Human Rights & Democracy

EU-supported Local Action Groups in Georgia tackle the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

29/05/2020 - 08:06
News

The Kviratskhovloba Convent was established in 2018 in the village of Mirzaani, 22 km from Dedoplistskaro. There are only four nuns in the convent at the moment, who have opened a sewing workshop, where local girls and women can learn the skills.
 
The interest among locals was so high that shortly after the opening there were no vacancies left in the workshop and they urgently needed a professional sewing machine. Therefore, in 2019, the nuns prepared a project and applied for a competition announced by the Local Action Group (LAG) of Dedoplistskaro. The project won, and two professional sewing machines were purchased for the workshop with the EU support.
According to Mother Superior Nino, the new machines can work 24 hours a day. They are going to open a small souvenir shop in the village as there is a high demand for souvenirs there. The village, which is also a home for the museum of famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani, is frequented by tourists. “I think we’ll be able to employ three people for a start after the crisis is over, and then it just depends,” she said.
 
Amid the worldwide shortage of face masks that broke shortly after the start of the pandemic, the Dedoplistskaro LAG announced a rapid response grant competition.
“Before the pandemic, we had sponsored several workshops in Dedoplistskaro, giving a preference to our beneficiaries,” said Ana Benashvili, Chairperson of the Dedoplistskaro Local Development Council. “The nuns’ project won the competition; within just two weeks they managed to apply, win and produce 5,000 reusable face masks. Then we handed the masks over to the municipality and distributed them with appropriate instructions among vulnerable groups, the elderly, and other people. We have also disseminated COVID-19 information booklets in the Azerbaijani language,” she added.
Since 2017, the Dedoplistskaro LAG has funded over 100 projects in the fields of dairy production, agriculture, tourism, mechanization, family hotel business, dried fruit production, etc. Out of these, 50 projects have been completed.
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There are 12 EU-supported Local Action Groups in Georgia, implementing different activities in line with the needs of respective regions within the framework of the EU’s ENPARD projects. After the novel virus outbreak, all the LAGs planned and implemented different activities.
”The European Union has been supporting a local development method in Georgia, which brings together community members to identify their needs and find common ways of addressing those. As joining resources and making decisions together only strengthens democracy at the grass-roots level, by supporting local action groups in Georgia European Union thus contributes to the bottom-up approach in democratic decision-making. The approach has proven useful in the new environment that the novel coronavirus has brought about in Georgia. As the local needs in different municipalities differ, the local action groups were very quick to mobilise and address the priorities within their local communities to ease the complexity of a new status quo that Covid-19 did bring along to their local societies,” states Ketevan Khutsishvili, Programme Manager for Rural Development, Civil Emergencies and Crisis Management.
“The COVID crisis may have affected Georgia less than other countries but it remains that it has disproportionally affected people in remote rural areas and/or in a fragile condition. From the onset of crisis, the Local Action Groups, formed under the ENPARD programme, have energetically mobilised their members and their meagre resources to provide material and moral support to the most affected members of their communities, sometimes at their own risk. As still a fairly newcomer to Georgia, I am every day more impressed by the commitment and community spirit displayed by these Local Action Groups and their capacity to mobilise and innovate in conjunction with national and local authorities. It shows that this EU LEADER approach works for Georgia and that reinforces even more our commitment to supporting its development in the years to come,” Says Georges Dehoux, Programme Manager for for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Safety.
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Gari Galstian from Akhalkalaki started learning Georgian a few months ago. “I am learning Georgian for free here; we talk about our interests. I like working in a group, as it is a better way to communicate and discuss our interests,”  he said. Gari received this opportunity after the Akhalkalaki LAG opened a training center and launched Georgian and English language courses there in 2019.
 
Ethnic Armenians amounting to 93.8% of Akhalkalaki population mainly use Russian as a working language. One of the main goals of the Akhalkalaki LAG’s training center project is integration of the local Armenian community with the rest of Georgia. Apart from the languages, the training center offers training courses in accounting and finance.
 
