Tengo Shanidze is a committee member of the Marneuli Youth Bank, a program implemented by Europe Foundation. Now, in his final year of school, Tengo has to spend more time studying than volunteering, but he still intends to remain involved and will never remain passive. He believes that, in a joint effort with his peers, they can change much more for his village.
One thing that really needs to be changed is the public school building in Maradisi, a village in Marneuli municipality. The same, however, does not hold true for the schoolyard.
Encouraged by the Youth Bank, Tengo and his friends have committed themselves to taking care of the school environment. Today, as a result, the schoolyard and its adjacent territory is neat and tidy, properly enclosed with a fence, and green with trees.
When they learned that a special delegation from the Danish and Swedish governments was to visit the Marneuli Youth Bank on 25 October, Tengo and other committee members worked together to prepare for this event. They set up a presentation space in front of the school where they would be able to speak to the delegation members about the numerous works and projects the Youth Bank has implemented, and they also organized a small “exhibition” for the delegation.
When the big day arrived, Deputy Foreign Minister of Denmark Kristian Jensen and Chief Advisor to the Department for European Neighbourhood Policy Björn Blau heard many stories from the committee members about how youth activity has changed the local environment.
“The GEL 800 granted to the project by Europe Foundation was not enough to plant trees, so therefore we developed a fundraising plan. Motivated by Europe Foundation and confident that we would succeed in reaching all of our goals, we started to volunteer. We travelled around the Marneuli villages and collected GEL 2 500 to plant trees on the school territory. To increase interest, we offered to plant trees on behalf of local residents and they, seeing how enthusiastic we were in our endeavor, willingly engaged in our project. With the money we collected we planted around 300 trees,” Tengo explained.
Yet another initiative the youngsters are proud of is the expansion of the school library. Youth Bank members collected 1600 kg of pulp paper and, in doing so, earned second place in a nationwide recycling marathon. In exchange for this pulp paper they received new books for the school library and today, these books are available to every Maradisi school pupil.
The fenced yard is also something that Youth Bank committee members should be given credit for. With the help of adults they drew up a project and applied to the local government for a permit to have the territory enclosed. The local budget covered the cost of the enclosure itself, while the children, with money from Europe Foundation, purchased and installed garbage bins to keep the yard clean.
“We would like the school to express the values around which we are united. We would like everyone to feel a sense of responsibility for looking after this common territory, and we would like our peers to follow in our footsteps and keep the territory tidy. Therefore, we purchased and installed garbage bins and put up banners saying ‘Take Care of the Environment’. We also installed a composting bin, which is an attempt to introduce modern practices to Marneuli agriculture,” said Ilgama Sultanova, a member of the Marneuli Youth Bank.
Ilgama recalled that when she first joined the Youth Bank her parents were skeptical about her involvement: “They used to tell me that I was wasting my time and that I should stay focused on my formal education. Later, however, they saw how I had transformed; how self-confident I had become, and how I started to fight to achieve my goals. Today, my parents are very supportive of my activities,” Ilgama said.
Although these young people have significantly improved the school environment, the overarching problem of school building, which badly in need of repair, remains. The Maradisi Public School, which enrolls up to 50 pupils, has virtually no infrastructure. The school director, Ruslan Bolkvadze, says that he receives promises from the government every year but, since the school is not large, the budget has not yet been able to allocate any actual funds for its repair.
Along with the Youth Bank members, the meeting with the representatives of Denmark and Sweden was attended by an entire corps of volunteers including schoolchildren, schoolteachers, the school director and the Mayor of Marneuli.
“Even the local government is proud of these local youths and their enthusiasm, not to mention the parents and the school administration who have started to actively support and further empower the Youth Bank. It is precisely this sort of model that we try to replicate under our program in 20 Georgian municipalities and we are very happy about success stories such as what we’ve seen at Maradisi,” said Youth Bank Program Manager Mariam Kobalia.
Author: Ketevan Magalashvili
Photo by: Irakli Shalamberidze