Mzetamze in search of springs
The village of Mzetamze is six kilometers away from Tsagveri in the Borjomi Gorge. It counts approximately 250 permanent residents. A newly built concrete road runs from one end of the village to another. Such a road is a rarity in Georgia’s villages. As 58 year old Dali Kasashvili recalls, earlier, because of knee-deep mud on this territory, one could hardly go to a neighbor, let alone send children to school or take to kindergarten in Tsagveri.
There are only private houses in Mzetamze. Some of them operate as guest houses in summer. There is only one public building which was initially intended for a village club but ended up in a ritual hall. Trace of the past can still be seen on several buildings – a former food store which has been inoperative since the communist era; a former school and a summer cottage belonging to the Batumi Sea Port, both abandoned. There is a large territory nearby, where local residents would like to have a sports field and a park arranged.
“Thank God we have lived to see the road!” 54 year old Nazi Paksashvili said. “The population aggressively advocated for it and the authorities took heed of our demand. However, lack of water remains a problem. Even today, guys went to the headworks to clean it as water totally stopped flowing. The existing water supply is no longer enough for the village as some houses operate as guesthouses. New water supply systems are needed to have sufficient supplies of water; this is a cause of conflict among neighbors too. How would holidaymakers come to Mzetamze if there is no water,” she went on.
Yet another problem of the village is the absence of municipal transport from Tsagveri to Mzetamze. A minibus takes schoolchildren to school in Tsagveri for free, but adults are charged GEL 1.5 per person from Mzetamze to the center of Tsagveri in this minibus. “When you take this minibus in the morning to Tsagveri you cannot return home until evening as it runs to and from Tsagveri only once a day; moreover, the fare of GEL 1.5 is too expensive for us. We want at least one municipal transport to serve us, with an affordable fare and more than one run a day. It costs me GEL 3 a day to travel to the office and back home while my salary is GEL 150,” Dali Kasashvili said.
Dali is the director of Tsagveri house of culture. Just recently she joined a project of nongovernmental organization Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center as a volunteer. The project Participation for Better Results is implemented by Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center with the support from Europe Foundation. Under the project, a Civic Engagement Council was created in Borjomi municipality, which comprises 15 representatives from various communities. The aim of the Council is to mobilize population in villages, identify problems and communicate with local authorities to solve these problems. Dali Kasashvili is among the 15 representatives of this Council.
To identify problems in her village, Dali walked around the entire Mzetamze, listed all those problems that the population faces; then, jointly with co-villagers, she prioritized them and got prepared for a meeting was organized by Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center for Mzetamze population and representatives of local authorities.
The Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center has already organized such meetings in 17 villages of Borjomi municipality; they were broadcast by Borjomi TV channel.
“Publicity of these meetings, on the one hand, ensures that the local authority treats its promises to the local population with a higher degree of responsibility and on the other hand, encourages population to be more active in their demands,” said Director of Samtskhe-Javakheti Media Center Marina Kupatadze.
At a meeting in Mzetamze, villagers reminded the Deputy Mayor of Borjomi, Buba Beridze and the Deputy Chairman of City Council, Amiran Gogoladze, of all problems faced by the community: shortage of water and transportation, absence of school, kindergarten and a sports field, illegal logging of trees, withering forest, et cetera.
Representatives of local self-government failed to provide any promising replies to the questions regarding water supply, school and kindergarten, withering forest or inoperative village club.
According to the representative of the city council, ensuring water supply to Mzetamze is a difficult issue as there are few springs around the village. Nevertheless, a pledge was made that in 2019, the self-government will start working on the project and at least, estimate the cost of water supply to Mzetamze taking into account its tourism potential.
“The reality is that it proved impossible to solve the problem of water with the involvement of population. There was a plan whereby the municipality would purchase pipes and the population would install them themselves; however, four years have passed since then and those pipes are still lying on the ground unused. Therefore, the municipality must take the entire responsibility for arranging the water supply this time. It must first conduct a thorough study into water supply options and then draw up a project which will meet the water demand of the village during a tourist season too. Given Mzetamze’s huge tourism potential, we do not want the job to be half done,” Amiran Gogoladze said.
Next year, the biggest dream of Dali Kasashvili will come true – the Tsagveri house of culture will be renovated.
This is the only institution which offers classes in various fields of art at a minimal price to children from Tsagveri and surrounding villages. The house of culture runs dance classes, singing classes, classes in felt and other traditional crafts. According to Dali Kasashvili, 140 schoolchildren attend various classes at the Tsagveri house of culture. “It has been two days that the Borjomi house of culture installed heaters for us. The situation in the building was terrible and one could hardly enter it. I myself brought window glasses for the building; we could heat only one room of dance class; the entrance and toilets are in an awful state,” Dali said.
The 2019 budget of Borjomi municipality stands at GEL 18 300 000. A strategic priority of this year is the development of cities, according to a representative of self-government. The budget includes an allocation for several large projects, including the construction of a kindergarten and the renovation of the Borjomi music school and the Tsagveri house of culture. Half a million lari from the 2018 budget was spent only on health care needs of the population while the same amount or even more is planned for social assistance in the 2019 budget. GEL 6 mission is earmarked for infrastructure projects in 2019.
Dali Kasashvili believes that had it not been for her efforts, the renovation of the house of culture would not have been planned for the next year. “The whole of Tsagveri has witnessed how I raced back and forth between the mayor’s office and the city council. I tried everything – to obtain a grant, to find an investor… finally, I got a promise from the municipality that the building would be taken care of and we will be able to create a better environment for children.”
According to Borjomi Mayor, the mayor’s office received up to 14,000 letters from the population. One of the reasons of such a high activity is civil society mobilization too.
“Many of those letters concerned social assistance, but if the population succeeds in mobilizing its community and continues to maintain contact with the self-government, we will consider our mission accomplished. Our project has already covered the majority of villages in Borjomi municipality and all those issues that population faces are, at least, publicly discussed. This is a step forward and we hope that problems will also be solved gradually, step by step,” Marina Kupatadze said.
Author: Ketevan Magalashvili
Photos by: Natela Grigalashvili