In 2002, Kutaisi became the second location in Georgia where SOS Children's Villages began to support vulnerable children, young people and families. The area is home to many internally displaced people and has high levels of poverty and unemployment.
An area recovering from recent economic and social changes
Happy to have the chance to go to school (photo: K. Ilievska)
Kutaisi is located over 200 km west of Tbilisi and is the country's second largest city with just under 200,000 inhabitants. Many people continue to live off agriculture but the city's main employers also include the educational centres, the two hydroelectric stations and factories producing cars, tractors and planes. It is hoped that tourism will provide a further source of income and employment: the fact that the city has a rich historical heritage and its beautiful setting make the local government hopeful that tourism will alleviate some of the poverty in the area.
However for the time being, the population of this part of Georgia remains poverty-stricken. The fighting which took place in Abkhazia in the early 1990s resulted in many internally displaced people moving into the area: an estimated 4000 internally displaced families live in Kutaisi. The unstable economic conditions have meant that many people continue to be unemployed and live in poverty. Children with disabilities and those from poor or dysfunctional families are most likely to end up in care. Although some state social assistance is available, the government admits that it does not always reach those people who are most in need.
The authorities are trying to introduce changes into the way that children are cared for in the region. In cooperation with other international partners, they aim to raise the standards of social care and assistance given to children. It is still the case that most children end up in care due to their parents' inability to care for the children's basic material and emotional needs.
Providing support for families in need and loving homes for children
Although the state is taking measures to help children who have lost parental care, our work in the area remains as crucial today as it was when we started working there. The government has been very supportive of the work of SOS Children's Villages, even donating the plot of land where our organisation is based.
In a country which has experienced a fall in the standard of living in the last decades, the provision of assistance to vulnerable families, supporting young people to live independently and giving a loving home to children who cannot live with their parents have formed the core of the organisation's work in the area.
What we do in Kutaisi
Increasing confidence through play (photo: K. Ilievska)
Strengthening Families: Working with local authorities and other service providers, our family strengthening programme provides a comprehensive package of services to enable families to stay together and take good care of their children. We give families material support such as food and clothing, as well as educational support and access to health care. In order for parents to generate income, we offer them vocational training, career counselling and advice on how to look for a job. Furthermore we strengthen communities so that vulnerable members have someone to turn to in times of need
Family-based care: Children whose families can no longer take care of them can find a loving home with an SOS mother in one of the 12 SOS families which can look after up to 84 children. SOS mothers have been professionally trained to create emotionally stable relationships in a nurturing and secure home. The children from the SOS families attend nearby schools or kindergartens together with local children, which helps them become part of the community.
We also have eight homes which are integrated into the community – about eight children live in each house.
Support for young people: When children are ready to leave their SOS families they can move to the SOS Youth Programme. They live here while they attend further education or training. With the help of qualified staff, the young adults learn to shoulder responsibilities and make their own decisions.
Emergency assistance to mothers and children: Our Mother and Child Centre can provide shelter for up to twelve months for five mothers and ten children at risk. They are given all the support they need so that they can live independently in the future.