Real lives

Real lives


Everybody Wins: Georgia’s Healthy Lifestyle Initiative

© UNICEF/Geo-2005/Khakhaleishvili
Final sport tournament in Kobuleti, west Georgia

By John Mackedon for UNICEF

November 2005

The sleepy autumn silence that usually hangs over the town of Akhmeta, in Georgia’s eastern region of Kakheti, on a typical Sunday afternoon is suddenly shattered by cheers and screams of excitement that erupt from the gymnasium at Akhmeta’s School #2, reminding residents and passers-by that today is not a typical Sunday.  Inside the gymnasium fifty competitors and coaches, dressed in blue and white uniforms bearing the UNICEF logo, from the second school and the nearby secondary school in Alvani are competing in a variety of different sporting events while more than one-hundred spectators cheer on their respective team for today’s regional championship for a country-wide competition bearing the tagline: “Follow Sport – Feel Healthy Lifestyle,” a UNICEF and Government of the Netherlands supported initiative that is being carried out by the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science in collaboration with the Georgian Ministry of Culture and Sport.

“I have nothing but good things to say about this program,” says Akaki Noniashvili, director of the Sports School in Akhmeta, “many kids have been actively involved in this initiative and I thank UNICEF for this.”

Following a series of 8 events that have included a sack race, a one-footed race, a lay-up contest and an event wherein a balloon is coaxed across the gym and back with a ruler, the final event – bowling – will now break the tie and decide which team will continue on to the capital Tbilisi in December for the national finals and which team will stay home.  Spectators from both schools hold banners saying “Participants From the Second School are the Champions,” and “We support Alvani,” and anxiously hold their breath every time the orange basketball is rolled toward the ten plastic pins lined up on the other side of the gymnasium.  As the day’s excitement has thus far included a dramatic last second come-from-behind victory in the balloon contest, a David and Goliath story wherein the younger and smaller participant was able to topple his opponent in an earlier, sumo-like contest and a timed gymnastic event that was decided by 22-hundredths of a second, it is not surprising that a final few pins will now settle the final outcome. 

This competition is just one aspect of the healthy lifestyle initiative being implemented throughout Georgia, which promotes education and physical activities to promote a healthier lifestyle for school children all through the country.  Along with the competition, which is taking place in fifty schools in five regions in the country and which will last from October until December, sports equipment has been provided, sport classes have been renovated – including the gymnasium at Akhmeta’s School #2 – and information and educational materials addressing the dangers of tobacco, drugs and AIDS have been widely distributed among the nation’s youth.  These initiatives are supported at all levels of education – a reality that is evidenced by the fact every grade, from the first to the eleventh, is represented by at least one participant during each stage of the programme sponsored competition.

“This is a very important initiative and I am thankful that my son and his friends are involved,” says Dali Damkhetelashvili, whose 14-year-old son is competing for School #2, “my son has been very active since this tournament began – every morning he has been going out with his friends at 7 a.m. to train – rain or shine.”

Today that training has paid off.  While both teams fought a tough battle, only one could claim victory.  In the end, the hands of the competitors from School #2 proved steadier than their opponents’ and the 26 extra pins that were toppled by participants from Akhmeta’s second school allowed that team to take home the regional trophy. 

“Today was great,” exclaims 9 year-old Vaniko Churchkheleshvili – a participant from School #2, “our opponents were strong, but we were able to win.  This is the first time in my life that anything like this has happened in my life and I want to thank UNICEF.”

In addition to the trophy and the chance to claim victory at the national level, pupils at School #2 were also presented with a new table tennis set to accompany the other equipment that has been provided them during this programme.  Pupils from the Alvani were also rewarded for their efforts and given a camera to help document sporting events in the future.  But above all, participants from both schools, as well as all participants throughout the country were ultimately rewarded with an increased awareness of health related issues and the opportunity to become more healthy and active in their daily lives as a result of this initiative.

“We trained hard all month and I feel more powerful as a result,” says Vasili Elanidze, 14 – a participant from Alvani, “we lost today, but that is o.k. – I just hope this whole thing continues.” 

The increased power that Vasili feels, the excitement expressed by Vaniko and the satisfaction felt by Dali all indicate that this strive towards a healthier lifestyle is destined to continue, proving that regardless of the outcome of any competition everybody is a winner in this program.

For more information:

Maya Kurtsikidze, Communication Officer, UNICEF Georgia. Tel: (+ 995 32) 23 23 88. email:




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