The United Nations has designated June 20 as “World Refugee Day.” This past Thursday, folks from our office here in Tbilisi attended “Real People, Real Needs,” the official opening of World Refugee Day by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Georgia. The event took place at Mtasminda Amusement Park (Wish Tree Square), a perfect choice to give just a few (300) of the many displaced children here in Georgia a chance to experience what most American kids take for granted: park rides and treat or two. There was also a bazaar where IDP and refugee families sold handmade clothes, jewelry, handicrafts and home-produced honey. Although there are different ethnicities and national identities involved, one commonality for all of the displaced families is an unquenchable spirit to survive today’s hardships, to sometimes look backward with both deep grief and happy memories, and to always look forward with hope—and skepticism.
For many of these families, promises have been made and promises have often been broken. At least on this day, some sense of normalcy prevailed; laughing and excited children clambering to get on the next ride (elbowing out any adults who dared to get into line, too), a lively and bustling marketplace, the usual local VIP speeches and the satisfied but worn out feeling at the end of it all.
Tomorrow will not be like this for IDP and refugees, however. They will go back to the serious challenges they face: waiting for decent toilets and reasonable ways to cook simple foods, and if they are lucky, help to find some kind of employment. The kids will walk for long stretches to get to a school where other Georgian children also face serious problems; this is a young democracy with many growing pains. The IDPs and refugee families will question whether they are really going to be remembered by the “normal” populations as we all return to our regular schedules and busy lives.
As I go through my own days ahead, I hope that the tiny bit of time I am spending here can help Georgia’s youth—both IDP and “normal”—look forward to broader opportunities and a chance at real choices as they grow with their country. I know these small duties I have been performing for IRD—and just one day for the kids at the amusement park—sometimes seem small for such a big challenge, but I am confident that it is in this collective work that we can move into Georgia’s future together.