After the COVID-19 outbreak and the introduction of the state of emergency, they had to suspend the courses, but shifted to remote learning soon afterwards.
“When they started publishing recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus, there was no information in Armenian on STOPCOV.GE website, so in the first three weeks we provided updates in Armenian to local people. Then we launched free online language courses as part of the ENPARD project and now we have about 30 students,” said Ketevan Rukhadze, Project Coordinator.
In total the Akhalkalaki LAG has provided EU grants to 42 local development initiatives.
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For the second month already, Local Action Group of Upper Svaneti has been implementing a charity initiative in the region.
Galina Naveriani, 82, who lives alone in Mestia, is one of the 126 beneficiaries who received assistance from the Upper Svaneti LAG. “I really appreciate all the attention and support they give. This is very important for an old woman living alone. I pray for all people to stay healthy,” she said.
In response to COVID-19 pandemic, the LAG of Zemo Svaneti and its youth members have organized charity initiatives with the slogan #Buy for those who can’t afford. Special points were established at the food markets in the town of Mestia to collect food, primary necessities and monetary contributions. Assistance has been already delivered to 126 people, including the elderly and people with disabilities.
“This aid is very important, since people over 70 years are not allowed to go out and people with disabilities who have associated chronic diseases are at risk. It is of special importance in the municipality, where there is no public transport or grocery stores available in many villages. About 180 people have contributed so far, and we are planning to continue our initiative,” said Elene Ganaia, Zemo Svaneti LAG founder and coordinator.
The Local Action Group of Zemo Svaneti was established in February 2020 following a needs assessment and strategy development process.
 
According to Elene, for a year they had visited more than 160 villages to identify local priorities as part of a campaign involving local residents, authorities, NGOs, community organizations, young people and entrepreneurs, and used the campaign results to launch a four-year project with the main goal of reducing poverty and improving well-being of the local population.
 
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Like their peers in Zemo Svaneti, the Tetritskaro LAG is also engaged in fund-raising. The region is currently locked down due to the pandemic.
 
The Tetritskaro LAG, together with the local government and the Association Rural Development for Future Georgia (RDFG), has raised funds to help the most vulnerable families in the municipality. Several school students in different villages of Tetritskaro, including ethnic minorities, have already received computers. The LAG continues raising funds to help other local vulnerable families.
Nino Tikurashvili, Executive Director of the Tetritskaro LAG, said that after the region was closed, most education courses moved online, and it turned out that many young people did not have either the internet, computers or smartphones. “We have various training courses with a rather large coverage, but when the restrictions were imposed and we went online, we found that even graduation class students could not attend lessons, so we decided to provide laptops and the internet to them,” she noted.
The LAG beneficiaries also participate in the fund-raising. One of them is famous contemporary Georgian painter Ia Arsenishvili, who has donated several of her works to charity fund to help local communities.
 
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In the wake of the global challenges posed by the novel coronavirus, the Local Action Group of the Keda Municipality has funded an innovative project within the framework of an initiative announced after the start of the pandemic.
 
Out of thirteen projects three have won, including one concerning promotion of entrepreneurship in Ajara, proposed by marketing expert Tinatin Gholadze.
“I saw the competition announcement on jobs.ge. I was constantly thinking about it and planned everything in detail. Our goal is to help people working in the tourist sector to build their capacities in digital competencies. The initiative consists of two components: building digital capacity for processing small application videos and masterclasses. It also includes processing online photos and visuals. As part of the project, we plan to create digital platform SHINAUREBI.GE and a Facebook page to host a booking system and information about guesthouses available in Keda, to popularize them, promote local traditions, clothes, dances and songs and create online content,” said Tinatin Gholadze, Managing Director of Global Entrepreneurship Network Georgia.
“We conducted preliminary surveys among different groups in the municipality and developed a strategy, covering a number of areas, including agriculture, tourism, education, women’s empowerment, labor migration, and youth capacity-building,” said Giorgi Abuladze, Chairman of the Keda LAG.
The Keda LAG has funded more than 75 projects since 2017.
 
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The EU is supporting agriculture and rural development in Georgia through the ENPARD programme that has been implemented in Georgia since 2013 with a total budget of EUR 179.5 million. The main goal of ENPARD is to reduce rural poverty in Georgia.
 
Within the framework of the programme, large-scale rural development initiatives are being implemented at the national and municipal levels. The programme promotes the diversification of non-agricultural activities, including the development of social and municipal services, infrastructure, tourism, environmental protection and other socio-economic spheres, which ultimately contributes to the sustainable economic development of the country.
 
The Local Action Groups are actively working to this end in different municipalities, guided by the principles of democratic governance and participatory decision-making. The LAGs unite representatives of private, public and civil sectors at the local level. They define rural development priorities and work out local development strategies based on analysis of municipal capcities and challenges and then allocate EU-funded grants to support local development initiatives.
 
The Local Action Groups have been formed in 12 municipalities of Georgia: Lagodekhi, Borjomi, Kazbegi, Dedoplistskaro, Akhalkalaki, Tetritskaro, Keda, Khulo, Mestia, Tskaltubo, Akhmeta and Tsalka.
 
In total, more than 400 rural development initiatives have been funded to date in the areas of agriculture, tourism, social and rural infrastructure, and environmental protection. Employment opportunities for more than 1,000 rural families and living conditions for more than 10,000 rural residents have been improved through these initiatives.
 
 
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