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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.

This year in Georgia:

1)  We will devise and deliver an introductory skill-sharing project at Public School #198.


2)  We will be working alongside Public School #200 to offer structured training and support for our existing Local Partners.

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 an 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.


Encouragingly, there may also be scope for a Music as Therapy volunteer team to input into 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 the school and parents of disabled children in the community and aims 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.



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.

Alastair returned to Tbilisi in 2012. The purpose of this visit was to see the impact that the initial skill-sharing project in 2011 has had on the staff and children. It also gave Alastair an opportunity to support them with any issues they may have encountered since, as well as to provide feedback and plenty of encouragement. 

Following a request from our Local Partners for some additional training, Sarah Whiteside returned to Georgia in October 2013 for just over a week to offer support and supervision to the staff at Public School #200. Sarah’s 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, as well as provide advice for any immediate concerns they may have. 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. After observing the music as therapy sessions, Sarah identified several training needs and prioritised time over the course of the week to address these in a series of workshops. 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 said that…... “There was a lot of lovely work, particularly from the more confident and experienced staff, who at times engaged in improvised musical dialogues with children and were also able to support interactions between children in a positive way.”


Sarah also told us about some great group discussions that the staff had, 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.”


To find out more, please click here to read Sarah’s blog posted whilst she was in Georgia. For further information about our work at public school #200 you can read the full report by clicking here. 


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