Emily, 25, Gagra

„I’ve been a “guerrilla gardener” for about three years. I joined the team in a few months it came into existence and I’ve been an active member since then.
I first heard about this movement from a well-publicized incident related to Vake Park. I suddenly discovered that there were people who were protecting the green environment and openly protesting. For the first time, it struck me that this issue was rather pressing. I joined the movement as soon as I heard about it because what was happening was relevant to me.

Even though environmental issues are not properly taught at school, I was raised in the countryside and, for this reason, I have had a close connection with the nature. After I moved to the city, I was concerned about environmental issues all the time. I was so happy to meet the group of people actually doing something about it that I have been an active contributor to the cause of “guerrilla gardening”.

The problems we are currently tackling are large scale. Most people seem to think we are only protecting trees or vegetation, but this is not true. There is in fact a long chain of problems concerning ecology, environment. First of all, the city is not planned, i. e. the city does not have a general plan of development and land use. This means that there is no municipal service (the City Hall) that would monitor permissions for locations of new buildings, cutting of trees and other issues… Therefore, the most pressing problem is absence of the general plan of urban development. These problems must be addressed on the lawmaking level. For example, within the boundaries of Tbilisi, if a tree is dying (or diseased), an appropriate authority must issue an order on cutting it down, but outside Tbilisi, this problem is not controlled. Any individual may cut a tree in their yard, in front of their yard, or in their private area without seeking official permission.

Even though the situation in Tbilisi is on the verge of disaster, we have at least regulations about tree cutting permits. Who takes and issues such permits is a matter of debate, but it is more alarming that there is no monitoring authority, which would control giving cutting down permits for particular trees…

Since the day our movement was founded, we have demanded sanitation cutting of trees, which means that diseased coniferous trees on the slopes of Mtatsminda and around Turtle Lake must be harvested and removed. Even from afar, it can be clearly seen with an unaided eye, which trees are sick and need to be cut down. Sanitation cutting is urgent because the disease spreads to other trees as well. Around the time we placed this demand, they issued permits for cutting down 800 trees along Panorama just like that… They claimed the trees were diseased while it is obvious most of them were not. They do whatever they want with this city and, more importantly, they have the same attitude towards lawmaking.

A year or two ago, we established a working group that was to develop the environmental law. In the end, we offered our recommendations, but the law was updated with the amendments that are drastically different from our suggestions.
Our movement is driven by women for the most part. There are very few men among us. Women appear more concerned with environmental problems. From what I’ve seen so far, women are more involved in activism. We have often discussed it and have expressed different assumptions, e.g. women have more free time. But it is my humble opinion that women see problems better than men. I think men fear changes more than women do. They are waiting for something to happen but I don’t know what. At least, this is how it looks from my perspective.

Or, probably, women have to face the problems more. Say, mothers who usually spend more time with their children, have a very limited choice of parks and squares to take them for a walk. Besides, before you reach the park, you need to stroll the child in the polluted air. In the Kolmeurneoba-Vorontsov area, where we are now, the hazardous substances that must not be inhaled by a child are dumped in half a meter high heaps. Besides, there are no well-maintained sidewalks, ramps, etc.

What we need most urgently today in order to boost civil activism, is spreading awareness and bringing it home to as many people as possible. Obviously, the best and groundbreaking solution would be to change the educational system to give the right environmental mindset to youngsters. Yet, sadly, this is not something to be expected soon, considering the goings-on in our current educational system.

When we start discussing some problem, you will often hear even our activists ask: “Is it worth the effort?!” People want to see a tangible result if they make a move. They find it hard to risk everything or give it a shot. But if you don’t take a step you will never see the outcome.

Being part of this movement as a civil activist has given me belief that it is worth trying to make just a little change, and it gives result too. Don’t wait for others to wake up! I, together with likeminded people, can change the environment for the better. It might not be perceptible in the present, today or tomorrow, but we’ve seen the fruit of our efforts after months and I believe we will have better outcome in years to come.

Believing that a single person can make a change for the better, is a tremendous power.”