A Childhood Displaced
By Emil Sahakyan
Neatly painted and recently renovated “Imedi” (Hope) kindergarten located in the centre of Tbilisi was supposed to welcome children in September after they come back from their summer holidays. Yet by the turn of the fate its reopening happened sooner than planned. Instead of welcoming children, the kindergarten has been turned into a collective centre that now hosts 33 persons displaced due to hostilities in the South Ossetia conflict zone.
Levan Gambashidze’s family arrived in Tbilisi from the Eredvi village that is 13 kilometers from Tskhinvali (South Ossetia, Georgia) on the night of August 9. “There were eight of us in a car. We were trying to go to Gori, but then heard that Gori is being bombed. Finally, we ended up in Tbilisi, in this kindergarten”, says Levan as his hands are trembling of stress, “we have left everything there, our elderly relatives, our houses and we do not know what will happen next”.
The Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation of Georgia has started registering arriving internally displaced persons. However, the process is very slow and sometimes not well managed, resulting in long queues and additional stress for the affected population.
Indeed, women and elderly people are walking around the centre with gloomy faces. One can see many of them holding medicines and heart drops in their hands. “Every time women watch TV it seems as if they are going through their tragedy again and men and older children have to rush water and medicines to them,” says one of the residents of the collective centre.
The impact on children is devastating, says Deputy Representative of UNICEF in Georgia Benjamin Perks. “Parents’ nervousness, killings and shelling that children witnessed in these days left children with deep psychological trauma and it will take months, may be years to get children back to normal life.”
“All the way to Gori the road was shelled. Children kept asking if it was a firework up until they saw how a man killed by a bomb dropped just in front of our car,” says Levan, adding that “although we tried to close our children’s eyes with hands, our youngest daughter saw the body and now has difficulty in falling asleep, fearing bad dreams and nightmares.”
Psychological trauma and stress are coupled with substandard living conditions in collective centres. Almost all 170 collective centres established to receive internally displaced persons lack potable water, minimal sanitary conditions and sometimes electricity.
“People and children are in desperate need of food, hygiene items, drinking water, beds and blankets. UNICEF has already distributed bottled water, hygiene items and blankets to around 4,000 affected persons. More assistance is on the way to help meet short-term needs of around 6,000 families,” UNICEF Deputy Representative stressed.
Play Mariam, Play!
The only piece of furniture the kindergarten where Levan’s family found refuge has is an old piano. Back home Levan’s elder daughter, nine-year old Mariam, used to attend different classes and courses, including musical school. “I love music a lot and enjoy playing piano, although I still have much to learn,” says Mariam, smiling humbly when asked to play a small piece for a UNICEF assessment team.
For us and others staying in “Imedi” kindergarten Mariam played “The Gypsy Dance”, a very passionate piece of music that makes you dance even if you are not in the mood. Although these days many are not in the mood, adults walking in despair around kindergarten suddenly start smiling, listening to Mariam’s performance. It lasts just for a few minutes, but those minutes are indeed precious as they help people forget for a moment about what they have gone through.
Although Mariam may be in need of psychological and moral support herself, she does not realize that her piano playing is better than any medicine, because it gives her and others in the collective centre a feeling that life has not stopped, it goes on!
“What I miss here a lot is my friends and my pets that I left behind in Eredvi. But we’ll soon go back home and I will see them again, I hope,” says Mariam smiling happily.