From Filling Bellies to Filling Minds

Photojournalist Molly Corso lives and works in Tbilisi.

Regardless of whom I spoke with during my reporting on vulnerable children in Georgia, the refrain was always the same: charity is moving from food to skills, from heat to culture.

A not-so-subtle shift is underway in Tbilisi and other cities throughout the country, and charities — accustomed to being forced to fill in the gaps where government resources have fell short — are pushing it forward.

With the government footing the bill for better buildings, warmer rooms and more nutritious meals, charities and non-government organizations are refocusing from struggling to provide bread for hungry children to nurturing minds thirsty for new information.

The change — from substance and survival to skills and development — has not happened overnight. But it is happening, and it is opening a new opportunity for a very small country to reclaim its poorest, most disfranchised citizens.

For nearly two decades, Georgia was unable to take care of her own, unable to pass even the basic test of providing food and warmth to the youngest and weakest of the population. But as the state has built the roads, fixed the lights and turned on the heat, the government has also started looking in. The hesitant trickle of money and resources that once went to social programs like orphanages has turned into a stream of new programs, projects and initiatives.

So from the Georgian Orthodox Church to the Catholic Church, the youth houses to the day centers, children who were left with nothing are receiving more than just hot soup and a serving of vegetables. They are learning to use the computer, speak English and master marketable skills like carpentry, folk arts and plumbing.

Today there is a glimmer of hope.

There are art therapy programs to help unravel the web of abuse and neglect that had trapped young lives. And there are psychology courses to address addiction.

But even more than that, there is an effort to help children discover talents and passions that can aid them in their struggle to crack the cage of poverty that has stopped their parents and other family members from moving forward.

A giggle in the dance class. A frown of concentration in the computer clinic. A proud glance at a newly woven carpet. A thousand small, silent signals that Georgians — even the most vulnerable among them — are starting to move up.

You can read more about church-run programs helping the children of Georgia in the March issue of ONE.

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