Up and Running: Mestia, Svaneti


Now I can cross off “eat cake with a printed icing top” from my bucket list. Also, “meet an ambassador from Japan”. Both events happened at the same time: the official opening of the Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in Mestia, named after the late Kakha Paliani. This project, long the dream of Ruta Casabianca who runs Together for Real Changes, and many local families with members with disabilities, is now fully operational, with a capacity of over 100 people! It includes easy access to residential facilities for those wanting to stay and receive rehabilitation and training in family units, the first such facility in all Georgia! A large and well-equipped kitchen and bathroom facilities; and a number of rooms for the various types of rehabilitation offered. It was funded largely by the Grassroots and Human Security Grant Assistance Program of the Government of Japan; thus the presence of H.E. Mr Tadaharu Uehara, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan for Georgia and several of his staff.

10 Members of the internationally famous Riho Svan singing ensemble opened the day with a couple of their best songs. The Mayor of Mestia, Kapiton Zhorzholiani, and his deputy, the Ambassador, TRC Board head Nana Lomadze and Ruta all gave speeches about the importance of this facility and this day. Two local boys with special needs dazzled us with some Svan dancing. The ribbon was cut, we toured the facility, had cake and champagne along with families of disabled children.

As I have written before, it is most encouraging to see such centers being opened here in the far-flung regions of Georgia, away from the big urban areas with their multiplicities of available infrastructure and help for the needy. And these largely hidden away people, traditionally unacknowledged as existing at all in society, can finally come into the light, receive help, be taken care of, their families be given training and a break and support for their heroic work.

This is profound. If 20 and more years ago special needs children in Georgian orphanages were… dying of malnutrition in their own excrement, unschooled and practically untouched and ignored, now at least some of them have the possibility not to live in institutions but to stay at home and in society, loved and looked after. The Georgian government and people of Japan, along with those of Bulgaria and others who have also contributed to the building and running of places like this and more over more than 20 years, are to be applauded for their humanitarian work to improve life in Georgia for many of its most vulnerable citizens.

As I watched the Ambassador sitting down to eat cake with several of the attending children, shrugging off any special status which might cling to someone of his long title, I was impressed. He has a genuine interest in what is happening here, and neither is this his first (or last) visit to Svaneti. I was able to tell him that while my teenage dream of becoming an apprentice to a Japanese potter was never fulfilled, I still have enormous respect for the arts of his country, the highest practitioners of which are given the title of Living National Treasure. One day I’ll go and see it all myself.

Who knows which of these children present and the others who will join them are just as talented? Whether they are or not (and we will be given the chance to find out at last), they are being recognized as people like anyone else, which will make all the difference to their young, newly allowed to be blossoming lives.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


By Tony Hanmer

05 September 2019 18:30