IREX Connects Families Separated by Russia-Georgia Conflict
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During the recent military conflict between Georgia and Russia, hundreds of Georgian nationals became isolated from the rest of the world and were unable to contact their family members and friends when national and mobile telephone services failed. IREX-administered computer centers throughout the country responded, becoming popular and unique venues for citizens to access information about the war online and find out about the fate of their families. The centers are part of the USAID-funded, IREX-administered Internet Access and Training Program (IATP).
Thirty-four-year-old Lali Mikaia-Mamukelashvili from Kondoli Village, a Telavi IATP center user, made use of the center’s resources to contact her family members living in Moscow after being unable to reach them for several days.
On the first day the IATP center in Telavi was reopened after the war, many citizens visited the center to try to contact their relatives inside and outside of Georgia to inform them that they were safe. Among the visitors was Mikaia-Mamukelashvili, who is raising three daughters on her own. Her family members—including her mother, father, and brother—moved to Moscow, about 20 years ago, and frequent telephone conversations used to be the only means of communication between them. Mikaia-Mamukelashvili found out about IATP, went through an intensive computer and internet training in July, and opened an e-mail account and stayed connected with her family members online.
After the start of military actions in Georgia on August 8, Mikaia-Mamukelashvili could not contact any of her Georgian relatives in Moscow by landline or mobile phones to let them know that she and her daughters were safe. She was, however, able to contact them by e-mail from the Telavi IATP Center on August 19, and was relieved to find that they were also safe in Russia. The new IATP user commented, “I’m from a low-income family and cannot afford to go to paid internet service centers… You can not imagine what days I survived and how I was worrying about the fate of my relatives. Once again, sincere gratitude to the whole program!”
In Tbilisi, unemployed Irma Kutateladze was among many IATP center visitors who flooded the Tbilisi IATP Center after it reopened on August 19. She and her fellow Georgians were able to contact their families abroad via the internet after over a week of having no access to telephone and other information services.
Kutateladze visited the center almost every day, updating her relatives in Russia about her and her city’s condition. Since she is unemployed and could not afford international telephone calls, free internet access was the only means for her to communicate with her relatives. Moreover, Kutateladze used the internet to access various online news agencies and to read about various perspectives on the war. Kutateladze commented, “All these days I was trying to contact my relatives as I worried about their fate and had no possibility to contact them via phone. So the internet was the only source for me. I am glad that such a center exists and I am very grateful to the Tbilisi IATP Center for offering free internet service, thus supporting me and many other people in my condition struggling to contact their relatives and friends abroad.” From August 19 to 28, over 200 Georgians visited the IATP center in Tbilisi to receive free internet access.
An unemployed Batumi resident visited the local IATP center to locate his relatives from South Ossetia, whom he had lost track of during the war.
As soon as the Batumi IATP center reopened on August 18, 28-year-old and unemployed Ossetian refugee Besik Kordzaia used its resources to find out about his sister and her family living in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia. Once the situation in Georgia escalated, Kordzaia was unable to contact his sister and knew nothing of her condition. After Kordzaia learned that the Ministry of Refugees and Displacement of Georgia posted a list of newly registered refugees online (http://www.mra.gov.ge), he browsed the website, found the names of his relatives on the list and contacted them. Kordzaia learned that his relatives managed to leave Ossetia and successfully arrive in Tbilisi.
“I want to thank the center; you can not imagine how happy I was when I found my sister’s and her family members’ names in the list posted on the webpage of the Ministry,” said a relieved Kordzaia.