They cannot return home because of political disagreement. The Georgian government doesn’t help them. The only assistance and support activities could be found in the non-governmental sector. Chairperson of Fund of Women Entrepreneurs: Meri Gelashvili knows about it all. She has experienced the internal displacement from Abkhazia to Georgia on her own.
For last two months I have been responsible for the pre-departure preparation of Slovak volunteers for their field-mission in developing countries, supported by Slovak Aid. I had to know the background and mandate of their sending organizations in order to fulfill the needs of these young people. When I went through the web of GLEN Slovakia, I came across the last-year activity focused on IDPs in Georgia. One of the Slovak volunteers co-organized small business training for internally displaced women in Borjomi city and also was part of commission that had funded the two best chosen business plans of women participants.
I was excited about the idea that the two long-term unemployed women have finally opened a mini-bakery ‘Mother’s Bread’ and established Domestic rabbit farming. To realize these two projects in effective way: local partner organization Fund of Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) supervised the implementation. At the same day I decided to contact this Georgian organization because I wanted to know more about their mission.
The phenomenon of internal displacement in Georgia
Meri Gelashvili, the chairperson of FWE, presents herself as an internally displaced person – in 1993 overnight she become a refugee in her own country. Ten years ago she set up an organization in order to help women like her–she founded Fund of Women Entrepreneurs in Kutaisi (which lies exactly on the midway between her original Abkhaz home-city: Sukhumi and the capital of Georgia: Tbilisi). Especialy in Western Georgia there are around 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs).
“In our case, it is the person who is forced to leave her/his natural environment, home region due to the political discontent or armed conflict. It is more than just migration –it’s a sudden and forced displacement,” clarifies her definition Mrs Gelashvili. Displaced people from Abkhazia had to find their new settlements in Georgia as a result of the Georgian-Abkhaz armed conflict in 1991-1993, which ended with the defeat of the majority – Georgian troops. At that period Abkhazian Republic became independent and the residents with Georgian nationality had to leave from that so-called independent republic – controlled by Russian soldiers.
Small Business Basics for women of all ages
Meri Gelashvili founded Fund of Women Entrepreneurs in 2003 and started with the educational activities in order to help her peers – internally displaced women from Abkhazia in Georgia and also women who live under the poverty line. The organization is currently running one project, supported by a German Foundation Brot. Mrs Gelashvili is commenting the situation: “We’re trying to apply to all kinds of grant schemes of various international foundations, but it is not always easy. There are eight women working in our office in Kutuisi. Other volunteers or external co-workers are working in the field, more people won’tfit in our small rented office.”
FWE has organized several-days trainings for the development of business-projects on social enterprise for the target groups of 10–15 members, tailored to the needs of women from Western Georgia (especialy from the settlements around the towns of Poti, Zestaponi, Borjomi, Kutaisi). These women have wanted to increase their skills in order to find a suitable job, to set up their own business and to succeed on the labor market. The largest interest was in Small business basics, which consisted of the preparation of a business plan, office management and financial framework preparation of particular project in the field of trade and services. “But we cannot forget about the local Abkhazian and Georgian middle-aged women, who face the biggest discrimination and inability to find a job. For these groups FWE has prepared 5-months program “School for Women”: Office management and business ethics’, where trainees has learned computer basics, English language and office management – and this is for free,” adds the head of this Georgian NGO. Another direction of FWE is professional orientation courses for young women to identify their vocational orientation and obtain needed knowledge and skills in order to continue study at the state vocational colleges.
In addition to these educational activities FWE participates in specific campaigns, focusing on gender equality and empowerment of women in the labor market, as well as the prevention of domestic violence. Eventhough we live in the 21st century women still experience (by the Georgian tradition) male superiority.
Women enterpreneur as the best example to follow
I have asked Meri Gelashvili to highlight some positive examples and success stories of displaced women who have completed FWE training programs. She told me that it’s hard to remember because there were so many of them; but in a moment she mentioned that for example 15 young women at the risk of poverty had received transport support (thanks to good relations with local authorities). FWE personalities were also able to achieve the remission of tuition fees for young women who wanted to attend the college.
If there was a possibility to return to Abkhazia Mrs Gelashvili would go back home to Sukhumi immediately. However she has to wait for the next political steps – unanswered questions are – who will replace the current leaders in Abkhaziaand how will continue Russian influence in that autonomuous area. “Young people already losttheir connection with Abkhazian traditions, so they probably wouldn’t return back to Abkhazia. But older people are dreaming about their come-back and meeting withtheir relatives, whomthey had to leave overnight without saying goodbye. If I don’t make it, let’s hope my children and grandchildren will be able to do that.”
Twenty years in Kutaisi, ten years at the head of Fund of Women Entrepreneurs. I was curious to know who will replace Mrs Gelashvili in her position in NGO. “It will definitely be someone from the local community. Let them decide about the planning and implementation of activities. My age is not a secret, but I can answer this question by the words of one Georgian artist: ‘I do not hide my years, but to be honest I am not able to count them’,” Mrs Gelashvili responded with a smile of vibrant, already 77-year-old head person of Fund of Women Entrepreneurs.
Written by: Boba Baluchova (journalist, teacher & development field worker), Photo: Fund of Women Entrepreneurs (http://eng.fwe.ge)