Nino Botchoridze, 21 years old, Telavi

“I always say that Telavi has ‘’grown old’’. Like other regions, ‘’young minds’’ leave as soon as they finish their bachelor’s degree, and go to big cities.
If we don’t make the changes as we see fit, others will adjust things to themselves and that won’t bring us anything good.
I’ve been actively involved in the process of advocating for youth interests in Telavi for several years. My activism was influenced by the school, where I saw regular oppression of pupils by teachers; I saw selectivity and a low level of education. Therefore, I decided to look for alternative sources of knowledge that would let me learn how to protect young people’s rights.
It’s difficult to find a place in Telavi where you can grow, so I decided to attend all the training or forums by international organizations, went through internships, learned the mechanisms of lobbying and advocacy, and all this finally led me to become an activist. I was awarded a project by one of the international organizations and worked in the City Hall. The internship at the City Hall gave me the knowledge and a structural understanding of who had which rights and responsibilities and to whom I had to go to solve specific issues and who couldn’t escape responsibility. As a result, everyone knows me in Telavi as a growth-oriented person.
It’s difficult to be a prominent young woman in the region because in you they always see in you who has to applaud for a particular politician’s actions. Often my protest to the self-government was perceived as a protest against the ruling political party, but it wasn’t an obstacle for me. No matter what they say, that I even express any political party interest with my protest, I know who I am – I’m a citizen, who fights for a better future for the youth and for the development in my city.
The first battle won for our youth was the bus stops. Coming from the university or other places, we didn’t know where to wait for the transport (there is no municipal transport in Telavi) and often, in the snow and rain, we had to wait outside. We set up a negotiation format with the municipality and assured them that if they would organize stops, they would say that they made huge things for young people and we on the other hand would have shelter at stops in bad weather. We wrote a project that took into consideration all the details – budget, sketches. In short, we didn’t leave them anything to reject our project. After 2 months, we had bus stops.
The next issue was the maintenance of municipal transport. Young people have problems with transport – the only transport they can use is taxis. After 6, it’s not possible to connect the youth of the villages with the city, which is the reason why the region ‘’sleeps’’ after 6. We still continue to work on this issue.
The next issue we want to speak up about is the creation of entertainment spaces for young people.
We made an open-air cinema that was attended by hundreds of people. However, this project needs a budget to be sustainable.
Working with the municipality hasn’t been easy, however, the fight always brings results. We have often had confrontations with city council deputies. For example, when we were debating about the creation of spaces for youth, we were advised to find a place, light a bonfire, and talk around it. I had to argue on forums that the old way of gathering the youth – traditionally, around bonfires –was no longer relevant and young people needed modern technological spaces for development. When we entered the self-government with a proposal, we had a project that was already completed – with sketches, budget, selected place, sharing models from other countries, and then there was no way to refuse. Collecting signatures also works very well, but I think that’s a fairly outdated method.
With our activism, we changed the thinking of most MPs, let them understand that city politics need to take youth interests into account. I remember that when we first appeared in the City Council, most of the deputies noticed that it was the first time they were seeing an initiative by the youth in two assemblies of the Council. I’m glad that as a result of our activism, now there is GEL 50,000 from the budget for youth ideas and several of our ideas have already won. One of the MPs introduced three ideas, which were actually ours, but I always say, that the main point is that they do their job and they can even call it theirs. Telavi will become a city of board games, there will be a park as well, which will be provided with internet and multifunctional buildings for young people. On one hand, all this happened because of our radical actions and, on the other hand, with our cooperative policies.
Now I have to continue my quality education elsewhere. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m leaving the city. I’ll definitely return to Telavi, I even see myself as a member of the City council. I want people who were involved in activism to go to politics because no one can speak up for the interests of young people as we can do. Politicians remember youth-only before the election when they call them to meetings. After the election, everybody forgets and ignores us, which stirs up hopelessness. Politics will no longer be a dirty business if it’s done by the right people and I think if you know how to do things from the outside, you will definitely bring changes from the inside.”
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili