Youth Without Borders: Creative writing and photography exhibition at Caucasian House

On 19 July the final exhibition of our project on Creative Writing and Photography, result of the previous workshop sessions given in the Skra and Shaumiani IDP settlements, took place at Caucasian House. All the results of the children’s remarkable efforts were presented.

IMG_4978Youth Without Borders program
What is it?

Youth Without Borders is a project funded by the Ministry of Youth and Sport whose aim is empowering young Internally Displaced People (IDP). The aim of the project is to empower young people of this sector of the Georgian society, by giving them the resources needed to make them feel as an important part of the active citizenship. Active citizenship is the strategy that brings a change in the society through a constructive social action developed by young leaders and those encouraged to keep on playing a big role in the decision making process of their communities.

How it started…

IMG_4941‘’We are Ioanna Sakellaraki from Greece and Alice Cretin from France, EVS volunteers at Youth Association DRONI and we would like to share our story with you. It started with our strong interest to get involved into local community life and our consequent motivation to work with and for local people in the field. The IDP camps of Skra and Shaumiani became our home for two weeks and our project with the children defined a step-by-step learning process and experience sharing from both sides.’’

These series of workshop are part of Youth Without Borders program and took place in two different IDP settlements in Georgia; Skra IDP settlement near Gori and Shaumiani IDP settlement near Marneuli. The workshops focused on creative writing and photography as tools for self- discovery, expression and sharing with others. The main goal of the workshops was to make the connection between speech and image as means of self- representation and self- expression.

IMG_5100The workshops took place in Skra IDP settlement from June2 –June 6 and in Shaumiani IDP settlement from 16 June- 20 June. We had more than 15 participants between 13-19 years old of both genders. Most of the teenagers were also living in the settlement itself as we actually did; we all stayed for five days in one of the settlement houses experiencing the life of the local people. Our team consisted of Ioanna Sakellaraki and Alice Cretin, two EVS volunteers, plus five DRONI local volunteers; Giorgi Kavtaradze, Tamara Ugrekhelidze and Irakli Tirkia in Skra IDP settlement and Eka Abalaki and Mariam Diakonidze in Shaumiani IDP

Having already realized part of our EVS project at Tbilisi Sea School, we were aware of the fact that IDP communities are very diversified between them and we should not consider them as one unified entity but rather look deep inside the differences that identify them and try to establish a common understanding. As we met few challenges on the way, we finally managed to gain the trust of children and collaborate with them in many creative ways whilst learning with and from them. Finally, participants were provided with a great opportunity to unlock their full potential during the workshops and some remarkable results of this effort were presented at the final exhibition at Caucasian House!

IMG_5039As children had been more than motivated full of positive energy and creativity, it had been great to spend these two weeks at Skra and Shaumiani and we are very thankful for the collaboration of students and volunteers for the results of these workshops sessions and the exhibition! We would like to thank all the participants of this project as well as the volunteers who assisted us throughout the whole process and the Youth in Action Program which gives every day the opportunity to young people to work with local communities and bridge up their knowledge and understanding of the world around them while collaborating with young people!

Urbex at Kino Zvezda

Well-hidden and hard to access, this Soviet cinema room had been a good surprise and a consequent pleasant exploration. Its worn out leather seats and impressive stage encircled by the rotten wall surfaces set up a definitely mysterious scene!


Stalin’s Rope Roads in Chiatura

Even if the cable cars of the Georgian mining town of Chiatura date back to 1954 and the Soviet era, they are still used today and are considered the quickest way to get around. With more 25 cable cars lines named as “Kanatnaya Doroga,” or “rope road,” these Soviet-era aerial tramways connect almost every corner of the town.  Today, while some of the cars have rusted away, 17 of the aging tramways remain in service. We got to have a cool ride up there!

First workshop session at Skra IDP settlement

IMG_3929 We started on a Monday morning the five of us from Tbilisi on our way to Skra IDP settlement just after Gori.  Our team consisted of Alice and I, two EVS-ers,  plus three DRONI local volunteers; Giorgi, Tamara and Irakli. We were all more than motivated to start with our Photography and Creative Writing Workshops which took place at the Youth Center of the Skra IDP settlement during the five following days.

Our workshop is part of Youth Without Borders program and it takes place in three different IDP settlements in Georgia. It focuses on creative writing and photography as tools for self- discovery, expression and sharing with others. The main goal of this workshop is to make the connection between speech and image as means of self- representation and self- expression.

The first session took place at Skra IDP settlement. We had more than 15 participants between 13-19 years old, mostly girls. Most of the teenagers were also living in the settlement itself as we actually did; the five of us stayed for five days in one of the settlement houses experiencing the life of the local people.

IMG_4040The structure of the workshop was divided in five stages. We tried to go deeper into each stage throughout the five days we stayed at Skra. At the first stage of Day 1 we tried to introduce the concepts of creative writing and photography via educational games such as the Literary phone during which children write a story all together by using keywords given. The second focus point of this day was the Inspiring photos session during which children choose a photo and have to link it to their personality and interests. A last wrap up session about more structured info on photography and creative writing was necessary for making the link between informal and formal ways of learning. An open air cinema activity ended the day with fun.

On Day 2 we went more in depth and action by asking children to write a story about a memory by choosing one of the various objects we had on the table and then go out in the settlement fields and make a photo related to their story. Some very impressive results inspired by the photo prezi presentation we had just given before were showed here. Outdoor sport games helped us finish the day with energy and fun.

