Pankisi Students Visit US

A group of students from Pankisi Gorge visited the US from January 20 to February 17, in the framework of the ‘Youth, Inspiring Leadership & Civic Participation in the Pankisi Gorge’ project. The three-week stay was organized by the US Embassy in Georgia and Roddy Scott Foundation.

“For me, the visit to US was extremely important, and I think this experience will help me grow personally,” Mariam Margoshvili, one of the program participants, told GEORGIA TODAY. “When I first heard about it, it sounded unbelievable, but as it turns out, nothing is impossible and everything depends on your own hard work.”

Mariam is a first-year student at Ilia State University Tbilisi and she says she has always been actively involved in civil activities, and has volunteered at numerous organizations. She went to the US as a representative for the McLain Association for Children, an organization that works with children with disabilities.

“We spent 21 very busy days in the US meeting with different organizations, foundations and associations and visiting schools and shelters. We tried to listen very carefully to their representatives and if we have a chance, we will definitely share and use their experience and practice back home,” Mariam tells us.

In the three week period, the Pankisi youth visited five states: Washington, Oklahoma, New York, New Mexico and Michigan. Every state was different, Mariam said, and the type of organizations they visited also differed. The group visited the US State Department while in Washington and met with representatives of Running Star, an organization that educates young women and girls about politics and helps them acquire the necessary skills to become leaders.

The group from Pankisi also visited many shelters with diverse conditions and beneficiaries.

“We visited several schools for Native Americans and those meetings were hugely important to me, personally,” Mariam says. “In our country, we, the Kists, are an ethnic and religious minority. We’re studying in the official state language at school, but nevertheless preserve our traditions, culture and language in our communities. For us, it was crucial to understand what it means to represent a national minority in your country, and be struggling to preserve your identity and your language.”

Mariam expresses her gratitude to the Roddy Scott Foundation, who recommended her candidature to the US Embassy in Georgia. She added that it is due to the hard work of the Foundation, which teaches English to students in Pankisi Gorge for free, that she was able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Beka Umarashvili, a first-year student at Tbilisi State University in Applied Bio Science & Technology, was another participant of the project. When not studying, he works as a guide and interpreter in Pankisi, helping tourists and visitors.

“I tell them about the area, its history and try to introduce them to my culture,” he told GEORGIA TODAY. “We give them the chance to explore nature and taste our cuisine—it’s another world in that small valley,” Beka said of his work as a tour and mountain guide.

Beka says he and the other young people were chosen to participate in the visit to the US because they are active members of their community “who really have an ability to show the problems that youth have in Pankisi.”

For Beka, it was especially interesting to see how the US Government solves the problems of civic engagement and issues of drug use among youth. He was particularly impressed meeting people and volunteers who work with mentally challenged youth, those in detention, or those with low incomes.

“I am so glad that the US Embassy in Georgia gave me the chance to explore America and its culture,” Beka says. “I got lots of information and experience from these meetings, and learned a lot about youth problems and ways to deal with them. I hope to use this experience for the prosperity of Kist youth and to help them develop,” he says.

Nino Gugunishvili

02 March 2017 18:06