Georgia: alternatives to orphanages -- a shelter for mothers and children
Nino, aged 20, with her four-month old daughter, Mariam, at the shelter for mothers and children in the Tblisi Infant's House
think before you decide to leave your baby.
Do not make such a mistake.”
is Nino’s message to all mothers thinking
of abandoning their babies.
speaks from experience, as she herself was faced
with such a dilemma a few years ago. This 20
year young woman with pale skin and sad eyes
tells UNICEF her story:
day when Nino was coming home from work she
was attacked and raped. The only thing she remembers
is something hitting her head before she fell
Following the rape, Nino was
desperate. She had no parents and was living
with her two brothers, one of whom was married.
After a while she realized that she was pregnant.
Nino was ashamed to continue working. The family
could hardly make both ends meet and Nino’s
brothers could not afford to take care of a
niece as well. She locked herself in at home
and thought about how she might get rid of her
The support and understanding
she needed seemed so far away. If Nino’s
mother had been alive she would have understood
what her daughter was going through. When Nino’s
daughter Mariam was born, Nino could not bring
herself to look at the child.
Under communism, Georgia was
the wealthiest part of the Soviet Union. Today,
more than half of its families live in poverty.
As a result, many desperate families send their
children to orphanages when things get tough.
The Tbilisi Infants’
House is a shabby and dreary place – an
accurate reflection of the tragic histories
of each of its little inhabitants. Today, the
House is home to 115 child residents: 38 of
them have both parents, 67 were abandoned by
their single mothers, and 10 (most of them with
parents) have been brought in by the police.
A child living in an orphanage
in Georgia is often sentenced to a life of poverty,
lost opportunities and possibly crime once he
or she is released at the age of 18. Most of
those who grow up in institutions do so without
the necessary skills to find employment and
many find themselves pushed or lured into street
crime, drug dealing, and prostitution.
Little Mariam could have been
one of the residents of the Tbilisi Infants
House, locked in the building for days at a
time, without any love or care and with few
prospects for the future.
But one night, just after Mariam
was born, Nino saw her mother in her dreams.
Her mother was upset, pointing at little Mariam
and quarreling with her daughter. Her message
was loud and clear “What are you doing?!”
Nino woke up and felt that her mum was with
her again, supporting her through this difficult
New hope ...
Through a team of local social
workers, Nino learned about the newly created
Mother and Children’s Shelter in the Tbilisi
Infants’ House. The next day Nino was
firm in her decision to apply for assistance
from the social workers.
Now Mariam and her mother Nino
are together at the shelter for single mothers
and their babies within the premises of the
Tbilisi Infant’s House. This new Shelter
was established in response to the increasing
number of children abandoned by their parents.
Supported by World Vision International,
Every Child, UNICEF and the Ministry of Labour,
Health and Social Welfare of Georgia, the Shelter
helps mothers cope with the social and financial
difficulties that may cause them to abandon
their children. It does so mainly by offering
mothers and their babies a quiet and safe environment
in which they can develop and thrive. The problems
confronted by mothers in special circumstances
are acknowledged and a team of social workers
are there to support them and give them the
tools to become self-reliant.
Marine Menteshashavili, social
worker and manager of the shelter, says that
since April 2003, the shelter has helped to
prevent 68 placements in the Infant's Home.
The Shelter has housed 37 mothers and 38 infants,
and 18 mothers have received psychological assistance
and career counseling. What is more, nine babies
from the Infant’s Home have been re-united
with their families and 18 are now in foster
I cannot think of being separated from Mariam
even for a second,” says Nino.
Currently, the shelter is home
to five mothers and four babies, including Nino
and Mariam. We are sitting in a big, light-filled
living room with a TV set, where mothers can
relax with their babies. Each mother has her
own bedroom and they all share a communal kitchen.
The mothers and babies look like one big family,
bound together with real care and love. And
always there are the social workers, supporting
the mothers as they try to rebuild their family
ties and find jobs.
To date, most of the women
who have passed through the doors of the Shelter
have managed to find work or have set up their
own small businesses. Two women who returned
to their home villages were given a grant to
buy cows and open a bakery. One woman bought
an apartment and opened a small shop. Another
has started to work in the local market.
Nino also hopes to find a job
and the social workers have promised to help
her. It looks likely that she will start by
working in a kindergarten. The social workers
have already helped her brother to find employment,
and Nino will be living with him when she leaves
the shelter with Mariam.
“Now I cannot think of
being separated from Mariam even for a second,”
says Nino. “And I am sure now. There is
always a way out.”
For more information:
Maya Kurtsikidze, Communication Officer, UNICEF Georgia.
Tel: (+ 995 32) 23 23 88