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Project Georgia

Why do we work in Georgia?

Georgia is a country scarred by conflict and many families have been displaced and live in very basic settlements around Tbilisi and elsewhere, unable to return home.  In Tbilisi unemployment is high and poverty, with attendant emotional distress, physical deprivation and mental health problems, is a fact of life for many.  Some families struggle to provide the care their children need.  This is particularly true where children are disabled or display challenging behaviour as a result of emotional distress, or when the parents themselves have mental health or substance abuse issues. After Georgia declared its independence in 1991, political unrest led to a lengthy civil war and widespread inter-ethnic violence. Hundreds of thousands of Georgians were forced to abandon their homes. Even after the end of the civil war, considerable political instability continued, and further displacement of people resulted from the armed conflict in South Ossetia [a disputed region in the north of Georgia]. Throughout these challenging times, many organisations offered emergency relief and then longer-term activities to improve the social and economic conditions of the vulnerable displaced populations. Alongside this there is ongoing investment into building a civil society and strengthening democracy.

In 2015 we will continue to support our Local Partner's in Tbilisi

Jenny Laahs and Isabel Bedford will be returning to Tbilisi to offer support to Local Partner’s at Public School #198 and the Parents Bridge Centre. Staff received introductory training in September 2014 and have since then been implementing the music programme with the children and young people they were working with. Please see below for further details of the 6-week project or click here to read a more detailed report. 6 months later we were delighted to receive feedback reports from all 6 members of staff that were trained, as well as general observations from the Director of Special School #198. One member of staff said:

“It is much easier for the children with disabilities to communicate using music. I have observed progress in each beneficiary and they are more social, patient and joyful. For me personally, the structure of the sessions has been well developed and is perfectly suitable for autistic children too. I will be glad to learn about new methods using your programme”.  

Jenny and Isabel’s 1 week support visit will serve as an important opportunity to offer further training to staff as well as to address any challenges they may be experiences.   Experience has shown us that peer support is fundamental in sustaining a music programme in a local area. We are now liaising with the Directors and staff at Special School #198 and #200 (recipient to a project in 2011 and the music programme has been running since then) to organise a network meeting for all staff to meet during the week of the visit. The focus of the meeting will be to encourage staff to share experiences, learn from each other’s challenges and support each other moving forward.   

In order to continue supporting out Local Partner’s in Tbilisi, now and in the future, it is essential that we raise sufficient funds to do so. If you would like to DONATE to this project please click here or to give regularly please click here. 

In 2014:

We devised and delivered an introductory skill-sharing project at Public School #198.


We worked alongside Music Therapist, Alastair Robertson, to offer our existing Local Partners at Public School #200 structured training and support.

1)  Six-week skill training project at Public school #198

Public School #198 is a school for children aged 5-22 with special educational needs. The Schools’ Director, Teona Kacheishvili, describes the students as having a “wide range of physical, emotional and mental health needs.” Interestingly, there are also a few older pupils at the school – mainly as a result of the stigma associated with disability in the past which prevented disabled children from accessing education.  Fortunately, attitudes are changing, and those older children who missed out on attending school when they were younger are now being offered vocation education at the school in their early adulthood.  

A feasibility study was conducted at the school last year by a Music as Therapy International representative, Sarah Whiteside. Sarah discovered that the school was well resourced and has a multidisciplinary team working alongside the teaching staff, including a rhythmic, speech and art therapist.  The school is situated in the Saburtarlo district in Tbilisi and is walking distance from a metro station.  Sarah confirmed that the school met with Music as Therapy’s criteria and recommended that it receive an introductory skill-sharing project in 2014.

 Our volunteer team comprised of a music therapist, Jenny Laahs and an assistant, Isabel Bedford. Whist they were in Tbilisi they were also able to input at a nearby day centre for children and young adults with a range of learning difficulties, including autism. The ‘Parents’ Bridge’ centre was founded by the Director of school #198 and the parents of disabled children in the community. The main aim of the centre is to “encourage self-realization of Georgian children, adolescents and adults with mental disabilities, develop their skills for independent living and promote their integration in the society.”  The staff at the centre are familiar with the benefits of music therapy and have been using music over the years to encourage social interaction and communication. The Director is very keen for the staff to develop their current understanding of what music therapy is and how it can be used to help improve the quality of lives for the service users. To learn more about the “Parents’ Bridge” centre visit their facebook page. 

