Editors’ note: Journalist Paul Rimple offers a moving, first-person perspective on the work of the church in Georgia, in particular at a women’s shelter. In his feature article in the June issue of ONE, Rimple reports on three CNEWA-funded programs that help people in times of personal and family crisis and give them skills and hope for a better future. Listen to his audio clip or read the transcript below.
My name is Paul Rimple and I have been working as a freelance journalist in Georgia for nearly 20 years. I recently had the opportunity to write a feature story about some of the brilliant projects Caritas Georgia has undertaken to help the country’s most vulnerable population.
One program I visited was the St. Barbare Mother and Child Care Center in Tblisi. The experience left me feeling both deeply affected and touched. Now I’m no stranger to horror stories of displacement, of war and the social ills of this country, particularly in society’s inherently unfair treatment of women.
This is a country where, although rarer now, some regions still practice [honor] killings, where a male family member will murder his daughter or sister, even if she is suspected of promiscuity. I know many women who were kidnapped brides. Fortunately, it’s a tradition practiced much less today, although it still occurs in rural areas. In ethnic Azeri communities, for example, fathers still marry off their young daughters to older men.
I met one girl at St. Barbare’s who was married off when she was 16 and abused by her new family. It’s hard to imagine the courage this girl had to take her infant son and run back home, but she didn’t find love and protection there. She was welcomed home with beatings.
After four years of abuse, she ran away again, but this time to St. Barbare’s, where she has found compassion, shelter, trust and support. I was told this young woman loves to cook and has quite the knack for it, creating Azeri dishes by memory, dazzling her housemates and the staff at the center.
I was lucky enough to be dazzled, too. Gvansta, the program coordinator, invited me for coffee in the center’s kitchen. The young Azeri girl was there and, in a snap, I was a victim of Caucasus hospitality.
She made a lovely tea, the likes of which I had never tasted, with slices of fresh quince and apple in it. She also offered me a plate of coffee cake she had made and, while I sipped my tea, she whipped up baked apples, topped in a luscious syrup.
While glancing at her work, beaming with joy, as her son climbed on a nearby chair to trade smiles with me, I couldn’t help but think of all the pain this young woman has experienced in her short life. But, while she worked, I saw her resilience and her strength through all that.
And I thought, “You know, this girl, she’s going to make it.”
Read the full story of Caritas Georgia’s life-saving work at St. Barbare Mother and Child Center in Tbilisi.
Paul Rimple is a freelance print and radio journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia. His current bylines include Foreign Policy, BBC, CNN and The Guardian.