Study … Play … Changed

Bert Marshall | May 15, 2013

English class for vulnerable youth in a CWS-supported program in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Bert Marshall/CWS

English class for vulnerable youth in a CWS-supported program in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Bert Marshall/CWS

“Hi there, how’s everyone doing?” I blurted out in a crowded room full of teenagers who were in the midst of their English class. Without missing a beat, they all responded “Fine! Nice to meet you. Come on in. Welcome.” I asked how long they’d been studying English. The answer: two weeks. Two weeks and they were speaking to a native English speaker with confidence and skill.

We had walked into the Tbilisi Youth House (TYH) in a funky neighborhood in Georgia’s beautiful capital city. Crowding into a hallway on the second floor, we were informed that the several rooms here were classrooms and the students were taking courses in computer skills, languages, cosmetology, accounting, media/journalism, video production and quite a few other subjects. I had discovered the English classroom and invited myself in (the door was open). On an easel were listed some words they were working on. Part way down the list, in sequence, were the words “study,” “play,” and “changed.”

The CWS-supported Tbilisi Youth House was founded in 1999, and it provides a wide range of livelihood trainings for socially unprotected and disadvantaged young people.  Most of them are families who fled South Ossetia or Abkhazia – disputed regions in the north that have been the scene of separatist violence since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The mission is “to provide a safe, loving and life-enhancing environment for all.” Some 21,000 youth have found hope and new opportunity here since 2001.

We looked in on the computer class, the cosmetology class and several others. Then we sat down in a large gathering room to hear the Director, Nana Doliashvili. Listening to Nana, you can understand why this place is such a magnet for vulnerable youth in the city. She has been there for 15 years and is a wellspring of knowledge about the program, the local scene and a regional history that continues to create at-risk youth. She obviously loves her work. She told us that in addition to a high success rate, the young people who go through the program always come back to help. They all want to give back to a program that gave them a chance to succeed and live productive lives. Some continue to volunteer. And the program now serves adults (especially women) with vocational training and professional skills improvement.

Nana and her staff presented us with gifts and refreshments. We could have spent the whole day there. As we walked down the stairs and outside to our waiting van, I remembered the easel in the English class, the words that were written there: “Study. Play. Changed.” Were they random, intentional? I don’t know, but I can’t think of any other three words that better describe the amazing work CWS is accomplishing in the Republic of Georgia.

Bert Marshall, Director, New England, CWS