At the Patriarchy Policlinic in Tblisi, Tamila Silagadze, a doctor who distributes medicines for UMCOR, apportions medicine for waiting elderly, single mothers, and internally displaced people seeking relief from various ailments. The Patriarchy Policlinic has been in operation since 1995, after the Gregorian Orthodox Church allocated the space for its operation.
By David Tereshchuk*
September 25, 2013—The field mission of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Georgia has reached a significant landmark. This year, the office marks 20 years since it began providing relief and development support to Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
Back in 1993, UMCOR carefully scouted the many challenges that troubled the Caucasus region. It began its work by helping Georgia with desperately needed pharmaceuticals distribution, as the national system had in essence broken down in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
UMCOR’s original team comprised then-staffer Lloyd Rollins and consultant Arthur Keys, who were making their surveys at a challenging time—Georgia was consumed with violent conflict in the autonomy-seeking territory of Abkhazia. Rollins and Keys ultimately recommended that an UMCOR office be established in the capital, Tbilisi, and hired Georgian doctor George Gotsadze to manage the pharmaceuticals distribution on a national level.
UMCOR Georgia went on to implement many more programs aimed at addressing important public health needs. And it extended programming to other sectors, including economic opportunity, conflict resolution and education, agriculture and infrastructure building, and emergency response.
Rollins indicated that UMCOR, in its work in Georgia and elsewhere, “has thrived because it was careful to utilize the talents of local people who understood the local culture and customs and made UMCOR a part of their own communities.” Today, the UMCOR Georgia mission continues to rely on the talents and expertise of local people. It is one of several UMCOR missions entirely staffed by locals, including the senior leadership.
Forged initially in an atmosphere of conflict, UMCOR Georgia, over the years, found its operations punctuated by yet more violence, most notably the 2008 war in South Ossetia between Georgian and Russian forces, as well as Ossetian separatists.
Throughout, UMCOR has worked to strengthen communities by providing practical, proactive support to the most vulnerable populations who suffer either chronic or temporary emergencies due to natural or civil causes. During the violence of 2008, for instance, UMCOR coordinated the receipt and onward distribution of humanitarian aid provided by the United States.
Smaller-scale UMCOR projects have been repeated widely and have made a transformative difference to people’s everyday lives. Projects include the rehabilitation of more than 75 outpatient clinics in eastern and western Georgia; the renovation of schools and kindergartens; the setting up of new bakeries, laundries, and cheese factories; and the building of gyms and children’s playgrounds among the country’s many communities of internally displaced persons.
Proactive work with war-affected communities across the boundaries of Georgia-Abkazia and Georgia-South Ossetia has become critical to UMCOR’s mission. Since 2005, UMCOR has distributed medical supplies to clinics in Gali district (Abkhazia), just as earlier, in 1996 and 1997, it delivered both medical and non-medical requisites to health institutions in South Ossetia.
Four influential Youth Houses are illustrative of UMCOR Georgia’s people-to-people conflict-resolution work. Established in both Georgia proper and in Abkhazia, they offer educational and recreational opportunities to young people, the uprooted, and those left vulnerable after experiencing ethnic violence.
“The Houses serve as a platform for youth interaction and as a positive way of counteracting the negative impacts of war,” said George Gedevanishvili, current head of the Georgia office.
So after 20 years of achievement, often against troubling odds, what comes next for UMCOR Georgia? For certain, the office—and its staff and partners throughout the country—show no sign of standing still.
“UMCOR Georgia will seek to expand and spread programs that have far-reaching and measurable impacts on the lives of the vulnerable,” Gedevanishvili promised.
Your gift to UMCOR Advance #250305, Georgia Emergency, will help the most vulnerable populations of Georgia.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who regularly contributes to www.umcor.org.