History of the Peace Corps in Georgia
As early as 1994, the government of Georgia indicated its desire to host Peace Corps Volunteers. Although the Peace Corps sent an assessment team to Georgia in response to that request, a decision to enter Georgia was indefinitely postponed due to security concerns over civil unrest in the Abkhazia and Ossetia provinces. In 1997, the Georgian government formally reiterated its desire to host Peace Corps Volunteers, and again an assessment team was sent. Although the security situation had significantly improved by this time, budgetary constraints prevented the Peace Corps from acting upon this request, and the decision was delayed yet again. In late 1999, after repeated inquiries from the Georgian government and consistent accounts from the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi that the security situation remained conducive to the presence of Peace Corps Volunteers, the decision was made to reassess the possibility of setting up a program. The review was positive, and funds were set aside by the Peace Corps to establish a program in Georgia in 2000.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Georgia
The Peace Corps’ first program in Georgia began in 2001 with a secondary education/English teaching project of 21 Volunteers. In 2002, we welcomed our second group of 24 Volunteers in this project, as well as two Volunteers in a pilot secondary education/English teacher-trainer project. These education projects resulted from a request by the government of Georgia for technical and human resource assistance from the Peace Corps, particularly in the rural areas of the country. In exploring various programming sectors, government officials and the Peace Corps concurred that education projects targeting English language learning and teaching would meet a growing demand and have the greatest potential for Georgia.
Peace Corps/Georgia works in close collaboration with the Georgian Ministry of Education, individual schools, universities, and communities that recognize that English language skills can provide Georgian citizens with many advantages. These advantages include the possibilities to further education and advance careers, the ability to access information and technology (particularly through electronic means), the chance to further a closer relationship with Western democratic countries, and the opportunity to learn about new business practices. The current education Volunteers in Georgia serve in secondary schools, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in villages and towns throughout the country.
The education projects effectively address the above issues while also introducing lessons and activities on critical thinking, problem solving, life skills, democratic values, civic responsibility, the identification of community development needs, and the implementation of solutions and projects to meet those needs.
Through the project, communities have the opportunity to communicate and share cultural information with native English speakers—a chance they would otherwise most likely not have. Teachers, students, and community members improve their listening and speaking skills through daily communication with Volunteers. Education Volunteers introduce new teaching methodologies and help Georgian teachers design and deliver lessons with a student-centered focus.
Currently, Peace Corps/Georgia’s programming includes the secondary education/English teaching project, the university English teaching project in regional universities, and a component for NGO development, which began in 2004 with 10 NGO development Volunteers.
This latter project addresses areas of social development through the work of local NGOs throughout Georgia including organizational management, community mobilization, and networking. Health and environmental education as well as youth development and women’s issues are areas targeted by local NGOs and where Volunteers work with their NGO counterparts to lend their assistance and skills. In 2004, the first 10 NGO Volunteers were placed throughout Georgia. In 2005, 16 more NGO development Volunteers were added to the program. These Volunteers assist nongovernmental organizations with all levels of organizational management, provide guidance towards transparency in financial and project operations, develop fundraising strategies for self-reliance and sustainability. Local NGOs are often driven by enthusiastic Georgian Volunteers who are highly educated but lack experience in development. There has been much interest by NGOs in bringing in Peace Corps Volunteers to assist them in their community outreach efforts.