IMG_3700On Day 3 children were asked to write about an emotion that was randomly given to them without stating what it is; therefore describe it without saying it. Various emotions and interesting definitions were the result of this writing exercise and the photography exercise that followed made it even better. Children went out in the fields and read their stories to each other in couples. Then the person hearing the story had to guess the feeling and make a facial expression representing it for the other person of the pair to make his/her portrait. A last wrap up session of collecting stories and photos and discussing about them followed. Evening activities included the photography exercise of a person with his/her favourite object and the sharing of the story behind it. In many cases the object became part of the group entertainment as most of them were traditional instruments etc.

On Day 4 we had our last creative writing exercise named This I believe in. Children had to write about a value or belief they have and accompany their story with a photo inspiring for them. Family, religion and friendship were some of the main elements included in stories and photos children made varied a lot. For example god was represented by a windy landscape or a holy symbol etc. Our goodbye party took place by the end of this day.

IMG_3720On Day 5 we had an extensive discussion and evaluation of the whole workshop and a last theatrical play named Raising Voices of the kids making their own characters and presenting them on stage in couples. As children had been more than motivated full of positive energy and creativity, it had been great to spend one week at Skra and tomorrow we have the second round of our workshops for five days at Shaumiani IDP settlement. Looking forward to it!


A bridge between Georgia and France: The Tbilisi Sea School and Château Des Échelles intercultural exchange project

It started as an idea for intercultural exchange and collaboration based on informal learning. Together with Alice we decided to initiate a youth project between Georgia and France aiming at establishing connections between youth in the fields of culture, learning and social reality of the two countries on the West and East corners of Europe.

This was a five weeks project between the french community centre, Château Des Échelles in Ambérieu-en-Bugey, France and Youth Association DRONI in Tbilisi , Georgia aiming at linking socio-cultural realities between Georgia and France for alternative education purposes.

In the framework of this project, children created videos of self-representation that they were shared with their fellows on the other side, completed parts of a map collage focusing on the two countries’ traditions and cultural life aiming at completing a journey from the one side of the map to the other with small ‘’stops of knowledge’’ in the between.

Children were also photographed and as a follow-up exchanged their photos with their fellows abroad in order to make a collective collage of self-portraits by mixing up characteristics whilst practicing artistic skills. The making of postcards for exchange of thoughts and messages between children as well as the rotating cadavers activity of drawings of figures by multiple children at a time mixing up characteristics and faces as well as origami and comics activities were also in the framework of this project.

All sessions aimed at making the link between the two countries even stronger. On May 1 we all participated in the concluding session of the project on youth exchange between France and Georgia sharing a presentation with the children as a result of their own efforts and successful results. You can find the presentation video here:

Georgia, a world on its own

IMG_0471I am in a geopolitical seismic zone. In order to understand the Caucasus region and its people you have to look deeper into its interconnected parts and at the same time use your wide- angle lenses for giving yourself the distance needed for understanding the framework you are in.

After having been in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan before, as a traveller during last summer, this time I decided to come back to Tbilisi and try out culture, people and life in different ways than before. Stepping out of my comfort zone, especially after having lived in the Euro- bubble of Brussels, being back here has been a beautiful challenge.

IMG_0056There is undeniably a cultural shock for most of the Europeans here but I would say that for a mentality to flourish and a mind to get inspired, one cannot compare or judge based on what he already knows but most probably on the basis of what he expects and desires to learn and experience. And this is the reason you have to live in such a place and try out every single aspect of it, dig inside the deepest layers of local life and natives and then draw your own conclusions. You don’t necessarily have to accept but I would say that you owe to yourself to try and understand before coming to an end which shuts down your mind and tightens the spectrum of reality around you.

IMG_0084Among the mountains, the sea and the chaotic, cosmopolitan Tbilisi with its nationalistic and soviet influences, its medieval fortresses and decayed houses in the Old Town, different aspects of national identity are emerging in everyday life and interaction. The big boulevards and neo-classic buildings in other parts of the city align Tbilisi more with Europe than Asia.

Its connection with the rest of the South Caucasus countries, provided by the similar cultural traditions and common conceptions, goes in hand with the progressive step forward to a new way of thinking. Even if mentality has been a big part of the way through, I would support that the substance of future development is the dual nature of this place.

DSC_1287A colossal landmark as well as a powerful barrier, Georgia has been reborn many times in the past . Post- conflict life of Ossetians and Abkhaz, together with the one of ethnic groups of Mingrelians and Svans, characterized by linguistic diversity have formed the self- ruled community life and at the same time collective way of being in Georgia.

I am eager to come in contact and interaction with the Internally Displaced Youth coming from Abkhazian and South Ossetian War of 2008 and share views and understanding on post- conflict way of living. They are not refugees as they did not have to leave their country and move to a new one, but they are Internally Displaced People (IDPs), people who due to the conflict had to leave specific conflict areas of their country and move to new places of the same country for a new life establishment.

DSC_1391A vibrant and diverse crossroad between Europe and Asia, where chaos meets spontaneous creativity and the past negotiates with the future for a better tomorrow, Georgia is a world on its own. Maybe I find my place in it, or I will at least try and make my mind about it during my 9-month stay here!


Until then i will be found in bazars around the city, hiding myself behind the dirty, muddy corners of the vegetable leftovers trying to grasp the diffusing smells of uncertainty and desire. Or maybe downtown in some western-ized bars after long supras (traditional dinners) in the  soviet- style basement restaurants. Or maybe among the mountains of the Caucasus up in the north with the fresh brewed air and the rural beauty tickling my sight. Or maybe on a marshrutka on my way to self-discovery between the crossroads of the East. Or maybe downtown somewhere between the beggars and the street sellers, listening to the deep roar of the streets as another encounter of life and adventure!