Somewhere to Build Our Future: Children and Youth Centre in Gori
By Sarah Marcus for UNICEF Georgia
The first centre of its kind for children and youth in Georgia opens in Gori, small town in the central Georgia, located near the conflict zone.
On the edge of the city lies a large building which suffered years of dereliction and then bombing during the conflict which erupted in and around South Ossetia, Georgia in August 2008.
Thanks to the support of UNICEF and the Council of Europe Development Bank it has been transformed into a state-of-the-art centre for the children and youth of the Shida Kartli region of Georgia which was officially opened on October 26, 2009.
The centre’s operating costs will be borne by the Gori municipality and it will provide informal education and training opportunities, as well as a place to read, relax, play and make friends for up to 250 young people between the ages of 5 and 24.
Many of those who come to the centre will be from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from the communities of those displaced by the fighting of 2008 and previous conflicts now settled in and around the Gori region.
‘This centre will help all children realise their potential and capacity. It is the first of its sort in Georgia,’ said Zura Chkheidze, First Deputy Governor of Gori.
‘We do not categorise people according to IDP status, but of course we will especially encourage the participation of children from displaced families,’ he added.
UNICEF procured a minibus to transport children to and from the centre which allows those living in outlying settlements to avail of the centre’s opportunities.
UNICEF Georgia Representative Giovanna Barberis expressed her belief in the centre’s potential at its opening ceremony.
‘This beautiful centre is the result of very hard work and a very effective partnership,’ said Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Georgia Representative.
‘This beautiful centre is the result of very hard work and a very effective partnership,’ she said.
‘I am confident that this centre will serve as many children as possible, especially those from disadvantaged families. It will provide many opportunities for lots of children to play, learn and develop,’ she continued.
In the refurbished building’s warm, comfortable rooms, equipped with good desks and chairs, excellent lighting and aids for those with physical disabilities, a variety of activities will take place, with the centre divided into four sectors.
The pre-school education sector is every small child’s dream: there are squashy beanbags and sofas to sit on, lamps adorned with toy animals, books, whiteboards, paints, pens and pencils and a variety of toys. Here children from the age of five will prepare for school through music and singing lessons, art, sports and cognitive games.
This sector will cater particularly for children who would not otherwise have any access to pre-school education and preparation. At present in this sector are 12 children from IDP settlements who are being helped to overcome the effects of witnessing the fighting of August 2008 through play, art and music.
8-year-old Niko, who fled the village of Eredvi near South Ossetia, Georgia with his family when fighting broke out, drew a tank on one of the sector’s whiteboards.
‘I drew this tank because I saw tanks,’ he said, adding that he liked the centre very much. In an indication of the potential of art for overcoming trauma, he told an employee of the centre that he wants to draw new things now: birds, houses, his friends.
The youth sector for teenagers and young adults will be led by the young people themselves who will suggest topics for discussion and activities such as charitable initiatives, fundraising and projects connected with Georgia’s foreign relations.
16-year-old Ana Metiskhvarischili is looking forward to being involved with the centre and said that she sees it as a place where young people can help each other and others.
‘Before we didn’t have a place to meet, we had to study alone. Now we can be together,’ she said.
The journalism sector will equip talented young people with the solid skills needed for a career in the print or broadcast media. Already fitted out with near-professional level cameras and excellent computers and Dictaphones, activities at the centre will be led by Georgian journalist Goga Aptsiauri from the Radio Liberty.
Aptsiauri said he envisages working with the journalism sector 2 to 3 times a week and that topics and themes will be focused on children and young people and chosen by the sector’s participants themselves.
‘If one knows the principles of journalism, one knows how to be a good member of society. Through journalism we can help to create a civil society and I think if we work hard with the young people at this centre we will have a good base for a new generation of journalists,’ he said.
The centre’s drama sector will give the young participants a chance to unleash their creativity and develop their self-confidence and communication skills.
In addition to the separate rooms dedicated to the individual sectors, the centre has a well-stocked library and a stylish café-like dining room complete with chic lamps and a cool bar area for coffee.
Whatever activities they choose to involve themselves in, it was already clear from the excitement of the children present at the centre’s launch day that it is a welcome and needed addition to their lives.
Speaking to the guests assembled for the centre’s opening Ana Metiskhvarischili expressed how much she and her peers were looking forward to attending the centre.
‘We always wanted and needed this centre but never had it, now our wish has come true. We promise not only to benefit from the centre but to take care of it,’ she said.
Her eagerness is echoed by the centre’s director Lela Merabishvili.
‘This centre will contribute a lot. We want to make friends between the children who live here in Gori and those who live in IDP settlements so that they grow up together – this is very important for both sets of children,’ she said.
Such care and planning has gone into the establishment of the centre and such enthusiasm is visible among its staff and beneficiaries that it is sure to get off to a flying start and make a lasting difference to the lives and future of the youth of Georgia’s Shida Kartli region.