Youth Bank in Svaneti
Dariko Kvanchiani is 15 years old. She lives in the village of Becho in Svaneti. Just recently, she became a committee member of the Svaneti Youth Bank under Europe Foundation’s Youth Integration Program.
During a presentation of the Youth Bank at Public School #1 in Mestia, Dariko stayed silent. She did not engage in interaction. However, her interview made it clear that she was a suitable candidate for the committee.
“I like to give everything a try. I attend a music and Svan dance club in the school. Besides, I help my mother and aunt at home. Hence, I do not have much time for leisure. Honestly speaking, I did not expect that I would be selected and I am very happy about it,” Dariko said.
The manager of the Youth Integration Program, Mariam Kobalia, together with her colleagues, selects committee members based on various traits. Everyone in the committee is assigned his/her role, every candidate has his/her function and this is precisely what creates a unique union.
“For instance, thoughtfulness, reasoning ability and motivation make Dariko an irreplaceable member of the committee,” Mariam said.
In its essence, the members of a Youth Bank committee finance projects and initiatives of their peers to enable them to make a difference in the surrounding community.
“This program provides an opportunity for the youth to become active, develop new skills and, through issuing of small grants, to foster civic activism and peer volunteerism in a local community,” Mariam Kobalia said.
Europe Foundation’s Youth Bank is a member of the Youth Bank International network and observes its rules and principles. Therefore, the Svaneti Youth Bank committee must follow these principles in all its activities. Europe Foundation will first train the committee members in grant project management issues. In parallel, it will help them develop various necessary skills – teamwork, respecting difference, securing support from adults, et cetera.
“Trainings conducted for Youth Bank committee members cover topics such as leadership, teamwork, objective and transparent decision making, solution seeking, communication, financial and program reporting, organizing various events, et cetera. This is necessary knowledge which enables them to work independently and support initiatives of their peers,” Mariam said.
The Youth Bank helps young people develop civic awareness and skills that can turn into a competitive advantage on the job market. To explain it more clearly, it is a unique experience which is obtained during the participants’ schoolyears, shaping their personalities and determining their future lives; moreover, such active youth prove useful for their communities, many of which lack initiatives and action.
“A higher degree of civic activity can be seen in places where a Youth Bank has operated for years and more things are done in respective communities. When talking to new members one understands that they lack training and their ideas are limited. Over the course of the process, however, these youth learn what to do and how to improve their lives as well as the lives of people around them,” Ketevan Vashakidze said.
Years ago, Youth Bank operated in the Mestia municipality much like it operates in 24 other municipalities today. After a several-year interruption, Europe Foundation deemed it necessary to resume the youth support program in Svaneti.
“One cannot feel action in Svaneti today, especially in smaller villages. Moreover, the youth lacks experience in activism. Once they engage in the Program and start to advocate for their interests themselves, they will gain confidence in their ability to speak with adults, and local self-government representatives as equals and this, at the end of the day, will benefit everyone,” Ketevan said.
Youth Bank measures its success by the scale of replication of civic activity and the degree of development of civic initiative. ZaurChartolani, a long-term partner of Europe Foundation and a current member of the Mestia municipal council, spoke of the results of projects financed by Europe Foundation years ago. Zaur Chartolani’s non-governmental organization was the first NGO in Svaneti to receive financing from the Foundation to develop tourism. Over the years Zaur, together with his colleagues, succeeded in developing some products which enhanced the local tourism infrastructure – trained guides, detailed maps, tourist routes, installed road signs, et cetera. Over the years Zaur, in his capacity as an NGO member, worked on the development of products and the result of this work is apparent today.
“We already have universal guides who provide their services to tourists. A segment of them have moved to the level of professional guides and they have been trained by the Guides Association. Ski tours, summer routes, mountain climbing, horse riding, and other activities are already carried out in accordance with international standards,” Zaur Chartolani said.
According to him, today, the youth of Svaneti do not want to work in the non-governmental sector and as tourism develops, are more interested in potentially high-income jobs. Zaur even failed to hand the management of his NGO over to an active young person. “I beg them to take over and develop, but young people are not interested in working in the non-governmental sector and this may also be explained by low civic awareness,” Zaur said.
Europe Foundation’s vision of this situation is to create exemplary cases.
“Seeing active peers will be a motivation for other young people to become active themselves and to take the first steps for the benefit of their community,” Ketevan Vashakidze said.
She believes that precedents of activism will be easy to set as the sense of community is still alive in Svaneti. “One may change everything at once, but this project builds a basis for youth to become strong, confident, motivated and active in their communities and society,” Ketevan said.
Giorgi Tserediani who was a member of the Youth Bank committee years ago continues to live in Svaneti. He met his wife in Youth Bank and he works in the Laila Café in Mestia and serves each guest with extraordinary attention and care.
“From the very beginning I was interested in benefitting my region. I joined Youth Bank in 2009. At those times Internet access was very limited, making it very difficult to mobilize citizens. Each citizen of Svaneti was concerned about problems in their own house and yard, like ‘my tower house is falling apart, my roof is leaking.’ They wanted us to meet this sort of needs whereas we were talking to them about civic activism and community initiatives. Nevertheless, we managed to finance many useful projects. The skills which I developed in the project have proven to be very useful in doing my job today,” Giorgi said.
This is something which Youth Bank members have in common and unites them. Some of them are shy while others active and self confident; some are highly motivated while others are thoughtful and consistent.“Our long experience shows the benefit of a diversity of skills and character and we believe that a team is strong when its members complement one another. Therefore, we give a concrete mission to each member and the experience each obtains at Youth Bank often proves useful throughout their lives. What’s most important is the final result, which is that our youth become equipped with such skills that benefit the entire society,” said Mariam who will soon start to work with the seven committee members selected from Mestia and nearby villages. We do hope that the effect of this work on the Svaneti community will be visible soon.
Article by: Ketevan Magalashvili
Photo by: Irakli Shalamberidze