Last week, the McLain Association for Children (MAC) held an exhibition on the ground floor of Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, with the support of the hotel’s founding company Adjara Group, to fundraise and to celebrate 1000 stories published on its website.
25 photographic portraits graced the walls, showing those of lesser ability, including mentally challenged and wheelchair-bound individuals, who had shared their story with the Shuki Movida team. each accompanied by a bilingual mini-autobiography from the subjects themselves: a thought, an experience, or a brief account of their lives. The messages were overwhelmingly about the journey from difficulty to success; despair to acceptance and even contentment. The photos were taken by Natela Grigalashvili, who has been working in the project for two years. She also founded KontakPhotos, a collaboration of photographers working in the realm of social issues.
Shuki Movida (“The Light Has Come”) is an online organization which aims to get some of the most touching stories in Georgia told, most of which highlight pressing social issues well-deserving of our collective attention.
The idea, organizers say, comes from ‘Humans of New York.’ Stories of triumph, stories of difficulty, stories of the every day. Each captures a person with disabilities (or someone that cares for them) on film and then shares a glimpse of their story.
“Our first post was on September 14, 2016,” Jeremy Gaskill, a former US Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia, and current McLain Association for Children (MAC) Chief Executive Officer, told GEORGIA TODAY in an interview last year. “It was started by MAC with the simple idea of raising awareness by letting individuals tell their own story. The stories come from a variety of places. Some are people we’ve worked with, others are people that were recommended to us. As the page has grown in popularity, people are now contacting us, asking us to come and interview them.”
The Shuki Movida team, made up of three amazing people- Nika Zibzibadze, Karen Gaskill and Natela Grigalashvili- posts 1-2 stories per week with photos, each giving a peek into what it’s like living with a disability in Georgia.
“We’ve been really amazed to see the impact,” Jeremy says. “Each week, we watch as the new stories get shared around various parents’ groups in Georgia. Likes often climb into the 1000s and on a couple of occasions, we’ve seen shares climb over that. We also get lots of comments, many from people wanting to know how they can help.”
Executive Director of Adjara Group and MAC Board Member, Valeri Chekheria, who was recently named the 2018 Young World Leader by the World Economic Forum, praised the work of the Shuki Movida team and went on to tell those gathered of the other projects run by MAC.
“We are working on wheelchair provision for children in need and for wheelchair adaptation around Georgia. We organized a parents’ conference in Tbilisi which saw parents of children with disabilities coming from throughout Georgia. We also have a training program for caregivers, teachers, and professionals who work with children with disabilities – the workshops help to increase their knowledge and skills. Your support is appreciated, as are donations,” he concluded.
“You can see how much we’ve grown and the wonderful work we’re doing,” says Cathy McLain, an educational psychologist and MAC founder. “But I realize, being here tonight and listening to the conversations, that we need to be doing a lot more. This is only the beginning of what MAC does and can do, and we’re open to ideas if you have them as to how we can go about supporting those with disabilities in Georgia.”
Her husband, Roy Southworth, also a founder-member, recalls when Cathy would drive off into the wilds of Georgia for days, weeks or months at a time, in a Lada. In those early days of the organization, she and her team evaluated up to 227 children living in villages around Zestaphoni and Terjola.
“She did the leg-work and I got to sit back and enjoy the warmth, love and positivity that comes from the work that the MAC and Shuki Movida team puts into the project.”
“I always say that that the biggest success of the project is that it gives people a platform to start speaking up for their children, their rights and, in general, for their life which is full of both challenges and successes,” Jeremy tells us. “What I love most in this project is that Shuki Movida brings happiness to the families. We visit the families with empty hands: there are no expectations from their side of any help, but they still look forward to meeting us and telling their life story.”
One story presented in a video format gave viewers the chance to see the world from 40-year-old Shorena Kravelidze’s perspective. We see her discussing her difficulties and expressing her positive outlook as she drives her car. As a child, she was reluctant to leave the house and so missed out on the essential schooling she needed to find a job. After eight years running a newspaper stand, and after having posted her story on Shuki Movida and training in management, she now works in Marneuli Town Hall. She says she’s determined not to be treated any differently from her colleagues. It is only when she leaves he car that you see her deformed legs, but the way she then confidently cycles herself up the street to her office, coupled with Natia’s portrait of her with her young daughter, shows the determination with which she has made a success of her life.
GEORGIA TODAY spoke to Shorena during the exhibition.
“Shuki Movida gave me hope,” she tells us. “The stories I read there inspired me. I want to inspire others with my own experiences. Such projects show that we are normal people who want to be active and valued members of the society in which we live.”
We also spoke to Tea Bolkvadze, a 42-year-old from Tbilisi, a former doctor and now well-known Paralympic Para-Archer, who fell from a broken balcony in 2014 and was left wheelchair-bound. “Regardless of our individual problems, we will make things better for our future generations. Our stories highlight the need for a society adapted to us, that accepts us as we are; sees us as human, as existing members of society. A lot still needs to be done but this is what we are fighting for: to make society better for the generations to come.”
“Our hope is that these stories will help connect people,” Jeremy notes. “That hearing these stories will reduce the feeling of isolation, of stigma, and that they will begin to speak up more. We want them to get more involved- with each other, within the local government; in the lives of their children. We hope that the stories of success will resonate and inspire individuals, families and communities.”
Check out the new Shuki Movida facebook page and their website to read the inspiring and heart-warming stories of Georgia’s lesser-abled (though sometimes actually more “abled”!) community.
MAC came into existence in 2008 to combat a twofold problem: that children with disabilities in rural Georgia did not have access to services and that the parents and families of these children did not even know what services to expect. The founders were Cathy McLain, an educational psychologist, Roy Southworth, then Georgia Country Director for the World Bank, and Rezo Chinchaladze, an educational specialist. MAC now has a staff of seventeen and hires educated professionals from Georgia and abroad.
The McLain Association for Children is always on the lookout for volunteers. If you are interested in getting involved, or want to find out more, go to their website macgeorgia.org or contact them on facebook.
By Katie Ruth Davies
17 May 2018 21:37