Winter is coming to Georgia: The homeless are not prepared

News and Press Release
Originally published
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By Amal E. Morcos

Tskvarichamia, Georgia, 24, October 2008*The leaves have already changed in Tskvarichamia, a mountain hamlet about 15 miles from Tbilisi. For the 16 families taking shelter in a modest building, this is not a herald of the harvest, but rather, an ominous reminder that winter is coming and they are not prepared.

At dusk, two mothers and their children sit on the front porch and explain to an aid worker that the rest of the families have gone to the authorities to protest their living conditions. *We feel cut off up here,* says Nanna, carrying her small son on her lap. *It is cold and we cannot properly care for our children.* She and her husband were farmers in South Ossetia, and like many who were displaced by last summer*s fighting between Russian and Georgian forces, they fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The group that had gone to Tbilisi return, and seeing the visitor immediately launch into a litany of complaints. They have no kitchen utensils. Blankets were delivered but the mattresses are no good. Above all, the building was formerly used as a summer camp for children and there is not enough insulation from the cold.

Inside the building there is a strong smell from toilets that are backed up. In the hallway, there is a list of government phone numbers such as *how to find a missing relative.* The hallway leads to a series of bedrooms with thin walls and blankets draped over windows.

The group moves from room to room, eager to show the aid worker mattresses atop rusty springs and thin blankets that were delivered in August. Some speculate about their neighbors, Ossetians who fled to Russia. They believe that those families got an offer to go back to South Ossetia, where Georgians can no longer return.

ACT International has been providing continuous assistance to thousands of displaced people who fled to other parts of Georgia, as well as to Russia, since the conflict began in early August.

ACT work through its member organization International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), who currently assists more than 10,000 individuals who have returned to their villages in the zone. Through a new $200,000 US government grant IOCC will help an additional 2,000 individuals get through the winter by providing stoves, fuel for cooking and heating, bedding, winter clothes, and cooking supplies. IOCC is cooperating with the Georgian Orthodox Church and local authorities to identify and assist families in 20 displacement centers in and around Tbilisi, including the families of Tskvarichamia.

These families want to return to their villages in South Ossetia, a hope that is fading as the months pass on. "The hardest feeling," says Elsa, a 32-year-old mother of two, "is to not know what has happened to everything that we built and worked for."

IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented over $275 million in relief and development programs in 33 countries around the world. Amal E. Morcos is the Director of Communications in International Orthodox Christian Charities, IOCC

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide.