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!

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:

Comics workshop at Tbilisi Sea School

DSC_1776On 13 March, the DRONI EVS and local volunteers visited Tbilisi Sea School and gave a workshop on comics. Children found self- expression by drawing comic faces illustrations which they mimicked by the end of the session. This activity helped them improve their communication skills, express their feelings, interact and exchange while entertaining themselves.

Second workshop at Tbilisi Sea School

IMG_1658On 6 March, the DRONI EVS together with local volunteers, visited the IDP settlements of the Tbilisi Sea School. Students actively participated in the outdoor session of activities related to the Mother’s Day! Games, energizers and pantomime strengthened children’s participation and entertained them during the workshop! The upcoming Thursday we are planning comics workshops and a short theatrical play with the children. More info coming soon!

Youth without boarders: Creative writing and photography workshops at IDP settlements

Tbilisi Sea School IDP settlement

Tbilisi Sea School IDP settlement

The rest of my project plans for the following months are related to the Youth without boarders project in the framework of which I will be preparing creative writing and photography workshops in three different IDP settlements in and around Tbilisi (Skra, Shaumiani and Tbilisi Sea school). Workshops will focus on creative writing and photography as tools for self- discovery, expression and sharing with others. The main goal of the workshops will be to make the connection between speech and image as means of self- representation and self- expression.

The main aim will be to give participants the opportunity to realize, imagine, create and share using two different interlinked tools (image and speech) while creating their own personal photo story linked to their daily life and future expectations.

After brief introductions and examples on the topics of creative writing and photography, the participants will be divided in groups and will be asked to make their own photos using digital cameras that will be distributed to them. They will then present their photos explaining the stories behind their pictures, first in oral and then in written language.

An exhibition of combined photo- work and narrative (personal photo stories) will be the final result of this workshop. As a result, the participants will increase their self- confidence, will experiment on different topics and share their visions with others. Preparation process has already started and I am looking forward to visiting the settlements for starting with the implementation of activities, hopefully from April and on!

Prologue to my EVS experience in Tbilisi; first cultural observations at the Old Hippodrome

view to Tbilisi Old Town

view to Tbilisi Old Town

This section of my blog will be dedicated to my 9-month long stay in Tbilisi, Georgia for my European Voluntary Service (EVS) at Youth Association DRONI. Tbilisi is a city of a bit more than 1,5 million inhabitants, an undoubtedly vibrant cultural crossroad between Europe and the Caucasus. During my stay here, i will be mainly working on local development projects concerning young Internally Displaced People (IDPs), principally Georgian/ South-Ossetian/Mingrelian IDPs from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia break-away territories (result of the wars of the 90s and more recently 2008) as well as Azeri and Armenian minorities living in communities around the country. In addition to this, a main focus point for me is the reclamation of urban space based on socio-cultural initiatives. The current squatting of the abandoned Old Hippodrome and its consequent transformation into Alternative Cultural Center of Tbilisi (ACCT) has already been one of my future priorities.  As it is already my fifth day in Tbilisi, below follow some of my first observations and activities around the city. Urban exploration in and around Tbilisi, alternative cultural spaces and activities as well as socio-culturally diverse minority communities will be the main focus areas of my photojournalistic work around the region.

view to the Old Hippodrome

view to the Old Hippodrome

Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Already on Saturday morning, I had a visit at the Old Hippodrome of Tbilisi, close to the Saburtalo district to explore the abandoned building complex which has been now occupied by a French nomad named Goran and his female camel Tchini. Plans of local and international activists and volunteers are to transform the Old Hippodrome into the Alternative Cultural Center of Tbilisi (ACCT) and therefore establish a new identity to the derelict complex. The place has already been a meeting point for travelers, activists and artists from Caucasus and Europe who initiate and participate in different type of workshops and cultural activities that Hippodrome hosts. A free space of cultural diversity and free expression, the Old Hippodrome is unfolding an alternative social activism.

Goran and Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Goran and Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Goran narrating

Goran narrating

A long discussion with the nomad Goran around the fire with the company of all his animals and especially Tchini presented a very interesting angle of the current situation at the Hippodrome. Having traveled all the way from Afghanistan to Georgia, Goran shared many traveler’s stories with a lot of philosophical reflection and ideologies around life. According to him, the squatting of the Hippodrome is a gift, benefit, solution and natural process concerning all the ones wishing to be part of the space, the vibes and the potentiality it can offer.

Monica and Guillermo, also EVS DRONI volunteers such as me, are already working on developing interesting activities and more importantly fostering an open-minded dialogue among all the squatters, visitors and interested groups. The negotiation between mindsets, ideas and cultural suggestions is yet to come! A next visit to the Hippodrome and a more active participation to the upcoming project ideas will give me a more concrete understanding of the situation and its future development which I am planning to communicate soon!

More photos from this visit can be found here.