Nuka (Nunu) Gvitchiani, 43 years old, Lentekhi

‘’I was born with cerebral palsy in the village Kheledi, in Lentekhi district and I finished 9th grade there. My parents fought with all they had to enable me to walk at the age of 5, they put me on my feet and I was able to walk independently for many years. When I was 30, I had leg inflammation, and I developed a fear of walking, and since then I haven’t been able to move independently.
I was 15 years old when my mother passed away, and at the age of 17, my father did too, which made me more depressed and weaker. If they were alive, my life path would be different. After the death of my parents, I didn’t undergo any treatment and didn’t go through rehabilitation. From sitting and immobility, my tendons stretched and I became more dependent on my family members. I could no longer go outside independently. Both of my hips are fallen out of the socket; I first need rehabilitation and only then can think about surgery. This, of course, costs money and I don’t have funds for that; nor is the state financing it.
I was never distanced from the outside world. Quite the opposite, my family members always tried to get me out in the community, but I was ashamed of myself so much that I didn’t even use a wheelchair. I then considered it a shame. I didn’t sleep at night, and in the morning I woke up without energy and didn’t know what to do during the day. I wasted so much time in such a condition – I lost 39 years of my life in vain.
Through social media, I made many friends with disabilities, who convinced me that I should be out in the community and that there was nothing shameful about that. With their and my friends’ effort, I believed that I had to fight for my own better life and test my abilities. My parents’ dream and my main priority too was education. I have loved studying since childhood, but I had only finished 9 grades. Back then, there were no computers, it was hard for me to write by hand, and the school didn’t give me extra time to continue my studies – they found a solution (that only 9 grades are required by law) and didn’t let me to the 10th grade. I was 39 years old when I decided to overcome all the difficulties, leave the home, and study. I was given an extra boost to fight when, despite many promises, a job could never be found for me in Lentekhi. Although, I wasn’t using a wheelchair at that time and could walk. The official reason given for the refusal was that the buildings weren’t adapted. In fact, the reason was something else – I wasn’t considered fully capable because of my disability and also, the lack of higher education.
It gave me a lot of strength to realize that society perceived me as inferior because of my education. I searched on the internet and found a college ‘’Spectrum’’. I contacted the director of the college – Mate Takidze, struggled to get there, and finally, I was accepted on the faculty of Secretary-Reviewer. I was accepted there as they would any other, and although they didn’t then have the opportunity for students to live there, I was given a room to live in, with its own adapted toilet (the entire building is fully adapted for people with disabilities), and a bathroom. They saw my desire and how I desperately needed all this for my future participation in society. Therefore, I have to say that the director of the college Mate Takidze and his colleagues played a huge role in my success to be a part of society. I had the best classmates, they cared a lot about me and I love all of them. I was so eager that I attended all meetings and events.
My arrival in Tbilisi was also possible thanks to one journalist – Tamar Mshvenieradze, who was introduced to me by a friend. In fact, Tamar was the one who brought me to Tbilisi. She offered me to make a short documentary about my life, she came to Lentekhi and that’s how I got to know her. The movie ‘’Her Own Life’’ turned out to be really great and won several prizes.
I was graduating from college when information from the Ministry of Education came about a new program that was going to employ people with disabilities. With the recommendation of the college, I got an interview at the ministry. Despite a huge competition, I was hired as an operator at the Permit Bureau of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports. For me, it was like a second birth. I felt at work a complete person – starting from the Minister, all the colleagues accepted me, respected, and appreciated me. In this position, we are two disabled persons working and so far, I’m working part-time, but I’m not going to give up and I’ll try to work full-time as well.
For 39 years, my name was ‘’Nunu’’ and I became Nuka, because I left everything bad in my past, with my old name. With the new name, for the fourth year already, I started a new life that is completely different – delightful and very happy. Once I started working, I also rented an apartment and now I live completely independently. At first, I didn’t have a wheelchair and I was using a wheelchair of my friend – Giorgi Alavidze. ‘’Form 50’’, with which I could get a wheelchair, wasn’t given to me by the Ministry of Health. Because I could stand on my own feet, even if requiring someone else’s help and could wear heeled shoes, was considered enough for me to not need anything else. Nobody asked why I was wearing high heels though. In fact, because of my thighs problem, it’s difficult for my ankle to stand properly and I’m more comfortable when standing on heels. Again, with the help of my friends, I received information that with the support of foreigners, the Ministry of Health was going to purchase 3 wheelchairs and I struggled to get one of these three. We have to work hard for everything, even for the usual taxi ride. Some taxis refuse to take me and place the wheelchair in the taxi, which happens quite often and it creates an additional resistance for us to be mobile. Some drivers cancel an order when they find out that a passenger is a disabled person. I have to explain to the operators what a person with a disability actually means, they even asked for a confirmation document. It’s important that taxi companies solve this serious issue and offer service to everyone who requested with dignity.
As a rule, with the pension, I have to receive social welfare, but they canceled it years ago. I have brothers and the state considered them as my breadwinners. Now I want to try one more time and ask the state to finance my rent bill, which doesn’t provide social help for me, to a disabled person of the first category. I have already registered in Tbilisi and I was told, that one year late, I could apply to the municipal board to finance the rent. I hope that I at least get that from the state because I don’t have a large income to cover all the expenses by myself.
Since I received an education, started my job, and have other successes, I feel respect and appreciation from the people in Lentekhi from where I left earlier. Three years later, I arrived for the first time in Lentekhi and the only adapted place was the new parks. Imagine, even the municipality building isn’t adapted and it turns out that this place is completely inaccessible for people with disabilities. There is such a ramp in the new hospital that if someone doesn’t meet you downstairs and catch you, you will break something. Without the help of someone, climbing the ramp is unbelievable and you can’t really call it an adaptation. There are still no services for people with disabilities and I want to do my best so that no one has to break the same wall that I had to.
I fell many times in this battle and I don’t want the same to happen to others, I don’t want them to leave Lentekhi like I had to integrate into society. This summer, while being there, I wanted to meet an MP and local councilors to talk about the needs of people with disabilities. I tried to communicate with one of them and he didn’t even make think I was worth an answer. I’d like to say from here as well that I’m ready to get involved in creating adapted places for people with disabilities in Lentekhi or in creating any other services for them.
Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been at work since March 13, I’m mostly at home and it has been very difficult for me. I haven’t been able to buy a computer yet, and this interferes with many things. For example, I work with various NGOs, and working from home without a computer is impossible. Also, in my free time, I like to write poems and sketches and I can’t do it on the phone either. I still have to pay debts and I can’t even buy a laptop with installments.
In general, for all people, and especially for a person with disabilities, support from other people is very important, and that’s what also saved me. I want to argue to all people with disabilities who live a closed life – to draw the curtains and make society see who they are. We should never be ashamed of ourselves because we are human beings like any other. Fight for your better life and don’t become a slave to anyone, not even to your family members.
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili
The project is implemented with the support of UN Women and with the financial support of the Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals, within the UN Joint Program – “Transformation of Social Security for People with Disabilities in Georgia”.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Women or the Joint Foundation for Sustainable Development.