Country's first centre for youth and children opens in post-conflict Georgia

By Sarah Marcus

GORI, Georgia, 18 December 2009 - On the edge of Gori, a small town in central Georgia still recovering from the conflict that erupted in the region in August 2008, there is a large building that until recently showed signs of dereliction and bombing.

Thanks to the support of UNICEF and the Council of Europe Development Bank, the destroyed building has been transformed into a state-of-the-art centre for local children and youth.

Officially opened on 26 October 2009, it is the first centre of its kind in the Republic of Georgia.

"This centre will help all children realize their potential and capacity," said Zura Chkheidze, First Deputy Governor of Gori.

He added that, in the wake of the violence that took place in the region last year, the participation of children from displaced families will be especially encouraged.

Safe space for early education

The refurbished building has been equipped with desks and chairs, excellent lighting and aids for those with physical disabilities. With sections devoted to pre-school education, drama, journalism and youth (young adults), it serves young people ages 5 to 24 from across the district.

"This beautiful centre is the result of very hard work and a very effective partnership," said UNICEF Representative in Georgia Giovanna Barberis, during the centre's opening ceremony. "It will provide many opportunities for lots of children to play, learn and develop."

In addition to offering a much-needed safe space for the district's children, the centre also offers pre-school education and preparation to children who would otherwise have none. A special pre-school education section of the centre is furnished with beanbags, sofas, books and toys. It helps children as young as five prepare for school through music and singing lessons, art, sports and cognitive games.

At present, twelve children from internally displaced persons (IDP) settlements are enrolled in the pre-school section. Many are still working through the trauma of the conflict they witnessed in 2008.

Self-confidence and communication

In the centre's section for teenagers and young adults, discussion topics will be selected by teens themselves. Young people will also choose and lead activities such as charitable initiatives, fundraising and projects connected with Georgia's foreign relations.

The centre also features a journalism section led by Goga Aptsiauri, a reporter from Georgia's 'Radio Liberty'.

"Through journalism, we can help to create a civil society," he said. "If we work hard with the young people at this centre we will have a good base for a new generation of journalists."

Only a few doors away, the centre's drama section will give young participants a chance to unleash their creativity and develop their self-confidence and communication skills.

Building bonds

A palatable excitement is growing as students begin to explore their options for involvement with the Gori centre.

"Before, we didn't have a place to meet; now we can be together," said Ana Metiskhvarischili, 16. "We always wanted and needed this centre, but never had it. Now that our wish has come true, we promise not only to benefit from the centre but to take care of it."

The director of the centre, Lela Merabishvili, said the centre had a role to play in bringing disparate groups of kids together.

"We want to make friends between the children who live here in Gori and those who live in IDP settlements so that they grow up together," said Ms. Merabishvili. "This is very important for both sets of children."