I recently returned from the Republic of Georgia, where a US Army team is working to address the needs of some of the most vulnerable victims of the 2008 Russian invasion.
During the visit, the US team and I distributed Spirit of America-donated school supplies, toys, and heaters to three refugee, or Internally Displaced Person (IDP), settlements along the border with the Russian-supported breakaway region of South Ossetia.
In 2008, the Russian Army invaded Georgia to support a separatist movement in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Hundreds were killed, and hundreds of thousands of Georgians were driven from their homes. The Russians still maintain a presence in both regions, essentially rendering reunification impossible and preventing those Georgians from going home. As a result, thousands remain stranded in IDP settlements along the borders of the breakaway territories.
Georgia is an important partner of the United States and NATO, and the US team is working to prevent further instability and conflict. In addition to working with the Georgians wounded in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the 2008 war, the team is reaching out to those IDP communities.
These settlements are situated far off the beaten path along unpaved roads now treacherous with autumn mud that will become impassable in the looming winter. With ad hoc services and virtually no economic opportunities, the communities are at risk from extremist influence, a concern throughout the greater Caucasus region.
As they did their initial assessments of three of the most vulnerable settlements, the team identified a few simple items that could help strengthen relationships with the communities and address some of their basic needs. School supplies and toys were needed for the children, and safer heaters were needed for the schools and community centers.
Spirit of America was able to quickly meet this need, and I can tell you that it had a significant impact. We were able to deliver the school supplies and toys directly to the classrooms where the children were studying. Both the kids and their teachers were extremely grateful for the support (though the kids may have been a bit more interested in the toys than they were in the school supplies).
In addition, we were able to replace the wood heaters with much safer electric ones. As we walked into the buildings, the acrid smell of burning wood was overwhelming, a poor indicator of what was filling these children’s lungs on a daily basis. With the electric heaters, this problem will be greatly reduced, as will the threat of fire.
From a big picture perspective, this support helped the team forge stronger relationships with the IDP population, allowing them to come back to the settlements on a regular basis. It also demonstrated the commitment of the Georgian government and its partners to a particularly vulnerable community.
As always, thank you for your support for these critical efforts. When potential problems such as this don’t make headlines, it’s often not because there wasn’t an issue there. Rather, it was because our men and women in uniform were working hard to prevent conflict and instability before it spirals out of control. We owe them all the support we can provide.
Director of Field Ops