Austrian Development Agency & CENN Reveal Three Winners of the Niko Ketskhoveli School Awards

Meet Georgia’s Young Leaders Making a Difference in their Communities!

Political campaigns for decades now have been stating that every voice counts, yet, we only partially realize how big of a role our individual actions can play in shaping our own environment for the better and for that of course every small action counts. In 2015, CENN, together with co-organizers, established the Niko Ketskhoveli School Award, which teaches and encourages pupils to carry out various environmental and social activities. For young people in the country the Niko Ketskhoveli School Prize is more than just a competition of eco-clubs: it is a continuous process of acquiring new skills and opportunities and striving towards personal growth and making a positive change. The competition is based on values like solidarity, cooperation, and owning up to our responsibility towards the environment.

The Niko Ketskhoveli Award Ceremony was one of the rare events not cancelled or postponed this year and its final event was held in a semi-online format. CENN revealed this year’s best eco-clubs among the 370 active schools registered in the competition.

Throughout the year, eco-clubs of schools across the nation that enter the project, carry out series of environmental or social activities, including large-scale tree planting events, landfill closures, social assistance for people with disabilities ampng others. The schools are assessed and evaluated by an independent jury and awarded 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places.

The final of the Niko Ketskhoveli School Award was held on the Austrian National Day and opend up by the Ambassador himself, Thomas Mülmann. Among the winners were The Duisi, Akhalsopeli and Tserovani public schools, each awarded cash prizes in the form of grants. In addition, partner organizations named their favorite eco-clubs.

The students say being a finalist means both joy and a tremendous sense of responsibility. Read on to find out more about the exceptional work these young people have been carrying out, their emotions and impressions.

Duisi Public School

The winners of the competition, Duisi public school surprised everyone with their outsanding efforts on social and envrionmental issues in their communities, despite the fact that they joined the competition late and were also faced with the difficulties posed by the pandemic, they quickly and swiftly adopted their approaches to a given, and much challenging situation. The children approached the problems with a clear, new perspective, and played a major role in tackling the pandemic crisis in the valley: the eco-club managed to secure funding from several projects and purchased large quantities of fabric to sew masks, after which they distributed them free of charge. In addition, they purchased necessery stationary for the disabled youth in their community and even purchased several computers for those who did not have access to one and thus were not able to attend online lessons.

They distributed Georgian and English books in the gorge so that children could get acquainted with new literature during the pandemic. The members of the eco-club attended more than 100 seminars and trainings during the pandemic, and shared their knowledge with their classmates.

The end of the competition did not mean the end of the activities of the Duisi eco-club. The children seem especially excited about one of them: the opening of a social enterprise where people with disabilities are employed. The employees of the enterprise prepare traditional dishes. After packaging, the product is sold in local stores. Their cooperation with international organizations to make all this possible and achieve sustainable goals is very impressive.

"It was important for us to participate in this competition, then go through to the finals and win,” says Amina Khangoshvili, an eco-club member. “The eco-clubs have proved that somewhere, in the mountains of Georgia, live people who are united around the idea of protecting the environment, and they have succeeded. These are people for whom it is important to care for the planet, to build an integrated society, to live in a democratic state, to realize oneself, and to support the equal participation of vulnerable groups in all of the above processes. In achieving all this, we were greatly aided by the Niko Ketskhoveli Award, which united us around a common idea. However, with the completion of the project, our work and activity to achieve these goals is not over: we will continue our work!”.

Akhalsopeli Public School

The Akhalsopeli eco-club became a finalist for the fourth time this year, though, until now, they were always one step away from winning. Although the main motivation for the children to participate in the project was not to receive a prize, the victory still tasted sweet, bringing them a completely different emotion. Their eyes filled with tears of happiness said everything without the need for any words, Among the many activities they organized, the Akhalsopeli eco-club members highlighted several activities, which they thought were particulary worth mentioning: they equipped the school with eco-lamps, and the created an online site COV-NEWS, wherenews and advice related to COVID-19 was posted every week. In addition, they conducted online environmental trainings with Meskhetian and Avar citizens living in Mtisdziri and Tivi. During the pandemic, students even set up environmental crossword puzzles for their peers, invited members of other eco-clubs, and conducted joint activities aimed at raising children's awareness and interest in the environment.

"The eco-club has changed my daily behavior, my personality. I’m more eco-friendly now. I got involved in environmental activities from a very young age, because I always wanted to change the environment around me for the better - to think about environmental problems and how to solve them,” says Eko Vardiashvili, environmental and green ambassador of the eco-club. “I developed a lot of skills in the eco-club, like group work, mobilization during emergencies, sharing knowledge and experience... Being a member of an eco-club is also a big responsibility for me, but it’s nice to know that together, with the help of friends and others, you are changing the environment - that is the most important thing.”

Akhalsopeli Public School activities covered almost all of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their work. The victory does not end their activities! Now the team has set a goal to involve more young people in environmental activities.

Tserovani Public School

We are confident when we say that the members of this eco-club set examples for their peers: the children there often hold seminars on various important issues, including the use of tobacco and the dangers posed by it. In addition to information campaigns, the Tserovani eco-club cooperates with local governments and from time to time organizes clean-up events. A representative of the eco club, Diego Mikava, considers the project on gender equality the most outstanding activity carried out by the eco-clube, the activity involved training 100 young people in 4 municipalities on gender equality. He also speaks proudly of a project on green entrepreneurship, during which children sewed bags from cloth scraps and waste to be used as shopping bag for food. According to Diego, the Tserovani eco-club is a small family where people work to create a healthy environment.

"This competition contributed greatly to my own self-development,” he says “I’ve been a member of the eco-club since 2018, and I believe that the friendship and knowledge acquired here will last me a lifetime. I realized what I like to do and even decided to become an ecologist. At this stage, I’m going to transfer the leadership of the eco-club to someone else, I think that everyone who wants and is able to, should get this experience. "

When the Tserovani School Eco-club could not make to the finals in 2019, they made it their motivation to do more the following year. The students planned to achieve the desired result by improving activities and diversity. This year they knew for sure that they would get through to the final, they say, but they did not think about winning. Now, they are immensely grateful because their hard work has paid off.

The victory affected not only the participants but the whole school. Now more children want to get involved in the activities of the eco-club, and the grant received will allow the club to do just that.

* The Niko Ketskhoveli School Prize is funded by the Austrian Development Cooperation under the project "Promoting Sustainable Forest Management for Rural Development".

03 December 2020 18:10