what comes next. In another two weeks we came back again with two days of creative workshops and fun activities such us rugby match, dreamcatchers ,  workshop or racing in yuta bags. And we end up singing English, Czech and Georgian songs by the campfire.

 

Such a joyful time full of inspiration for each other, such a great time of peace and trust. After a long journey full of obstacles and everyday challenges we felt that our aim was fulfilled and eventually our effort made a huge sense. With this joy of great work we set up on another adventures, soon coming back to our lives.

Team of Lucie, Filip, Bernadeta, Lucia

Our group picked Marneuli as there was a demand from Marenuli´s municipality for a non-formal education project, which could interest youngsters, containing soft skills and valuable entertainment.

We started to work on our project with small research, tried to find out as much as possible about social, cultural, religious context and inner relations in this community. We also went through several meetings to find out about the needs and demands of the children and young people in this area. What we learned was that in Marneuli and surrounding there is a big and strong community of Georgian Azeris, who are the most numerous minority in Georgia with 6,5% of the population. This mostly Muslim minority (80% Shia; 20% Sunni) is isolated in their communities and lives often in rural areas where they work in agricultural production. This fact about population come from that center of Marneuli Municipality borders neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Another problematic thing in this region was a language barrier, which blocks efficient civic participation of Azeris in social spheres and structures in Georgia. They keep Azerbaijani as their first language and most of them use Russian to communicate with Georgians majority and other ethnics (this was actually a good thing for our group, as a half of us can somehow communicate in Russian language).We also learned that more numbers of Azeris started to learn Georgian just recently as the last generation starts realizing that the language is necessary to get integrated and obtain more opportunities in the society outside their community. Despite their effort, they struggle with lack of Georgian language teachers in an inadequate education system that is underfinanced and lacks resources on all levels.

A big community living in Marneuli are Armenians. They represent the second largest minority in Georgia. They are more located in rural villages around than in the city itself. Most Armenians are part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the national churchof the Armenian people and part of Oriental Orthodoxy, one of the most ancient Christiancommunities. They suffer similar troubles in Georgia as Azerbaijanis do, mainly the lack of knowledge of Georgian language which disqualifies them from public life and equal political representation.

After we ascertained all those bases, we started to consider different ways with the same target; how to bring together kids and youngsters from all three communities (Azeri, Armenians and Georgian) to one place, to spend some time together, enjoy it, get familiar with each other, without grudge, fear or prejudice, as well we hoped, that the same would happen to their parents, who would accompany them.

 We made several one-day trips to Marneuli, on our own or with our coordinator or volunteer, who helped us mainly with translation. We met the office-workers in the municipality, we got in touch with the directress of Cultural House, municipal library, we went to independent Radio Marneuli and got lots of inspiration from the founder, Camilla Mamedova. We were in contact with local NGO (Tee house) as well as with social active volunteers (Shoka Akopian, Aram Akopian, and their youth center named Youth development center).


The D-day of our Best of the best fest started early in the morning. We had eight stations prepared each with a different activity. Right by the entrance, there was the info tent where some of our Georgian friends were ready to explain to all arrivers what is happening and how to get involved. For the purpose of a better organization and overview for us and for children, they get a card with all activities they could try and if they could get a stamp for all of them they would receive a cloth bag on which they could paint whatever they want at our art station. There were movie screenings of documents on human rights, walls of an old building were provided by the municipality for a graffiti jam, there were chalks to draw on the pavement, there were t-shirts and bags provided by us for the kids to decorate and have an environmentally friendly memento. We also did bodypainting, which was a favourite activity of the youngest ones, people took a lot of pictures with a photo wall, were we prepared various sign bubbles, mustaches on sticks, etc. We had a fun sport activity with rope pulling, in which we mixed the children from all minorities to teams, so they could build new friendships. There was a geography workshop, where the kids who were better helped others and it was a lot of fun. We had a info tent with information about the Erasmus+ programme, stickers, presentation of festival and organizations info. There was a place for everyone to rest, with carpet, blankets and snacks. We finished the first day with a dance performance, musicians with Droni and a DJ.

The next day was dedicated to community cleaning which took place at the place where the festival happen. At 2 pm we started cleaning, first by ourselves and then childrens started to join us. There were about 20 of us together. After the cleaning, we had a snack for the helpers. We discussed the festival and had a good time.

You can watch a video on Marneuli TV before and after the fest, promo video fro the fest by Youth development centre or just check out the official Facebook event full of pictures from the festival.