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Georgia / Abkhazia: helping people to earn their own living

07-04-2005 Feature

The hairdresser

A decade after the conflict between Georgia and the breakaway region of Abkhazia, several thousand people remain dependent on food assistance supplied by the ICRC in spite of the improving economic situation.

To help some of these people revive their own income generating potential, the ICRC at the end of 2004 launched micro-economic initiatives targeted at those judged able to benefit. 

Many families are now on the way back to becoming self-sufficient thanks to these agro, trade and craft (ATC) programmes.

The following are just a few of the people who have taken advantage of the scheme to get back on their feet.

     The hairdresser  

Kristina is 19 years old. Her parents are dead and she and her two younger sisters live in one room donated by the authorities in the local Children's Hospital. They have been receiving ICRC food assistance for several years.

With her sisters still at school, Kristina wants to be the family's breadwinner. Recently, she has started working as a hairdresser at a kiosk near the central market. A colleague, Natasha, is teaching Kristina the skills she needs and she has the required tools through a grant provided by the ICRC.

Kristina was informed of the ICRC's ATC programme in November 2004 and applied for support. ICRC monitors visited her to assess her motivation and the feasibility of her chosen career path. Satisfied that Kristina could earn a living through hairdressing, the ICRC approved the grant.

At the end of 2004, Kristina received the basic necessary equipment. Now, she is employed by two salons with an increased clientele. Kristina is becoming independent and building her own future. Soon, the family will no longer require ICRC food assistance.

The pastry chef


 The pastry chef  

Nonna is a widow of 41 years and the head of a five-person household. Apart from one son serving in the army, her children are at school.

An energetic woman, she was working a few days a week in the local market. She has no land or any other source of income.

After hearing about the ICRC's ATC programme, she applied for support to start a home-based business producing pastries, cakes and biscuits. During the interview with the ICRC assessment team she explained how she intended to market the produce and become self-sufficient.

Nonna started production with an electric oven, a small freezer and raw materials received from the ICRC. She was able to contribute to the project herself by supplying tools such as a blender and baking tins.

Today, she brings the cakes and pastries to market, completes orders for special anniversaries and has landed a plum contract with a big hotel in the tourist city of Pitsunda.

Nonna can see light at the end of the tunnel and is happy to be independent again.

The potato farmer


 The potato farmer  


Igor is 47 years old and lives with his wife, five daughters and one son. Most of the children are still studying.

Igor is partially disabled having lost four fingers on each hand but, in partnership with his wife, he has a well-tended plot of land with hens and fruit trees.

Through the ATC programme, Igor applied for support to plant a potato crop. He told the ICRC monitors about the richness of the soil, convinced them of his skills as a farmer and even showed them the manure that would fertilize the crop.

He was successful. Earlier this year, the ICRC delivered 600 kilograms of potato seeds as well as additional fertilizers and pesticides.

So far, the weather has been kind and the crop is coming along well. Igor intends to sell the potatoes to feed his family and replace the ICRC's food assistance. He will also buy tools, seeds and maybe even a new wheelbarrow.

The sewing-machinist


 The sewing-machinist  


Belitta is a 47 year old widow with two daughters and a son. She used to make a living making pullovers and other clothes but had to sell her knitting machine when her husband became sick and needed an operation.

Recently, she applied for a small grant through the ICRC's ATC programme to begin producing clothes again for babies and small children.

She told the ICRC how she intended to sell them through her network of family and friends as well as to the tourists slowly beginning to return to the country. It will be a real family business: both her 18 year old daughter and her mother are interested in getting involved.

At the end of last year, Belitta received a sewing machine and materials such as cotton, flannel and decorative embroidery.

This initiative has given her whole family the chance for a better future.

The artist


 The artist  


Before the conflict between Georgia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Mikhail worked as an artist producing pictures in and around the romantic port of Sukhumi.

When the war finished he continued to sell his paintings but was unable to start anything new as he had no means to buy paint, canvas or frames. Like many others in Georgia, he found his savings rapidly depleted.

Last winter, he asked the ICRC for support to create a collection of work to be exhibited in the summer. His project was approved and Mikhail received paint and canvas for more than 30 paintings as well as wood to frame them.

Now, he is exhibiting and selling his paintings to the tourists who are slowly returning to Sukhumi.

" An artist does not work only for money, " he says, " he works to give expression to his soul. The ICRC has helped me do this and earn a living too. "

The fisherman


 The fisherman  


Dimitri and his two sisters, Lika and Gala, are orphans. They live in Gribeshok, a small village of fisherman nestled between the mountains and the Black Sea near the town of Gagra.

At the end of the war in 1993 they found themselves in a difficult financial situation.

To begin with, Dimitri was working with village fishermen on a casual basis and was sometimes able to buy some of the surplus catch to sell it on to others on the road to Psou and Sochi. 

He didn't lack ambition but only the funds to set up on his own. In the framework of the ATC programme, Dimitri asked the ICRC to help him buy a fishing-net.

With the approval of his application, Dimitri began fishing with his own net and shares his catch with the owner of the boat he uses. His sisters sell the produce to motorists and have built up a faithful client base.

A simple fishing net has enabled the family to fend for themselves.

The livestock farmer


 The livestock farmer  


Olga, a widow of 79, is an energetic Greek woman whose daughters fled Georgia when the conflict broke out. Olga stayed on.

A former teacher, she applied for a grant under the ATC programme to purchase a cow. In addition, she bought a heifer and another cow from a neighbour and now both cows are about to calve.

Olga wants to produce milk and cheese to have a sustainable income when ICRC food distributions come to an end next year. One neighbour allows her to graze her animals in his field, while a friend and his son bring fresh grass for the animals too. 

With the support of the ICRC and the surrounding community, Olga is well on the way to building a sustainable income.

The lumberjack


 The lumberjack  


Seventy-year old Igor was a skilled lumberjack before the conflict. His preferred tool was a Russian chainsaw called " druzhba " or " friendship " .

After the war, Igor gradually went blind and he and his family became dependent on ICRC food assistance. Through the ATC programme, the family applied for a grant to buy a chainsaw.

Igor's son was prepared to follow in his father's footsteps and support the family through the lumberjack trade.

In March 2005, the new chainsaw was delivered to Igor who ran his hands over the machine happy to discover that it was a " druzhba " .

Now, Igor's son is working and earning more than enough to cover the family's food bill.