'Street Wise', a new project recently implemented by World Vision Georgia with partners Street Kids International and Child & Environment, will equip some 6,000 vulnerable youth with life skills and the tools they need to be safe and economically independent. The project hopes to increase children's self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Georgian, Russian, Armenian, Kurdish and Roma, these young people aged 10 to 20 comprise the forgotten youth of this former Soviet-bloc country.
They either live on the streets of its capital, Tbilisi, or are at risk of becoming homeless as they 'graduate' from Georgia's children's institutions with no welcoming family to turn to and no skills to support themselves.
Their lack of choices and protection mean that they are vulnerable to traffickers, drug abuse and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. They are easy prey for criminal rings.
The Street Wise project, funded by UNICEF and World Vision Canada, is designed to contribute to the overall goals of the Children in Difficult Circumstances (CEDC) programme, which for several years has made continuous efforts to develop youth oriented programmes that emphasise the importance of raising children in a family environment, even a poor one, instead of in an institution.
It highlights the link between street children and children in institutions, as well as between vulnerable families and a lack of community-based services.
In order to fill the enormous vacuum of services and information, the project will train select vulnerable youth to act as youth sector workers and peer educators who will in turn equip youth with practical decision-making skills and the confidence that they can support themselves without turning to the streets.
"We have to create a greater understanding of the plight of children whose lives are being affected by the economic breakdown and those leaving institutions", says Mary Ellen Chatwin, CEDC Programme Manager. She sees the powerful role that youth service workers and especially youth peer educators can have in helping children at risk.
Chatwin believes that training social workers, mobilising mass media and increasing awareness can have an enormous positive impact on vulnerable children.
Four other projects within the CEDC programme headed by Chatwin have already made an impact in changing attitudes in Georgian society. The Street Wise project will further contribute to gains made towards the childcare sector.
Ultimately it is hoped that the project's close collaboration with existing government and non-government youth sector service providers, as well as the creation of a sound juvenile justice system, will promote and secure the rights of children in Georgia.