Reporter and photographer Molly Corso chronicles the life of Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. Below, she offers some insight into the people she met.
Georgians love love, and the beginning and the end of love are tied up in the family. From a very young age, Georgians are taught by their own relations — as well as songs and movies — that first allegiances lie with the family, and a family takes care of its own.
For the 40 elderly clients of Caritas Georgia’s Harmony Center — and hundreds in Tbilisi who still need assistance — those expectations of love, respect and life long care, however, have fallen flat.
For many, there is no one at home waiting for them: sons, daughters, grandchildren are either dead, abroad or too tied up with their own problems to help.
The poverty they face — the effort to eke out an existence with less than $80 a month to buy food and pay for heat, not to mention fend off the terrifying list of doctors, medication and treatment they need — is just part of the battle.
In the hours I spent with the men and women who have found a haven at the Harmony Center, it is clear that, as much as they need medication and doctors, they desperately require a safe place to make friends, to be respected. They need someone to care.
And for many of these people, there is no one, except for Caritas. It is only at the Caritas Georgia day center someone cares, only there that someone takes the time to listen to their stories. And what a history they have to tell.
Behind every pair of glasses, donated sweater and free meal, there beats the heart of a man or woman who lived a full life, experienced the Soviet Union for all its brutality and benefit, saw war, lived through revolution and emerged as part of a free and sovereign Georgia — alive, but also alone.
There is Jenya, age 90. An architect who taught at the university, she still dresses to the nines and, in her carefully selected handbag, carries a portable CD player and earphones so she can listen to music after lunch.
And Leli, who will turn 92 this year. As nurse on the front lines during World War II, she saw the worst, and the best, of humanity in the fighting in Ukraine and Poland. Last year she was invited by a group of veterans from the war to travel to Ukraine and be honored for her role saving soldiers. She went, even though it meant flying on a plane. She was given a hero’s welcome.
There are scores of others: doctors, academics, housewives, all the people who helped build an empire. Their lives are a reflection of all the turmoil created by the Soviet Union — a childhood overshadowed by the war and the cult of Stalin, their youth spent working in good faith, and now, in what should be the twilight of their old age, the poverty and destitution that have become the hallmarks of transition countries such as Georgia.
Caritas Georgia’s day center provides them with a safe place to stay warm and get something to eat — a vitally important service for people who have nowhere else to turn and no one else to help them. But more than just providing heat and food when pensions are not enough to do either, Caritas Georgia also provides nourishment for their soul: the Harmony Center has created a community where these 40 people, cut off from the support their society should provide, make friends and feel important.
Once inside the center, for a few hours a day they are not defined by their poverty and isolation. They are no longer just one more poor, needy pensioner on the bus. Through Caritas, they have created a family of their own, a family where they are known and cherished for themselves, remembered for their accomplishments and honored for their efforts to help others.
As they say in Georgia, family is everything.