Mother of three in Georgia struggles to make ends meet

In Georgia, children are the most vulnerable with every fifth child living below in poverty

By Monica Ellena
Natia and her three children
UNICEF Georgia/2016/Khetaguri
10 January 2016

Mother of three Natia Tughushi counts on child benefits from the Georgian government. This is her story:

TBILISI, Georgia, 10 January 2016 – Elizabeti giggles, her feet sticking out from under the curtains. A game of hide-and-seek with a guest is a rare treat for the two-and-a-half year old. “Found you!” Bursting into laughter, she runs away.

Standing by the bed, her mother Natia Tughushi smiles while handing a sip cup to Tsotne with one hand and holding Alexander in the other. “I am indeed skilled at multitasking. Not that I have any other choice, I am my only resource,” she says.

Tsotne, now five, was born with severe microcephaly while Alexander is a lively four-month-old baby.

The two boys suck up a huge chunk of Natia’s time and energy. The little that remains is for Elizabeti and for finding the money for them to get by. The 38-year-old is alone – her poverty is her kids’ poverty and the thought keeps her awake at night.

Children face a higher risk of poverty in Georgia than any other population group, according to UNICEF’s Welfare Monitoring Survey 2015.

The study shows that poverty indicators have decreased, but children still remain the most vulnerable group. Every fifth child lives under the general poverty line (US$2.50 per day).

In terms of subjective poverty, the sense where people feel poor, the situation has worsened – higher prices, serious illness and a drop in household income top the list of problems people fear the most. 

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Tsotne, 5, and Elizabeti, 2, in their family's apartment.
UNICEF Georgia/2016/Khetaguri
Tsotne, 5, and Elizabeti, 2, in their family's apartment. Shortly after Tsotne was born, his father disappeared because he did not want a child with a disability. Natia's parents also refuse to see the family.
Counting down to the last lari

The bare but pristine one bedroom flat is on the fourth floor of a building in the outskirts of the capital Tbilisi, where a maze of Soviet built apartment blocks stand over small playgrounds.

Alexander’s godmother, a longtime friend of Natia’s, gave them the flat free of charge as she is living in Russia.

“It is a blessing, I could not possibly pay rent. The social assistance is all I have,” she says.

More than one in 10 households in Georgia, including Natia’s, receive some form of social transfer through the Targeted Social Assistance, the key programme in the government’s strategy to address extreme poverty.

She receives a monthly benefit of GEL 10 (US$4) per child that UNICEF advocated for as part of the reformed Targeted Social Assistance, which became effective in 2015 and was designed to better reflect the needs of vulnerable families.

The system has proved to be vital and its highest impact is on children – UNICEF’s survey found that if social transfers are cancelled then extreme poverty among children would rise. 

“Let me count, from this month I will receive 600 lari (US$241)!” she quietly exults. “It may not sound much but every lari counts for so much. In September the kids got sick and I was able to buy about half of the medicines they needed.”

Like half of the population, Natia is covered by the Universal Healthcare Programme. However, despite the plan, families’ expenditure on healthcare has increased since 2013 with medicines being the largest expense.

Falling into poverty

Speaking English and German, Natia used to make ends meet for herself and her unemployed husband, adding private classes to her meager salary as a foreign language teacher. Then in 2011 Tsotne was born and her life changed.

Elizabeti's jumps into the arms of her father
UNICEF Georgia/2016/Khetaguri
Elizabeti's jumps into the arms of her father, Kakha Babutsidze. He does not live with them, but visits a few times a week.

“Tsotne’s father didn’t want a child with disability, one day he simply disappeared.” Her parents’ rejection was even more painful. “As long as I keep Tsotne they don’t want to see me. They haven’t even met my two other kids. I cannot count on them for anything, not even to help to look after their grandchildren.”
Part of the support she is entitled to includes 50 days of vital rehabilitation every year for Tsotne. Since Elizabeti was born two years ago though, she hasn’t been able to take him.

“Logistically I just cannot make it,” she says, stroking Tsotne. First Step, a local NGO, visits the five year old twice a week. Natia pours love into the fragile boy sitting on a large baby chair, his head constantly falling to one side. He needs constant care and when they take Elizabeti to the kindergarten, even the simple walk to the facility nearby with the three children is an adventure.

When Kakha Babutsidze, Elizabeti’s father, arrives, she jumps straight into his arms.

“He is a villager without a village,” explains Natia. Kakha, who does not live with them but visits a few times a week, is displaced from Achabeti, a village in South Ossetia that fell out of the Georgian government’s control after the 2008 conflict with Russia. 

Natia feels stuck: despite having the qualifications to work, she cannot leave her children. The existing social protection system cannot cater to her situation.

Asked what her dream is, she shakes her head. “I don’t have time to dream,” she replies, watching Elizabeti chuckling while hiding again behind the thin curtain.