Brain Food & Books at the Knowledge Café in Tsnori, Kakheti

Two hours outside Tbilisi, in the large village of Tsnori, Kakheti region, a three-floor house is being renovated to open as a new home for the Knowledge Café, a multi-functional library, meeting spot and café, and the only one in the area so far. It was opened in 2016 by Nana Bagalishvili and her friends from Tsnori.

“There were no public spaces in Tsnori, unlike in Tbilisi, where people could meet,” Nana told GEORGIA TODAY. “So, me and my friends, all from Tsnori and having studied together in Tbilisi, decided to do something about it. We had no experience or special skills in organizing: we just got together, 25 of us, and from 2011 to 2016 organized events on the street: from book presentations to Halloween celebrations!”

They finally got GEL 19,000 funding from the Children and Youth Development Fund to rent a building and get furniture to set up the Knowledge Café social enterprise. There’s a bookstore where you can buy books for the cheapest price in Georgia, a multi-media library, a center for informal education, and a café called “Smart Taste” (Chkviani Gemo). All the books in the library and the computers were donated.

“We want to share knowledge and experience from center to region. Nothing social happens here in Tsnori; the only place you can go is the local shop. Before the Knowledge Café opened, youth here were hanging out on the streets or in each other’s homes,” Nana says.

“We wanted to be a social enterprise because we don’t want to be fully dependent on donors- we’ve managed to operate with no additional funding for our educational projects for an entire year since our opening in 2016,” Nana tells us.

The Café team has already organized more than 100 educational and cultural activities in the Knowledge Café, lots of their projects realized with the help of volunteers locally and even some coming from other towns and villages in the region to help.

“This is a space for anyone who wants to share their experience and knowledge with others. We recently hosted the Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Protection of Georgia, Mariam Jashi, a member of Parliament, and the Minister of Agriculture is to come,” Nana says, adding that even local businessmen hold meetings at the Café.

The Knowledge Café also offers regular film screenings, book readings for children and special activities for the older members of the local population.

“At first, adults came along only because their grandchildren were, and then we decided to engage them, too, and came up with the idea of collecting their stories about how Tsnori looked in the past. It was interesting both for us and for them,” Nana says, going on to tell us about a new project that focuses on the stories of women who have made a social impact. “This one will be for girls from the neighboring villages. We’ll collect narratives, photos and video material and make an archive and post it on our Facebook page. We also plan to make an open museum in Tsnori and in three other villages. We think it will motivate more women to be active”.

The Knowledge Café is slowly becoming an information center, and as Nana told us, they’re now trying to financially support local, socially deprived youth with the ‘Kizikhi Education Fund’.

Currently, the Knowledge Café is running a fundraising campaign, which they hope will give them a chance to buy a new building of their own, as the house they are currently renovating for use is rented.

The social campaign is called “დადე შენი აგური” (Lay Your Brick”). It is open to all- both individuals and companies- to donate. One brick costs just 5 GEL and each donor will have their name painted on a brick and mounted in the wall of the new Café when it is built. Nana estimates they need a 200-square meter space consisting of a large meeting area and a mansard third floor where a ‘Robotic School’ for children can be set up.

“We also want the new Knowledge Café to be fully adapted for individuals with special needs,” Nana said.

Since they only managed to raise GEL 26,000 from individuals at the launch of the fundraiser, it was decided to contact companies directly by sending them individually painted bricks featuring their company names and logos and accompanied by an explanation of the initiative. Many companies are yet to respond, but Nana is optimistic.

Originally, the idea of launching the social campaign was inspired by the fact that the village of Machkhaani, near Tsnori, boasts the first ever Theater to be built with public funds, in 1899.

“In honor of that, the Knowledge Café has helped set up an International Theater Festival in Machkhaani,” Nana says.

The Knowledge Café is also a nominee for the upcoming TBC/Geocell Social Enterprise of the Year at the Business Awards 2017. “No matter whether we win or not, we’re excited to participate, as we’re interested in getting in touch with other social enterprises,” Nana tells us.

If you happen to be passing by Tsnori, or even if you’re not- be sure to pop into the Knowledge Café. From views over the Alazani Valley and Caucasus Mountains to delicious home-made churchkhelas, and cheese with crispy Kakhetian bread, you’ll be sure to take something special home with you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the brilliant Nana Bagalishvili and team- undoubtedly game-changers in their region.

Nino Gugunishvili

16 October 2017 20:13