Who is a personal assistant?
Tekla Tatuashvili is seven years old. She studies at #1 Public School of Bolnisi and has had a personal assistant who helps in her learning process for about a month and a half now.
Tekla has a congenital cardiac anomaly. In her infancy, she underwent surgery for the condition. At the age of fifteen months, she was diagnosed with profound deafness. “We waited for a cochlear implant surgery three years. It was already belated. Adaptation to the implant proved difficult for her. Soon after the surgery, the equipment broke, and she again had to live in silence for six months,” Ketevan Magradze, Tekla’s mother, recalled. Tikla still gets tired of the equipment and sometimes takes it off when the noise becomes unbearable. She still finds it difficult to understand the meaning of words and to speak. Her hearing impairment also makes it difficult for Tekla to adapt to school. “There were days when she flatly refused to go to school,” Ketevan continued.
Mariam Kordzaia works with Tekla as a personal assistant. Her task is to assist the child in her learning process. “Initially, I found it a little difficult. I was not sure whether I would be able to carry on the work, but then she started to make progress, little by little. I already see huge results: she can write independently, recognize letters. While earlier she could attend only two lessons, nowadays she stays till the end of classes,” Kordzaia said
Mariam got in touch with Tekla through a project of Association Anika. The development of a personal assistant service is a pilot project, and Anika has been working on it since 2016. It is implemented in Bolnisi with the support of Europe Foundation. The project's goal is to create a personal assistant service in the country, which will ensure the integration of PWDs into society by, for example, enabling them to obtain an education, get employment, or perform any social or civic activity, all of which is part of an integration process.
“Personal assistant service has long been practiced abroad. In Georgia, they still find it difficult to distinguish it from home care service, which is limited to the provision of care alone, whereas a personal assistant helps PWDs integrate into society,” explained Maka Chankvetadze, an Anika employee and manager of the personal assistant project in Bolnisi.
In the initial stage of the project, Anika studied experiences of various countries and, based on these, developed a country-specific concept for Georgia. An element of the concept, among others, is that a personal assistant cannot be a parent or family member of a PWD. “The idea of a personal assistant serves the aim of raising the degree of independence of PWDs. In our view, with parents it is impossible to raise the degree of independence,” said Irina Inasaridze, founder of Anika.
Before launching a pilot project in Bolnisi, Anika started to introduce the personal assistant service jointly with ABS Georgia. First, they developed a methodology and concept. Then, with funding from the Tbilisi mayor’s office, they began providing the service in Tbilisi. “Municipal social service of Tbilisi is focused on concrete results – the number of people employed in the project and the like. Unfortunately, adequate attention is not paid to the development of the service,” Chankvetadze said.
Indequate delivery of the services necessary for PWDs and the inefficiency of these services is a main concern for Alex Cote, an expert in this area invited to Georgia by Europe Foundation. Last year, he studied Georgia’s budget from the perspective of expenditures for the PWD community. This study showed that the state primarily provides PWDs with cash assistance and spends fewer resources on ensuring a timely delivery of quality services to them. “I think that cash assistance alone cannot ensure a comprehensive integration of PWDs. Since the final goal is to ensure dignified living for PWDs and the exercise of rights by them, we support the establishment of quality and effective services,” Europe Foundation President Ketevan Vashakidze said.
Anika’s current goal is to introduce the practice of personal assistance and ensure the engagement of the state. “Our aim is to have the state recognize the importance of this service and earmark a concrete amount for the delivery of this service in program budgets of ministries/municipalities; however, the road towards this aim is quite difficult,” Chankvetadze said.
The project will be implemented in the Bolnisi municipality with assistance from Europe Foundation for one year. At present, eight personal assistants work with eleven beneficiaries within the framework of this project in the Bolnisi municipality.
After the completion of the project, the Bolnisi municipality, as a result of negotiations, will earmark the cost of personal assistant services in its budget. However, there are some problems in this regard. “Bolnisi municipality agrees to allocate an amount for the provision of a personal assistant service, but it will delegate the implementation of the service to its non-commercial legal entity rather than an organization working on PWD issues. This is an incorrect model, at least, because of conflict of interests,” Inasaridze said. In future, the founder of Anika intends to create an association of personal assistants that will be an accredited agency for training and certifying personal assistants.
“Competence of a personal assistant is a very important issue. Assistance covers many directions - from limitation specifics to ethical issues, rights, and responsibilities. Therefore, we treat accreditation very seriously and would like to have competent assistants up to a high standard,” Chankvetadze said. Therefore, Anika wants the project to take on an institutional form. Agreements have already been achieved on financing assistance from budgets in four Georgian municipalities, which Anika considers a significant achievement.
“Unfortunately, many services nominally exist and no one cares about quality improvement and the development of these services,” Inasaridze said. “We strive to make the service of personal assistant effective and capable for facilitating the process of intergation of PWDs,” Inasaridze concluded.
Author: Ketevan Maghalashvili
Photos by: Natela Grigalashvili