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A safe haven for displaced children in Georgia

© UNICEF Georgia/2009/Amurvelashvili
Children learn in the child-friendly space set up by UNICEF and World Vision in Sakasheti, a village near the conflict area of South Ossetia, Georgia.

By Pamela Renner

SAKASHETI, Georgia, 30 March 2009—Tens of thousands of Georgians suffered temporary or permanent displacement as a result of the August 2008 conflict. Currently, estimates suggest that some 30,000 people – the majority originating from Abkhazia and South Ossetia – remain internally displaced. And approximately 12,000 of these displaced persons are children.

In the months since the conflict, UNICEF, in partnership with World Vision, Every Child and the Elisabeth Gast Foundation, has established 60 child-friendly centres in the country. The centres serve young people, ages 3 to 17, and are located in Tbilisi, Gori, the villages of the Shida Kartli region, and in the kindergartens and primary schools serving the newly constructed Internally Displaced Person (IDP) settlements.

Child-friendly centres are designed to get students back into school after an emergency, which helps to mitigate the impact of displacement on the children and their communities.

Restoring normalcy

“The conflict has shattered the lives of children and we are concerned about both the short and long term impacts,” said UNICEF Representative in Georgia Giovanna Barberis. “This is why it is essential to ensure resumption of normal childhood activities.”

Education is a key factor in restoring normalcy to children, because it establishes routine, decreases psychosocial stress, addresses the immediate needs of those affected by crisis and prepares for a better post-emergency society.

© UNICEF Georgia/2009/Amurvelashvili
Gvantsa, 9, attends a class in the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space in Sakasheti. She was at home when her house was hit by shrapnel during the 2008 conflict.

One such child-friendly centre was established by UNICEF in the village of Sakasheti, and staffed with teachers – trained by World Vision – from the local community. The centre includes recreational space, toys, games and educational materials.

Gvantsa, 9, a student at the Sakasheti centre, is grateful to have a comfortable place to learn and play. Gvantsa and the other local children gather daily at the centre to hear stories, play sports, enjoy team work and socializing, and engage in arts and cultural activities. The children participate in both structured and informal activities, and, in addition to academics, learn computer skills and health education.

The children also receive counselling to address any psychosocial stresses they have suffered due to the conflict and their resulting displacement.

Healing psychological wounds

For the displaced, money for toys and books is scarce, as parents are more preoccupied with rebuilding their homes and farms. The child-friendly centres allow parents and caregivers to attend to their daily activities without having to worry about their children’s safety and well-being.

“Our children have fears at night; it’s a rehabilitation for them to be here,” says early-childhood educator Gelatashvili, the parent of two young children in the group. “As adults, we were also affected. For us it’s also a rehabilitation to work with children.”


© UNICEF Georgia/2009/Amurvelashvili
A young child enjoys the opportunity to play and learn in safety.

It’s been three months since the centre opened here. Carefully planned, the centre’s neutral environment is intended to be a space that the children can fill with colour and motion, and make their own. Small carpets and pillows line the floors, providing comfortable places to sit during story time. And, in cold months, the centre is well-heated, and stocked with books, dolls houses, train sets, and even an indoor basketball hoop complete with a foam ball. 

The warm and friendly environments of the child-friendly centres have been purposefully designed to help heal the psychological wounds suffered by the children as a result of the conflict.

Says Khatia, 10, “At the end of the day, I don’t want to leave my classroom and go home.”



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