Issue 4, 2011. August-September

   

SUCCESS IN SHAUMIANI: FUNDS FROM BURNS SUPPER FINANCE IT EDUCATION FOR IDPS

The first large scale Tbilisi Charity Gala Burns Supper raised enough funds to equip a small computer room, provide internet connectivity and maintenance funding to get the IT education ball rolling for the small multipurpose youth activity center in Shaumiani founded by CHCA (Charity Humanitarian Centre "Abkhazeti"). The program has made a difference in the children's lives but more work is needed to make it sustainable.

Jefferson Sommers II, an education Peace Corps volunteer (2009-2011) working in Marneuli


For children ripped from their homes and relocated following the 2008 August conflict, the Shaumiani CHCA center is a safe haven for activities like computer classes.

Demand for these classes comes from the community. IDPs in Shaumiani, like those in other IDP communities, have difficulties reconnecting with their roots, finding jobs and in general adapting to their situation. This stems from the psychological impact of conflict and relocation, geographical isolation, a general lack of, or disconnect from resources and financial instability. The settlement's youth loiter on the streets and when asked what their goals and aspirations are, some of them don't know - or tell you honestly that they don't have any.

With cooperation and teamwork, a dedicated team from the Burns Supper was able to secure computers - donated by UNICEF - and use the funds raised at the event to purchase other equipment for the children to use.

Together with the know-how and equipment installation by staff from KPMG Georgia, and working with local community members a computer room, complete with Internet access, was set up. Finally, Fiona Coxshall, organizer of the annual Burns Supper, recruited me to teach the IT course.

Through observation I found that most of the students at the settlement are in an education gap, unable to demonstrate educational competencies expected and exhibited in traditional Georgian schools.

In addition, Shaumiani is historically an ethnically Armenian village, making it difficult for students to interact with the local community. The relocated town citizens also have to deal with numerous other basic needs issues like poor water quality/access, intermittent electricity supply, unemployment and poor nutrition.

The primary fundamental elements of the classes I taught included: keyboarding, basic navigation of MS Windows Operating System, word processing through MS Word, creating presentations through PowerPoint and an introduction to the writing process. However, through the IT classes I also tried to help build self-esteem and develop critical thinking skills.

With a starting total of thirty youth from ages 10 to 25, the highest impact was observed in the 10 - 17 age group. Aside from the handful of students who were comfortable with mouse-controlled computer games, most of the children had little to no familiarity with computers or how they function.

But after three months, students made amazing progress and 11 were awarded certificates and a flash drive. Being held to objective standards, students were stretched beyond their comfort zones: some of the introverted youngsters opened up and every one of the students walked away with a better comprehension of computers - some were able to go from knowing nothing at all about computers to writing page-long compositions or creating detailed and coherent PowerPoint presentations.

In order for this project to be sustainable, the work needs to continue. It may not be the easiest path to take, but the youth really thrive from interactive lessons where they can learn and practice something new together with a patient teacher.

This year Peace Corps celebrates their 50th anniversary internationally and their 10th anniversary working in Georgia.