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Soup kitchen keeps impoverished rural residents going, as they hope for more local jobs

By Eter Tsotniashvili
Friday, April 25
In Kakheti province’s impoverished district of Kvareli, the World Food Program supports a soup kitchen that meets basic food needs for hundreds on meager incomes, but which could give way to much-needed industrial development.

The soup kitchen serves a hot dinner of spaghetti or soup five days a week to about 300 people a day. Run by a local NGO with backing from the Kvareli municipality, most it serves are unemployed; many lack the small gardens other rural poor use for subsistence agriculture.

The area was once home to a Soviet brick factory, but when the plant was demolished so were local livelihoods. For many now, the sole source of income is seasonal work on neighboring farms.

Tama Mchedlishvili’s husband is unemployed, and their money stretched thin.

“One of my daughters studies in Tbilisi, but because we’ve fallen behind in payments she may be dismissed from university,” she said. “[The soup kitchen] helps me to at least eat bread.”

Families like Mchedlishvili’s could benefit from local development. Kvareli residents say that the chief of a local development company and chair of Bank Republic, Lasha Papashvili, is seeking to buy the building housing the soup kitchen and replace it with a wine factory.

The deputy head of Kvareli municipality, Gia Tsintsadze, denied any deal in the works, but promised if the building was sold the municipality would find another home for the soup kitchen.

Many locals said they would be happy to see the soup kitchen relocated in favor of a factory and local jobs. Papashvili has a good reputation in the area, giving assistance around the holidays to locals. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Media Tevdorashvili and her daughter-in-law both suffer from diabetes and, with her son, struggle to care for her young grandchildren.

“We live in very poor conditions. Our main problem is unemployment,” Tevdorashvili said. “[Our income] is minimal, and my family of five can’t afford even one loaf of bread.”

That is where the World Food Program (WFP) comes in. Country director Lola Castro and Romanian Ambassador to Georgia Dan Barliba visited the soup kitchen on April 23.

Romania contributed EUR 100 000 toward the purchase of 140 tons of wheat flour, vegetable oil and sugar.

Castro said it was the first time Romania joined a WFP project, and thanked the ambassador for arranging the support.

“[Barliba] came here about a year ago with us to see this,” Castro told those at the soup kitchen, “and he was so sorry about your histories and living conditions and he tried his best to help you.”

“I saw that those people would like to work but they have no jobs, those poor children want to be happy but they can’t be happy,” Barliba told the Messenger. “I said that my country, which is not very rich, could also contribute to this program. It is not a political gesture but a humanitarian one.”

The ambassador gave candy to the children, wishing them a happy Easter.

Barliba pointed out that the Romanian Embassy is involved in other UN projects as well, including rebuilding a school for Chechen refugees.

The Romanian ambassador said there were plans to expand support for refugees from the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts.

WFP is also carrying out a building project in the nearby village of Shilda, paying local workers with foodstuffs to repair an irrigation channel.

“In this period, when all prices are drastically increased, when a bottle of cooking oil is GEL 4–5, this assistance is almost lifesaving,” local resident Manana Turiashvili said.

The UN’s World Food Program helps the most vulnerable people in the country, providing food aid for two years in eastern Georgia’s Kakheti province.