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USAID and MRA promote sustainability of IDP housing

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, May 29
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director, Stephen Haykin, and First Deputy Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia (MRA), Gogi Patsatsia, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation under USAID’s New Economic Opportunities (NEO) Initiative on May 24 in Kutaisi, in Georgia’s Imereti region.

“We are very pleased to be signing this MOU today which will aim to help empower and assist the homeowners association in housing communities that are populated by IDPs to strengthen their capabilities to manage and maintain their housing over time,” Haykin said, after signing the MOU. He also stressed that this “bold initiative” will have the important impact of maintaining good quality housing even after the assistance USAID provides to rehabilitate the housing.

The MOU signing event outlined the development of Homeowner’s (HOA) and Tenants’ (TA) Association to support sustainable IDP housing in US Government rehabilitated buildings and cottage settlements for IDPs through its IDP Housing component of NEO.

By signing the MOU, the Georgian MRA agreed with the approach of NEO with regard to the IDP component.

The guidebook on how to form and manage the homeowners’ associations was also presented at the signing event. This manual will be a useful resource both for homeowners how to establish and manage associations in their buildings, and municipal government officials responsible for overseeing and encouraging residents to establish HOAs within their municipalities.

NEO successfully piloted the development of homeowners’ associations in seven IDP apartment buildings in Rustavi, Kutaisi and Senaki and two tenants’ associations in the IDP settlements of Berbuki and Khurvaleti. This benefited 429 IDP households, so that now it is currently extending its activities into 9 settlements and 28 buildings across Georgia.

Haykin said although USAID has accomplished much over the last 20 years with the Georgian people, there is still work to be done: “The NEO project is one of the exciting ways that we are continuing our work with you to enhance well-being and creating more economically stable and prosperous IDP communities that will benefit you for many years to come.”

NEO will benefit at least 70,000 rural and vulnerable households in the municipalities of Dusheti, Kazbegi, Kareli, Gori, Khashuri, Oni, Tsageri, Lentekhi, Zugdidi, and Tsalenjikha, through economic plans, small-scale infrastructure projects, as well as access to agricultural, vocational and on-the-job training activities.

Before signing the memorandum, Haykin and Patsatsia visited Kutaisi Community College Iberia where the IDPs living in Kutaisi, Senaki and Tskaltubo are provided with three-month training courses in the frames of the NEO. Students can acquire skills in cooking, welding, hairdressing, apparel-making and tile-setting.

Tinatin Losaberidze, the Director of the college told The Messenegr that when they finish the studies, NEO is planning to grant every student with the tools relevant to their new “profession” so that they can either find jobs or launch their own “business.”

Welcoming the NEO supported trainings at Iberia college First deputy Minister Patsatsia, said the MOU between the Ministry and USAID will help improve the living conditions of IDPs while the new skills acquired during the three-months of practical training will help the graduate IDPs of the college to find jobs and integrate with the rest of society.

USAID/NEO Hosts Strawberry Festival in Zugdidi
Haykin, together with the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, regional officials and other donor organizations working in the region, visited three greenhouses and demo plots supported through USAID/NEO’s grant program in the villages located in the Zugdidi municipality in Samegrelo on May 25.

Overall, NEO has established 10 open-field strawberry demonstration farms and 11 fruit and vegetable greenhouses in the Zugdidi and Tsalenjikha municipalities to support the development of the strawberry and lettuce value chains through the introduction of modern techniques.

10 fruit farmers were organized into the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association and awarded the association members with 60,000 seedlings of three varieties of strawberries and drip irrigation systems, while the harvested strawberries will be sold on the fresh markets, as well as to distributors across Georgia.

USAID/NEO and the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association hosted the first annual Strawberry Festival in Zugdidi. As such, the guests of Zugdidi City Park had an opportunity to buy fresh strawberries, taste various sweets made of strawberry, as well as buy pots with strawberry plants and enjoy strawberries at home.

The USAID mission director welcomed the opportunity to meet strawberry sellers from the communities of Zugdidi and Tsalenjikha municipalities, as well as buyers from the local supermarkets, hotels and distribution companies.

“We hope that the Berry and Fruit Cultures Development Association will further expand through marketing strawberry varieties and establishing new market links,” Haykin said, hoping that the fruits and vegetables harvested in Samegrelo will become a synonym for quality and reliability for agricultural distribution companies across Georgia and a meeting point for strawberry buyers and sellers all over the region.