The start, beginning
When we arrived in Georgia, we divided ourselves into groups we had a possibility to choose on which region we would like to focus. Our group picked Marneuli because the NGO Droni had already established contacts there. Furthermore, there was a demand from Marenuli´s municipality for a non-formal education project, which could interest youngsters, containing soft skills and valuable entertainment.
After choosing this area, we started with small research, tried to find out as much as possible about social, cultural, religious context and inner relations in this community. We also went through several meetings to find out about the needs and demands of the children and young people in this area.
What we learned was that in Marneuli and surrounding there is a big and strong community of Georgian Azeris, who are the most numerous minority in Georgia with 6,5% of the population. This mostly Muslim minority (80% Shia; 20% Sunni) is isolated in their communities and lives often in rural areas where they work in agricultural production. This fact about population come from that center of Marneuli Municipality borders neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Another problematic thing in this region was a language barrier, which blocks efficient civic participation of Azeris in social spheres and structures in Georgia. They keep Azerbaijani as their first language and most of them use Russian to communicate with Georgians majority and other ethnics (this was actually a good thing for our group, as a half of us can somehow communicate in Russian language).
We also learned that more numbers of Azeris started to learn Georgian just recently as the last generation starts realizing that the language is necessary to get integrated and obtain more opportunities in the society outside their community. Despite their effort, they struggle with lack of Georgian language teachers in an inadequate education system that is underfinanced and lacks resources on all levels.
We did not have the ambition to supply them the teachers of Georgian language, but we were thinking about a way, how we can open this community (a minority in the perspective of the whole state, but a majority in perspective of Marneuli district) and how we can enrich them.
Another big community living in Marneuli are Armenians. They represent the second largest minority in Georgia. They are more located in rural villages around than in the city itself. Most Armenians are part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the national church of the Armenian people and part of Oriental Orthodoxy, one of the most ancient Christian communities. They suffer similar troubles in Georgia as Azerbaijanis do, mainly the lack of knowledge of Georgian language which disqualifies them from public life and equal political representation.
After we ascertained all those bases, we started to consider different ways with the same target; how to bring together kids and youngsters from all three communities (Azeri, Armenians and Georgian) to one place, to spend some time together, enjoy it, get familiar with each other, without grudge, fear or prejudice, as well we hoped, that the same would happen to their parents, who would accompany them.
We made several one-day trips to Marneuli, on our own or with our coordinator or volunteer, who helped us mainly with translation. We met the office-workers in the municipality, we got in touch with the directress of Cultural House, municipal library, we went to independent Radio Marneuli and got lots of inspiration from the founder, Camilla Mamedova. We were in contact with local NGO (Tee house) as well as with social active volunteers (Shoka Akopian, Aram Akopian, and their youth center named Youth development center).
Not every contact was useful, not every meeting led to any arrangement. In this part of the project we really deepen our skills in being tolerant, communication, detached view, and quick operation and improvisation.
The event itself - Best Of The Best Fest
Two days before the event few of us went to Marneuli to make final preparations. We painted a wall where graffiti jam should have taken place and checked if the park is cleaned of rubbish as was promised from the municipality. We didn’t manage to catch the last bus and it started raining, but a helpful man from the Culture House gave us a ride. Everything was prepared.
The D-day of our fest started early in the morning. Every member of our EVS, our coordinator, mentors and lots of DRONI volunteers gathered. We packed all material stuff it in the marshrutka (minibus) then crowd inside ourselves and singing and laughing headed towards Marneuli. On the spot, we first chose an exact place for every activity and built party tent on them to mark the locations visibly for the kids to navigate around easily. We had eight stations prepared each with a different activity. Right by the entrance, there was the info tent where some of our Georgian friends were ready to explain to all arrivers what is happening and how to get involved. For the purpose of a better organization and overview for us and for children, they get a card with all activities they could try and if they could get a stamp for all of them they would receive a cloth bag on which they could paint whatever they want at our art station. To name all that was that day happening we attached here a short version of our schedule for that day.
TBT to beginnings
When we were planning Marneuli fest first day in Georgia, we had big ambitions. But day after day we had to adjust our ideals to the reality and also to the funds we had for the project. But later on it showed up that it was not the question of money what made us change our plans from big multicultural multi genre festival to the one day afternoon program for youngsters. Actually the limited budget forced us to be more creative (we made big maps for geography workshop, we gathered and produced many materials for workshops, we designed poster for Marneuli fest, we distributed those posters and spread them around the region) and also helped us to deepen our DIY skills.
We realized how horrible is to get adapted when you do not know the language spoken in area where you live. All communication was a big deal for us, but we had such a great support from our coordinators and other people from Georgia, who helped us with phone calls, translations, official emails, officials visits and also with navigation and basic everyday tasks as a finding best transport from Tbilisi to Marneuli.
When we were repetitively visiting youth center, led by Shoka Akopian and her brother, we realized, that the best solution would be found in regular, periodical meetings, so the youngster could get familiar with us and with each other from the other ethnic communities. A big desillusion in our project was the fact, the we could made just a one-time event and we were worried if this could have long-time impact.
But after the festival and after the evaluation with coordinator and other members of our EVS we realized that what we just made was a safe space for kids and youngsters from all three ethnic group (also for their parents who accompanied them) and the Droni organisation can follow up, improve it and set up the tradition for Marneuli best of the best fest.
The project was supported by European Commission Programme Erasmus+.
All the links of pictures, videos and information about the event can be found here:
Marneuli TV (before the fest): https://www.facebook.com/marneulitv.marneulitv/posts/1501613123317339?__tn__=C-R
Marneuli TV (after the fest): https://goo.gl/iKPXP9
Armenian dance (video by Youth development center): https://www.facebook.com/CiteliYDC/videos/1846495342072400/
Latino dance (video by Youth development center): https://www.facebook.com/CiteliYDC/videos/1844418422280092/
Promo for Marneuli Fest (video by Youth development center): https://www.facebook.com/CiteliYDC/videos/1837563716298896/
Official fb page for the event (full of photos): https://www.facebook.com/events/2183333305028276/