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South Ossetia: winter clothes bring warmth and colour to children’s day

04-05-2009 Feature

Since the conflict of August 2008, the ICRC has built up its presence in Georgia and South Ossetia in order to help people still suffering the consequences of the conflict. Sometimes, it’s as simple as delivering warm clothes to a school.

   

  ©ICRC/VII/ A. Kratochvil/ v-p-ge-e-00550    
 
  Dmenisi municipality. People waiting beside a Red Cross vehicle during a distribution of clothes and shoes.    
     

Jolting over a crumbling country road, the Red Cross vehicle comes to a halt in front of an elementary school named after the nineteenth-century poet of the Ossetian language, Kosta Khetag urov.

 "The world is my temple,  

 Love is my offering,  

 The universe is my homeland."  

These words of tolerance and altruism must sound heavenly to a people that have known only conflict for centuries.

Here in the village of Dmenisi it's still winter, the school is poorly heated and the children are cold. They endured a war last year – a fact you can read in their eyes. Break time, outside the school, is an awkward affair, the girls to one side, and the boys to the other, moving around to no apparent purpose, playing among garbage, blowing their noses in drooping sleeves, howling abruptly with laughter as they jostle each other, then stopping wide-eyed and curious as the Red Cross pick-up stops in front of the school.

The visitors walk down a corridor dominated by a majestic portrait of Stalin, who was born not far from here. Around him are arranged photos of Ossetian fighters killed in action during the long succession of conflicts that have marked the village's history.

Raissa, the school principal, has gathered her flock in a ground-floor classroom with a big wood stove in the middle. These children need contact with the outside world. Everyone is waiting eagerly for the distribution of winter clothes.

 Finding the best deal  

 

Boxes full of cold-weather gear are carried to the back of the classroom. The principal and her colleagues stand with shawls around their shoulders, supervising the proceedings as one class after another enters the room. There are few children, a half dozen or so to a class. They form a disciplined line to receive their packages - but then they burst out into the hall and engage in a tumult of display and comparison. Deals are made and sweaters, shoes, jackets and trousers exchanged for a better fit or a preferred colour. The atmosphere is festive and everyone seems satisfied with the outcome.

 

 
  ©ICRC/VII/ A. Kratochvil/ v-p-ge-e-00538    
 
  Dmenisi municipality. Women returning home after an ICRC distribution of clothes and shoes.    
    One of the teachers, Olga, seems more worried than the others. Is this because all five boys in her class are absent? No, to her the problem is rather the lack of proper planning for this donation – the shoes look like girls'shoes. Something, Olga insists, must be done immediately to aton e for this affront to the virility of the Caucasian boys in her charge!

Meziane, an ICRC delegate with experience in humanitarian work in war-torn countries like Sudan, responds to Olga with professional calm. Gradually, the teachers begin to loosen up and join in the fun of comparing and exchanging articles of clothing. " As long as it's done fairly, " Raissa remarks with a smile, " let them have their fun. " This first contact between the village school and the ICRC will lead to a distribution for the adults, with the focus there on the most vulnerable, in particular old people.

Then a thickset man in uniform enters the school. He is the district administrator, in his free time a conceptual artist. Behind the official uniform is a man who cherishes the dream of one day taking part in a pacifist exhibition in Moscow.

" War accomplishes nothing, " he says. " The only things that count in life are freedom and peace. "