A Balancing Act in Georgia

A mother and child care center offers hope

In the current edition of ONE magazine, photojournalist Molly Corso reports on a center in Georgia helping at-risk mothers and their children. Here are some additional reflections on her visit.

I arrived at Caritas Georgia’s St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi early one Saturday, curious to see how the five women and seven children living there would spend the weekend.

I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the scene before me in the kitchen was not unusual: a mother balancing her baby on her hip as she went about the business of making breakfast, one hand securely around her child, the other stirring a pot or warming a bottle.

It is a balancing act played out every morning in thousands of kitchens around Georgia, and likely around the world: One eye on the child, one eye on the pot.

That image of the mother balancing her duties and her child stayed with me — in part, because the center itself is a bit of an extension of the country’s own attempts to find a balance.

Georgia is actively seeking to balance he resources of a poor state and the needs of its population. Even more so, it is attempting to find balance between its strong traditions and the painful truths of the modern world.

Everywhere in Georgia today you feel it. It is visible in the tug-of-war between honoring the past and working toward the future; it is palpable in the political debate over how far the government can, or should, go to protect minority rights — or care for women locked in abusive relationships.

Over the past several years, the veils of family honor and shame that traditionally masked domestic abuse have begun to slip. Horrific cases of murder and violence have forced the issue, once hidden, into the spotlight of media attention and political debate.

The good news is that the attention has brought results. The bad news is, as always, that attention to the issue has also underscored its scope: how widespread domestic abuse and violence against women really is in the country — and how hard it is to stop.

All this has forced the government into its own balancing act in terms of whom to help and how much to help them.

For the five mothers living at Caritas Georgia’s St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center in Tbilisi, how well the government managed that balance had become an issue of immediate importance.

In the women’s own lives, the act of balancing their needs and those of their children had become an everyday process of weighing decisions and consequences that had life or death repercussions.

To remain at home or keep their child? To stay with an abusive partner or seek an uncertain future? To risk a new life alone, or remain locked in a cycle of violence?

For the women and children living at the Caritas center, at least, the act of balancing life and child has gotten much easier.

For one year, those living there are safely buffered from many of the problems that had plagued them. Caritas, in partnership with government programs, provides material care and psychological help for the women and children under their protection. It helps them use the law to defend themselves from abusive partners, find free childcare, get an education for a future job and last, but certainly not least, begin the process of unraveling the years of abuse and shame.

The women are different ages, come from different backgrounds and have different stories. But each shares one common truth: the St. Barbara Mother and Child Care Center is a last resort of sorts, a temporary safe haven to take stock of their lives and attempt to start again, to create a future — still balancing their roles as mother and caregiver but standing on firmer ground.

But at the end of the year, it is time for the women to take another step onto the high wire, balancing their children on one hip and the weight of their responsibilities on the other.

Not all of them make it, but the ones who do — those who have either found peace and security with families ready to accept them (and their children) or have committed to the hard work of surviving as a single parent — are able to because of the year gifted to them by Caritas Georgia.

That time offers a short step back to safe ground to regroup, readjust, and plot a path ahead.

Read Molly Corso’s story about Confronting Abuse of Women in Georgia in the September 2018 edition of ONE.

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