Luso Dostibegiani, 25 years old, Tetritskaro
I was in the first grade when my father went to Greece and he spent most of his life there. While I was in second grade, my mother followed him and returned two years later. By that time, I was in ninth grade and my brother was becoming a student; my dad was trying to bring the whole family together in Greece. He got swindled – he paid money for documents, but the guy who should have prepared them disappeared. Finally, they decided that my mother would go there alone, but illegally. When I finished school and went to college, my mother returned. I remember coming home and I froze. I thought to myself – this is not my mother; my brother probably brought another woman from the airport. My mother was completely changed physically. In front of me stood an exhausted woman who looked like someone else. She got too old in 4 years. I really tried not to cry and hugged her.
On the next day, when neighbors and relatives came, she told them stories of what she had been through. She has claustrophobia and she crossed the Greek border lying in the roof of the bus with 7 more people. In fact, she went through hell, escaped the death, and after all this, she had been kneeling on the floor for 4 years to send us money. Hearing and realizing what my mother went through was a nightmare for me. Before that, I thought she was helping just someone to clean the house. As it turned out, she was taking care of an eighty-year-old man alone, getting them out of bed to bathe, to feed, and so on. My mother is a very highly qualified veterinarian, who is known in the whole district. She loves freedom and her own profession. But she had to leave in order to create a future for us. In a normal country, she would be able to support her family with her own profession so that she wouldn’t need to go anywhere.
I already disagreed with my mother’s decision, but after hearing all this, I also had a protest against my mother – why did she agree with my father to go through all of this because of us? Why did she take such a huge risk and cross the border illegally?! We had money, we had new phones and computers, a lot of clothes and sweets, but I didn’t need them at all. Previously, I would often tell my mother that she left me then. Then I noticed, that hearing these words hurt her. Nowadays, I think that it was necessary for my father to leave us for work, but mommy had better stay with us. However, I probably wouldn’t be who I’m today. We, children of emigrants, have a little child inside, which needs to be hugged and told, ‘’I’m not going to forget you, but I don’t want to be ruled by your anger’’. I often tell this to an upset child inside me.
A quarter of my century
I always think that you should have achieved a lot of things by the age of 25. So, I began to experience signs of depression with age. For me, there are dreams and goals, that I have to do until a certain period of time, and thinking about it, I often have mixed feelings. Imagine, 25 years is a quarter of a century, right? You already have to have done something that you could say you’re proud of. I always think that I’m losing time. Even though I leave home early in the morning and go back to bed late at night.
I have been active since school and have been involved in many non-governmental organizations projects. Sometimes I think I have to make stickers of all the organizations I’ve worked with because each of them gave me a new experience in my life. I didn’t have that opportunity in Tetritskaro, where nothing was happening. And imagine, I could still see so many activists and women in different regions, who were making their community stronger, even though they have had a difficult life. You meet young people, who have interesting ideas and organizations, that have the budget to do a good and useful job. Then I had the opportunity to go abroad and after meeting so many people I realized that so many things are happening beyond Tetritskaro and in general, the world and the country itself is going forward. The most important thing for me was to find out that all this is done by ordinary people, who want to develop their community. I thought I can do that too, I’ve been helping people since I was a child. I’ve seen that there are opportunities in this world and you can use them wherever you live. So, in every subsequent project, I worked on, I tried to bring at least one activity and part of the project to Tetritskaro. Finally, I gave up everything and came back here.
