Tamuna Lursmanashvili, 39 years old, Ozurgeti

‘’When I was entering tenth grade, I fell off a tree. I underwent wrong surgery in Tbilisi and then I had to spend two years in a rehabilitation center in Yerevan. When I came back, I could almost walk, but I was falling down often. Then I got into a wheelchair and when it became easier for me to move, I became lazy, I couldn’t train as needed and therefore, it became impossible to get in shape. Now my 12th chest rib and the first waist rib are damaged.
The first two years were very difficult for me. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, I didn’t go out at all and I only let my mother in my room. My mother would come to my room and I would lie in bed. Our neighborhood priest, Father Shio, said that he would come to me. The first time he came, I didn’t let him in. He came the second and third time and slowly, he achieved so much, that I began wanting to attend church liturgies. For some reason, that environment had a great influence on me and I returned home calm. Later I found out that in our region there was a charity named ‘’Guria’’, which had a day center and it was the only adapted environment where I could move without restrictions. I joined this association. At first, I had a hard time communicating with people. I was a newcomer from home, but they met me warmly, accepted me to their pleasant environment. Every day they’d send a car for me, I would go there and it was like I had a job every day – I had to go somewhere. Then I discovered different talents in myself. It turns out that I have to sing, I have to draw, I have to do anything I can. Every day wasn’t as monotonous as before when I was lying in bed the whole day. I would get up in the morning, take care of myself and get out of the house, I learned something new every day and I accepted joy and faith back into my life. After that, I started living, slowly, step by step, until today.
Now I work as a volunteer teacher at the day center. I always wanted to be a teacher, I loved children. I’ve been in this organization for 10 years and for the last two years I’ve dared to volunteer as a teacher with children. These are children in wheelchairs or children with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and so on. I help them improve their everyday skills. At the same time, I’m an operator in the EU project – ‘’Social Free Taxi’’. This is a free taxi that serves people with disabilities and those who are on dialysis. The program will last six months and when it’s over I want to convince our mayor that this is a very important and necessary project and to reserve the budget for it to continue.
I often appear in society. I get involved in various activities and projects. People with disabilities need to appear in public more, be more active, and be employed everywhere we can employ them. But by being employed I don’t mean to give them a salary as mercy or to appear virtuous. I’ve had similar offers many times, but I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be paid a pension instead of a salary. Train me, let me get that basic knowledge you want me to have, and only when I became good at it, then I’ll start working. I have to have the knowledge and I have to be ready for it so that then no one will look at me and think that I got the job only because I’m in a wheelchair. I think the day center should be in every city and it should prepare people with disabilities for the future. As I did, I graduated from college. My supervisor told me, that I needed to study and I was convinced. I went through the secretary-reviewer course, with many struggles, heartbreaks, tears, but I went through to the end and I believed in my skills. It makes you happy when you get your salary and you know it’s what you deserved and it’s not because someone pitied you. I said to myself that when I’d get a job and would be able to pay taxes as other people do, I would pay the same taxes; and I did. Now, I pay my bills and I’m happy to be able to do that.
I want to augment my city in such a way that there are more adapted spaces for people with disabilities and I want to us appear more often in public. I also attend councils where I’m a board member and represent people with disabilities. But for some reason, we’re moving forward very slowly. I’m already part of society and I’m no longer afraid of new people. I often go out with my friends and I wish my friends feel the same way. Unfortunately, there are many people in the village, who’d love to go out, but they can’t. They write and ask me how I’m moving to the city. I try to speak with everyone, but I don’t want all this just for me – I want to have adapted spaces for everyone. Even a café, park, etc. would be just great.
When I was studying in the vocational school, there was no ramp. I was told to send the study material home and I didn’t accept it. I, too, wanted to sit during the lecture, listen, and even receive corrections in the same way that the other students would receive – I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. There’s a huge difference between studying at home alone and attending the lecture. I had great people in my group, I became more open in relationships, we exchanged thoughts with each other and enjoyed our student life.
Once, I told the mayor to take a walk with me through the city and see where we’d encounter obstacles – where I could cross the street, or enter the building, and who would help me. There was a wrong ramp in Liberty Bank. I showed him that and in fact, they started fixing it the next day. Now I go to the bank by myself, I can enter the building and get a pension or salary. If I want to go to another bank, there is no way. Maybe I have to show them problems, so they do something. Now the situation is much better – they’ve started to do more things; however, I don’t want it to be just a façade – a lot of ramps are made but either the slope is missing, or it has no curves, or the railing, etc. There are situations when I want to buy something at the pharmacy. You may ask someone else to get things for you, but it may be something personal, hygienic, that I don’t want others to get involved with. Or maybe I want to choose by myself. They tell me that they’ll deliver it to me. But maybe I want to go inside?! Even pharmacies are not adapted.
When I return home, there are no sidewalks on the road. Sometimes the police walk up to me and tell me to get out of the road, or asks me why I walk alone. Maybe I want to walk alone and I don’t want to be with someone.
I often go to church, but I can’t go inside. Once, the priest told me that he would ask deacons to take me in their hands and bring me to the church. I don’t want that. I want to enter when I want, to pray alone and light a candle. I couldn’t achieve that. It just hurts me; the church should be more eager to make this environment accessible. But so far this is not happening for us. Probably because not a lot of people like me are bringing this issue into the light.
One of the problems is that if you go to the doctor and if someone is there with you, they push you aside and talk to that person about you. I had eye problems and went to the doctor with a friend of mine. The doctor completely ignored me, just told me that I needed surgery. Then she talked to my friend if I had parents and so on. I was so angry about it and expressed such a protest that I left the place immediately and never returned.
The attitude of society is complicated. When my cousin took me out on the street for the first time and put me in a wheelchair, people watch. There were reactions like, ‘’what a pity’’. Most of all I hate the irritating attention. For example, if I go anywhere, they open the door for me and ask me to sit and so on. I want to enter the building as other people do. I want to be accepted like other people are. The first time I went to a wedding, once people saw me in a wheelchair, they surrounded me in a circle, like a monkey in the cage, and asked me what I wished for. Maybe, at such a time a person really wants to express respect and warmth, but it’s very irritating.
I also had a case with a police officer: on our parking place, so for people with disabilities, there was a police car parked. I asked whose car it was, but the owner didn’t appear. So, I took a picture and posted it on Facebook – how our law enforcers often also violate the rights of people with disabilities. Suddenly the owner appeared. The whole Ozurgeti was involved, everyone called me. But I didn’t delete it. They will not do it the second time.
Creating a family is a taboo for us. It’s very difficult to find a partner who will accept you the way you are. Whatever the problems are standing between him and happiness, he has to be ready for it – he has to watch out for society, has to convince the relatives and family… this is a very big chain. Perhaps, someday our society will change consciousness and realize that we need a family too. I think, that every person should have their own life and it should be the way they want it and the way they choose’’.
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
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.