In 1986, disaster struck Adjara- the Southwest region of Georgia lying on the coast of the Black Sea. Savage landslides and floods devoured the homes and livelihoods of Adjarians, forcing thousands to abandon the region and disperse to various parts of Georgia. These regions included the villages of Samtatskaro and Heretiskari.
The Civil Development Agency (CiDA) organized an adventurous, two-day media tour to give journalists the opportunity to meet the eco-migrants who built new homes for themselves while combatting a large share of hardships.
However, building new lives from scratch would, nearly, be impossible without the generous support from the CiDA. This organization aims to implement programs to aid in the improvement of economic conditions of suffering eco-migrants. The project we studied was the “Raising the Economical and Infrastructural Capabilities of Eco-Migrants in Managing the Migration Process”. The European Union funds the project. Along with CiDA, the project is administered by the Regional Development Center (RDC) and the Georgian Association for Educational Initiatives (SIQA).
CiDA cooperated with the Dedoplistskaro municipality in aiding the people of Samtatskaro. The allocated budget was GEL 33,800. According to Nicoloz Janiashvili, the governor of Dedoplistskaro municipal board, the meeting with CiDA was held in Spring. This led to the agreement for the municipality to co-invest into CiDA’s projects. Additionally, Janiashvili claims that the municipality is experienced in working with NGOs. Moreover, it has collaborated with USAID to provide solar panels in the village of Shiraki, in South-East Georgia. This incentive generated electricity into households lacking this basic requirement for over 25 years.
The program CiDA offers to the eco-migrants consists of three components: 1. Supporting women eco-migrants for small business start-ups 2. Rehabilitation of infrastructure 3. Advocacy. Therefore, in our trip, we studied the various business established by women of Samtatskaro.
At our arrival in the village of Samtatskaro, with open arms, we were invited into the yard of a family’s house harboring their precious tractors. As we spoke with the locals, they revealed their hardships of working in the fields and the relief the four CiDA-funded tractors has blessed them with. In addition to the motor block tractors, CiDA has provided the rejoicing villagers with complementary tractor attachments.
However, the tractors are solely capable of maneuvering on soft and moist soil. This proves suitable for fields near the Alazani river- the main source of irrigation water of the Samtatskaro village. The villagers access the water through pumps supplied, once again, by CiDA. These fields are where farmers operate the tractors in addition to small pieces of farmland located by the river banks. However, other fields located further from the river are the most problematic. This is because of the non-existent irrigation system to carry the water further away from the river banks and into the remaining fields.
The seeding on the fields commences in March. During the month, the farmers utilize the fertile soils to grow vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, onions, garlic, and potatoes. Proudly, the farmers admitted to the new tractors increasing their yield and the opportunity to harvest up to twice a year. Moreover, the new machinery reduces and alleviates their working hours.
“Before, our working day began at 7 am and ended at 7 pm. All day, in the hot sun, we worked the fields by hand,” said Darejan Jaini, an Adjarian eco-migrant. Jaini admitted that the arid climate of the village challenged the eco-migrant families in adapting to their new environment.
“I would like to thank CiDA and everyone who has helped organize this great help. We can, now, provide our families and children,” she added, tearfully.
The harvested products are transported and sold in Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi. This becomes the farmers’ chief source of income and nourishment. Additionally, the owners rent the tractors to neighbors in need of a helping hand- or, more accurately, a helping plow. There are no fixed prices set on the rent as it all depends on the amicable relationships and negotiating skills between the leaser and the lessee.
Previously, the farmers relied on Mechanisatory LLC- a company providing them with necessary farming tools and vehicles. However, according to the farmers, the organization constantly delayed the arrival of the vehicles and the company’s services grew into enervating waiting games. Although four tractors are insufficient to serve the 420 villagers residing in Samtatskaro, “at least we don’t need to wait so long for LLC tractors,” says Alexander Jaini, an Adjarian eco-migrant living in Samtatskaro since 1986.
As our first visit neared the end, the operators began packing their cumbersome equipment and we began scurrying back into the comfort of our luxurious minivan. However, not before the family forcefully, but lovingly, dragged us back into the house for a generously set table of delicious Georgian food.
After the feast, we resumed our journey. Our next stop were the water tanks. At our arrival, we were shown two large water tanks supplying clean drinking water to 300 families of Samtatskaro. CiDA’s investment of GEL 12,560 and the GEL 53,577 investment of the Municipality of Dedoplistskaro of the Kakheti region, supplied approximately 300 families with drinking water. However, the arid climate of the village creates a problematic water debt. This means that there is a deficit in the water supply to the system, leaving families without water and fields with insufficient irrigation water. Consequently, the inconvenience has driven many youngsters out of the village.
Following the visit to the water tanks, we piled back into the minivan and drove to visit the tailor shop. Natia Mikeladze, the owner of the tailor shop, welcomed us into her home. Mikeladze led us into her newly renovated basement where she has stationed her workshop. As we entered, my eyes darted to the table laid with fizzy drinks, colorful fruits, and irresistible confectionery. However, attempting to stay professional, I sorrowfully ripped my gaze away and onto the three sewing machines further down the basement. Two women working the machines curiously eyed the bustling operators setting up their cameras and the journalists crowding around Mikeladze.
“To be frank, I had no hope in winning this grant. But, luckily, it happened and we have successfully established this business,” Mikeladze said. Previously, sewing was solely a hobby and friendly deliveries to neighbors. However, CiDA’s grant offer urged her into applying to receive financing. Following her victory in receiving the funds, she transformed her basement into her workshop. Mikeladze revealed that two of the employees were her relatives who, along with her, produce bed linen and female clothing. Her husband manages the delivery of the raw materials and the supply of the finished products. The merchandise is sold on the Tbilisi markets and, even, to the suppliers themselves.
Our final stop was at the house maintaining the newly established men’s hair salon. And although we could not get free haircuts, the owner’s adorable puppies were the perfect substitution.
This specific grant was admitted to Nino Mikeladze who had arrived at Samtatskaro in 1990 from Adjara. This led her to establish the only men’s hair salon in the entire village. Therefore, it is safe to say that the entire village is her one big customer- or, rather, her husband’s as he is the only employee. Mikeladze has no knowledge of hairdressing. Thus, she delegated the art to her husband and, instead, adopted the managerial position. CiDA supplied the couple with all the necessary equipment involving a shampoo bowl, a barber chair, a hair dryer, a sterilizer and cutting tools. The family contributed by purchasing the mirror.
As her services stretch specifically to men, Mikeladze said, “Regarding the enlargement of the business, in the future, I’m planning to grow into providing haircuts to women.”
With that, we wished them luck and crowded out of the small doorway and into the minivan. We drove back onto the dirt paths and out of Samtatskaro leaving the rejoicing people with their treasured possessions. As we left the village, we entered the dangerously narrow mountain roads unprotected by guardrails. However, before I knew it I was peacefully, yet very uncomfortably, asleep. How? Because I knew a Georgian driver is the most skillful. This does not stem from a place of patriotism but from the first-hand experience of the Georgian drivers unapologetically breaching every traffic rule in the roads of Tbilisi. And yet, somehow, they survive.
By: Maria Bakh