Here, together with my friends, we founded the Tetritskaro Youth Center. The logo was made by one of our friends for free, the charter – by two other friends and we only paid the registration fee of the organization. We immediately started development. At the same time, we’ve started official negotiation with the municipality to give us space for the center. The negotiations lasted a year and a half. The current mayor at the time didn’t even reply to our letters for three months, but we didn’t give up and finally, we were given the old courthouse, which is 268 square meters and has a large yard. In this building, there was no electricity, no water or gas. There were many other problems and there were no conditions to work, but nowadays a big part of these problems have been solved. We renovated each room as part of various projects and the previous wing is completely renovated. All this is done with our own hands – mine, my friends, my brother’s friends and with the hands of mothers who saw that this center was useful for them and their children because they could lead there a lot. The whole process we have been through was amazing and the condition the building has now, even more amazing. Part of the problem still remains. For example, the roof problem. Nevertheless, the building is functioning – we have arranged separate spaces for the kitchen, for meetings, for training, and for the office. There is also furniture and up to five hundred books collected from friends and they have active readers as well. In addition, we have sewing rooms, where women sew eco-bags, which we distribute to our people. The building is overcrowded and it has become a place for youth to gather. The idea we came up with, it performs that function today. This center is the best example of how the community and non-governmental organizations have done a useful job together for the local community. That’s why everyone is precious in this place and everyone takes care of this space. We don’t even have a janitor and we clean it as if it was our own house.
We did one of the first girls’ camps, which was pretty radical news in the district. We took the teenage girls to the forest for three days. It was difficult to organize this, we had to take 20 girls to the camp and in the end, only 17 people gathered in such a big municipality, because their fathers didn’t let them go. In short, the girls’ camp made a big impression on them, they had a very interesting experience and emotions – learning to set up a tent, climbing a cliff, discussions about ecology and women’s rights. It was such a great impression, that even though few years have passed, even today on their Facebook pages, their main photos are still pictures taken there. We saw that we needed trust in the community and we built it slowly. For this purpose, we organized movie nights and made discussions for each village. I didn’t even have a salary back then. So, for these meetings, I used to buy food and gasoline with the money my parents sent to me from Greece. People in some villages said that before our arrival, no one was interested in their problems or gave us any information.
The Pandemic and lockdown of Tetritskaro
The Coronavirus exploded at the Tetriskaro hospital and therefore is one of the municipalities that has been completely shut down. I can’t say there was panic, but at least the first two-three days were more difficult and chaotic, as there was obvious aggression in the people toward the people who were infected. By the way, this aggression has caused protest among young people. The problem was that there was not enough information about the virus. Therefore, with local government, we have been actively involved in mobilizing resources and spreading information. Even though the population of Tetriskaro is diverse, there has been no incidents of ethnic conflict and the discussions around Marneuli have not developed with us. The first chaotic wave at least went well. In the Youth Center, we got more work, because it became necessary to find additional resources to help the population, distribute the resource, and to work on providing information. We do all this voluntarily, and with the help of the Human Rights Council, together with the French Embassy and UNICEF. We have provided food and basic necessities to about 150 families. It’s a pretty complicated process because there are limited resources and we can’t help everyone and people are not happy about it. But we were ready for that too.
One more profession – A ranger
My friends work at Algeti National Park and the first time we did a girls’ camp, I invited rangers to let the girls know about the national park and protected areas. The rangers came to the camp and we talked a lot. I got interested in it. Later, when the vacancy was announced, I applied, was selected and last summer I became a ranger in Algeti National Park. There are 4 girl rangers in Georgia. Arriving at the interview, when I looked at the list and looked around, I found out that I was the only girl among so many men. However, during the interview, no one asked any question in a way that made me feel awkward or unequal. In Algeti National Park they already had a girl ranger before me, who got married in three months and quit her job. They just joked that would I now get married in three months and leave them?! But my gender didn’t become a problem in the working process or when interacting with employees. There was no restriction from my family or relatives. In opposite, they were happy. Sometimes, I think life is joking with me and puts me where I need to be. It’s exactly like that right now. There is a lot of work in Samshvilde, where the Armenian population lives. And it’s necessary to raise their awareness of environmental issues.
While this emergency regime, the rangers are among the people who have been on the front lines of the fight all this time. We have to work harder than usual. There is more danger of poaching at this time. Whatever I do, I really like it, because it’s intertwined with my community activities. That’s why I’ve been thinking a lot lately about continuing my studies in the field of environmental protection or forestry.
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photo: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili