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Georgia: you can't put hope in a box

15-10-2008 Feature

Kakha Khasaia's career with the Red Cross spans 16 years during which he has done practically every job, from guard to head of office. Jessica Barry caught up with him at his base in Zugdidi.

   

  ©ICRC/J.Barry    
 
  Kakha at work in his office.    
    Kakha Khasaia's first ICRC mission abroad was as a translator for a doctor in the protection unit, who was making prison visits in Uzbekistan earlier this year. 

" I used to think protection activities were boring, " Kakha recalls. " You are in the office a lot, doing paperwork. When we went to the prison, though, I realized that there was another whole side to the work. "

" The detainees really want to see you. It makes them feel they are still human when they know someone is there to listen. They have many problems and complaints. "

" You have to be very strong and remain neutral. Neutrality is not only about the different sides. In prisons, you have to have the same neutral relations with the prisoners and the authorities. The authorities have to do their job, too. There are regulations and they have to follow them. "

" I now think visiting prisoners is the most important work of the ICRC, " concludes Kakha, who has also worked for all parts of the Red Cross, including as a volunteer with the Georgian Red Cross Society where he began his humanitarian career in 1992.

 Finding fulfilment  

During the crisis in Georgia in August, the normally relaxed pace of the sub-delegation in Zugdidi became hectic. " We were really working hard tracing missing people, assessing the needs in villages where security was a problem, and delivering food and other supplies " remarks Kakha, who in 2007 became head of office. " But I was doing what I wanted to do. I even felt ashamed to go home at night because I wasn't tired. "

It took a while for his family to accept the importance of his work at this time. " It was difficult for my family at first. My son and daughter wanted to know why I was coming home late and working at weekends. In the end, though, my daughter, who is 16 and speaks good English, saw what we were doing for people, and wanted to come and help. "

Kakha and a colleague spent days visiting villages close to the administrative border with Abkhazia, from where families had fled, leaving behind only the old and infirm. " When people r ealized we were humanitarian workers they came out to talk with us, " Kakha recalls. “We asked them what they needed, and they said,'peace'. They also said that when they saw our car it brought them hope. "

" I remember my colleague saying to me afterwards, we can bring them food, but we can't put hope in a box. "

   
  ©ICRC/J. Barry    
 
  Norwegian Red Cross/ICRC mobile medical clinic in Knolevi village.    
     

At the very start of the war in early August, Kakha was in Gori, the town at the centre of the conflict. He went there to support other ICRC staff. " I arrived on 8 August, " he recalls, " and I remember there were no cars on the street the following day after everyone fled. Families who stayed behind were hiding in their basements. We found many displaced people sheltering in a cellar. "  

The mobile phone networks were not working well, so Kakha and a driver went to the edge of the town to try and phone colleagues in Tbilisi. They found themselves near a building that had been destroyed, and the remains of people who had been people killed. " We helped to take the bodies to the morgue and then returned to the cellar to see what we could do for the families hiding there. "

The following day, after food and water were organized for the displaced, Kakha left for Tbilisi and then returned to Zugdidi. 

The experience reinforced his belief in the importance of being close to the victims of war. " When you are in a conflict zone, " he said of his days in Gori, " you feel you do a lot, even if what you do is very little. Every bit counts. "

 Beauty and uniqueness  

    

When not working, Kakha spends his time taking photographs. It gives him space to breathe, and helps him to keep in touch with his roots. " I want to photograph all the regions of Georgia, " he smiles. " I feel it is important to tell people about the beauty and uniqueness of my homeland. "

" I love tranquillity, and discovering new places. My photography helps me to find both. "