Jenny and Isabel utilised their time as best they could whilst they were working at the school and the centre. They used the first week of the training to observe the teachers and young people in their working environment. In the second week they used activities to highlight some the key principles of music therapy and how music can be used as a therapeutic tool and an alternative means of communication. The teachers were encouraged to begin leading certain activities themselves in the third week of the project and then they gradually built up to running the entire sessions themselves by the final week of the project. The feedback we have received so far from the staff who took part in the training as well as from the principle has been really positive. 

One member of staff told us in her feedback:

"I am very grateful that I had a chance to meet these incredible people, Jenny and Isabel, who held the sessions incredibly well and increased our interest towards the music therapy. I was very pleased that I was included in this project as I have learnt many new skills and activities. The results were obvious when working with the children"

Teona Kacheishvili, the principle, has also informed us that regular music as therapy sessions are already being included in the weekly timetable at both the school and the day centre. 

We look forward to hearing more about how this project progresses and how music is being used to benefit the children and young people that attend public school #198 and the parents bridge centre.  

To read the full report on this project click here and to see more pictures of the training you can visit our photo gallery. 


2)  Public School #200: Support

Music Therapists Sarah Whiteside and Alastair Robertson first delivered an introductory skill-sharing project at Public School #200 in 2011. They taught staff how to use music therapeutically so they could find new ways in which to communicate with the children, in turn this gave the staff new insights into the children’s lives, allowing them to express themselves in a safe environment. In total, they trained ten members of staff and ran music sessions with six groups of children (thirty children in total). The staff gradually transitioned from participating to leading the workshops by the end of the third week.

Since the initial project in 2011, Alastair and Sarah have both returned separately to offer support and additional training to the staff and any new staff members at the school. Support visit such as this always prove to be of particular importance for our Local Partners; an opportunity to support them in any issues they may have encountered as well as to provide feedback and plenty of encouragement. There are 10 educators who are working in pairs to run 5 groups on a weekly basis and they have done so since the initial 6-week skill sharing project 2 years ago. Some staff had attended the training and other staff members were new to the school and were keen to gain skills in Music as Therapy. When Sarah returned to Georgia in October 2013 for just over a week her primary objective was to observe as many sessions as possible and provide as much encouragement and support for those members of staff leading the sessions. The main teaching points were to encourage staff to have more confidence in their creativity and musical expression, as well as to think of new ways to develop interaction between the quieter more withdrawn children.  Sarah was able to address some of these additional training needs through group discussion, activities and practical workshops in which the educators actively participated.

Sarah told us about some great group discussions that the staff had during her visit and fed back some of their ideas…”The staff spoke about drawing less confident children out by observing which instruments and activities they like.  One staff member gave the example of using quiet sounds at first with a child who seemed to be scared of the instruments.  Another gave the example of recognising that one of the children likes to be the centre of attention, and using this as a way of engaging her.  We tried out an activity where one group member takes the lead in a musical improvisation, with the rest of us trying to match her volume, intensity and rhythms – and we spoke about how it might feel for a child to take a leading role.”

Additional training and support in 2014

We since elicited further feedback from staff at public school #200 and we identified some key areas in which would benefit from receiving some structured training. As Alastair was going to be overseeing the first week of the new introductory skill sharing project at public school #198 it served as a perfect opportunity for him to return, once again, to school #200 and deliver a 5 day structured training which had been devised before the trip. One of the challenges highlighted in Local Partner’s reports were those that they faced in changing their role from class room teacher or Educator to therapist - and how they might help the children be clear about the different boundaries each role brought. 

“I was delighted that one of the Educators, Nino, gently corrected a child on being addressed as ‘Ninomass’.  When I asked about this later, I learnt that Nino had suggested dropping the more formal greeting and had encouraged the child to call her by her maiden name in the music session.  I was encouraged by this spontaneous but sensitive suggestion and it made me consider how our earlier workshop on improvisation might have played a part.”

 For further information about our work at public school #200 you can read the full report written after the introductory skill sharing project in 2011 by clicking here. To read Alastair’s report detailing his recent visit click here.

 We rely on the generosity of our supporters to help make projects such as this a reality. Please Click Here to donate to this project.