Multiculturality: Building bridges between Georgian and European cultures

Martyna Skura, from Poland, arrived in Georgia 4 months ago. She is an EVS volunteer* working full-time during 9 months for the organization Women’s Hope based in Akhaltsikhe, Samstkhe-Javakheti. On Friday, July 15, 2011, I visited her office. She accepted to comment on the intercultural aspects of her placement in a Georgian NGO located in one of the regions of Georgia.

Locating Poland: presentation of Poland, its culture and tradition during a workshop at Women’s Hope

Up until a month ago, Martyna was the only foreign person, along with 2 American Peace Corps ** volunteers, settled permanently in Akhaltsikhe for working purposes. For such a small Georgian town as Akhaltsikhe, located in a rather isolated mountainous region of Georgia, the presence of 3 foreigners was already a great number of new faces in town.  But a month ago, 3 more workers from America, New Zealand and South Africa arrived in the frame of ‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’***, a Georgian governmental program, to teach English at the local police station during the summer and in school later on in the fall. The number of foreigners living in Akhaltsikhe then reached 6 people.

For local people, the coming of foreigners who settle for a while in their region remains an unusual phenomenon that triggers interest and questions. ‘Why did you come to Georgia?’ or ‘What are you doing here?’ or ‘Do you like it here?’ are among the most common questions a foreigner living there will be asked. Indeed, in a country which is still a country of emigration and where unemployment affects a large part of the population, it is definitely intriguing for the locals to see people from abroad arriving and settling.

Mostly, local people take it for granted that all young foreigners are English teachers. Martyna, however, came to Georgia to develop the partnership and EVS* exchanges between her sending organization – Center for Youth Co-operation and Mobility****– based in Gdynia, Poland, and the Georgian regional organization Women’s Hope of Akhaltsikhe. She also focuses her daily work, since March and week after week, on the programming and organization of workshops aimed at teenage girls aged 15 to 25 who visit and volunteer at Women’s Hope on a regular basis.

Theory-and-Practice Workshop: How to Prepare a Presentation and How to Speak in Front of the Group – the girls presented their own topics on that day.

The workshops that Martyna organizes can take an unexpected turn, as her idea is to adapt as much as possible to the needs and wishes of “her girls”. She pays particular attention to the topics approached, as they must appeal to them.

Girls may ask for a topic to be touched upon, or Martyna can just decide to organize a series of workshop that she will have determined as ‘needed’. Martyna thus decided to have a series of theory-and-practice workshops aimed at improving the public speaking skills of the girls who have to do oral presentations frequently. Also, she organized a “Polish Month” to introduce participants to various dimensions of her home country, and thus raise awareness and interest about interculturality in a much more interactive way that TV can offer – TV remaining a main source of culture and interculturality in the region. Twice a week, moreover, Martyna allocates some of her time to an English conversation group.

Learning how to cook Polish: preparation of dumplings with strawberries in the frame of the cooking workshop of the Polish month organized by Martyna

Polish presentation on June 1, 2011. Trying Polish food is part of the game!

Polish presentation: matching portraits of famous Polish figures with their biographies

Martyna highlights the following: working as a foreign volunteer in the local community goes along with quite many difficulties, mainly connected to culture and language. In her Georgian experience so far, communication, organization and cooperation appear to be aspects particularly culture-related.  Getting the girls to come to the office, or simply getting her message across, for example, can be a real challenge and take ages till things become clear and agreed for everyone. Fortunately, a well-known platform called ‘Facebook’, among other means, was found as a solution for better coordination…

If overcoming difficulties is time-consuming and implies a change in her priorities as well as in her vision of her own education and her understanding of the way she’s been taught to do her professional work before, Martyna says she learns in Akhaltsikhe what real patience is. She also observed already how small actions can be as determinant as bigger actions – but in a much more successful way, achieving change and progress step by step, at the local level, without any rush.

Most importantly, Martyna thinks that her presence in their town is what makes a real difference in the daily life of the teenage girls she works with. And the continuous dialogue they have together makes it a true intercultural and learning experience for both sides.

Summer school organized by the organization PH International in Akhaltsikhe: Martyna took part as a moderator, organizing workshops about American culture and history. Here: eating the farewell cake with a pupil!

Precisely, girls see through Martyna that there is “another way” to act and behave in life: Martyna, aged 26, is not married and has no children yet, and as a woman manages successfully to live on her own, abroad as a matter of fact – needless to say that all this is a rather atypical situation for a girl her age living in the regions of Georgia. Through Martyna, girls meet new people more easily, including foreigners who sometimes come and take part to the activities organized in the office, and thus open for them further windows on a world of possibilities.

If it took Martyna’s girls a long time to become more familiar with her and her way to be, she can now feel that a relationship based on mutual trust has been established. Girls dare to speak more openly, and even speaks in English without blushing. They feel more confident, which is already a victory for Martyna. And her message is finally conveyed. A couple of weeks ago, when the girls made so good use of the public speaking methods provided in the workshops during their own presentations, Martyna almost cried – for it was one of the first signs of effectiveness she perceived.

In the next months of her EVS in Georgia, Martyna plans – even though you don’t really manage to plan anything in this country – to meet even more people from different backgrounds, whom she would probably never have met somewhere else. And of course, she wants to further get to know the Georgian culture, a discovery that she really enjoys. In any case, she is ready to ‘expect the unexpected’, a motto that she created for herself, and that matches very well the reality of Georgia.

* Further information about the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is available at: >http://ec.europa.eu/youth/youth-in-action-programme/doc82_en.htm<
Nb. Georgian projects are now is the process of being registered in the database.

** Further information on the American volunteering program ‘Peace Corps’ is available at: >http://www.peacecorps.gov/<

*** Further information about the program ‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’ is available at: >http://tlg.gov.ge/<

**** Further information about the organization ‘Centre for Youth Co-operation and Mobility’ is available in English and Polish at: > http://www.cwm.org.pl/index.php?lang=2<

LINKS

Further information on the organization Women’s Hope can be found on its Facebook  profile (in Georgian) available at: > http://ka-ge.facebook.com/people/Qalta-Imedi-Wh/100002016777519<

Martyna Skura runs a blog  (in Polish, and maybe in English soon) about her discovery of Georgia and her impressions in general. The blog, ‘Women in Georgia’, is available here.


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About Méline

I am an EVS volunteer working with minority youth in Tbilissi, Georgia, during 12 months. This blog aims at presenting Georgia's minority groups and their youth initiatives. The development of joint-action strategies is the work in process which we are conducting together. Let's see what will be achieved in 2011 !
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