- In the summer of 2003, my husband Wally and I had the pleasure of hosting two women from the Republic of Georgia who stayed at our home for 21 days while they attended the WILD (Women’s International Leadership and Disability) Women Conference sponsored by Mobility International. Tina was a delegate from Georgia, sponsored by and her sponsors, Mercy Corps, had sent Tea with her as interpreter and personal assistant. Tina had started a center for people with disabilities in Gori, Georgia. Tea, who lived and worked in Tblisi, Georgia, is a pediatrician, whose work is developing community programs that serve children with disabilities. These two industrious and enthusiastic women attended day and evening sessions at the WILD conference each day, and worked on projects related to their work in the evening. Wally and I were amazed at their dedication and commitment and we found them to be such fun and interesting guests. We were so fortunate to have Tea, with her fluency in the English language making it possible to converse with Tina too. Until they entered our home we had no knowledge of the country of Georgia, or the Georgian and Russian languages.
Tina and Wally shared years of experience with paraplegia having spinal cord injuries at about the same level. Tea and I were both working to promote community-based services for families whose children have disabilities. Even with all these common threads between us Wally and I cannot identify exactly why or how these two women impacted our lives so profoundly, except that they are truly exceptional women with hearts big enough to make an impression on everyone they meet, and it was our fortune to have them in our home for those precious 21 days.
While here in Eugene, Tina had a goal of finding projects for the women in the Center she was developing in Gori. She wanted them to have projects to work on and a means to express themselves, as well as to be financially productive. Tina looked at the quilts that I have made that are all around my house, and asked if I would give her a lesson in quilt making. It was not easy to find time in her busy schedule for a quilt lesson, but we did manage to during one of the evenings after her full day of programs. I showed her how to use a rotary cutter, a little about strip-piecing, how to put the layers of a quilt together, etc. She decided that quilting would be the project for the women at the Gori Disability Center. The day before Tina and Tea left there, was still a list of items they wanted to take back home supplies for the quilting project. Tina, had a very small amount of spending money (typical of people with disabilities in Georgia) and not having the money to purchase these items she did not ask to be taken to shop for them. I discovered this at the last minute and at 5pm on this day before their departure we charged down to the Quilt Patch, a quilting store here in Eugene. We purchased $125 worth of supplies: a rotary cutter, mat, and other items that would not otherwise be available in Georgia. We did not buy fabric as there was not money for it, or space in the luggage. I promised to send lessons by email and to mail some fabric. The Quilt Patch clerk on duty kept the store open late to allow us to make our purchase, and without being asked, she discounted the cost significantly- one more example of the power of Tina’s spirit.
The decision to start this quilting project with Tina came about quickly and spontaneously. It was only Tina’s beautiful smile and endless energy that made me think that I could partner with women so far away and of a different language, culture and life experience to make quilts that could eventually enable these women to earn money they so desperately need. None of the steps in this project that followed were fast or quick. Now I have learned how much I didn’t know about international mailing, unreliable email and all the other challenges of communication across languages and cultures. .
v Fall 2003 – I mailed a box of a dozen small quilt projects with fabric, pearl cotton and batting for 15x15 inch whole cloth quilt projects with instructions to Gori. The cloth was marked with quilt designs. Not knowing if they had sewing machines, I decided that an all hand project was the place to start. The instructions included how to sandwich the pieces with batting, baste the quilt together, quilt the design and bind the edges. The instructions and all communication was written in English (one of the goals of the women at the Center is to “learn English”.………..whew!).
v Spring 2004 – A box arrived from Georgia. The box was wrapped in cloth, sewn together and was filled gifts from Tina , including one of the small quilts finished. Rather than using a usual quilting stitch, the quilter had chain-stitched the design. It was lovely and it made me think that somehow if I were to learn more about traditional Georgian needlework designs, these could be incorporated in future patterns. Hmmmm. About that time Tina sent in an email the names and information about each of the women at the Center.
v July,2004 - I sent a second box to Gori in July, 04. This one included several simple nine-patch quilt design projects designs, and fabrics for about 13 quilts, some would be as small as 40x40”, and others as large as a twin bed size. There were instruction books for each of the women. It was a big box, and the postage by slow mail was over $200. I had batting to send, but it would have cost another $100. I emailed Tina and asked if she could get batting there and she told me she could, so I didn’t send it.
v Months went by. Email was always off and on - just like the electricity, and other power in Georgia. By February 05, when I had not heard that the package had arrived, I had about given up and decided I would need to trace the package to try to find out what had happened to it. I tried to trace it at the post office, but no one knew how to do that. I received an email from Tina in March, and she wrote that the box arrived and they were at work on the quilt projects!
v Over a year had gone by when another email arrived indicating that quilts had been mailed to me. Again I feared they had been lost when in July of 2006 a large box was sitting on my front porch.. It was the same cardboard box that I had originally sent to Georgia. It was full of quilts and tapestries, beautiful and original works. The box of quilts smelling of wood smoke - that must have been how they heated the Center during the long cold winter months. Following this we asked for and received pictures and bios of the women who worked on the quilts and tapestries. Our hearts were moved by the individual stories they shared.
v July, 2008 - I received these pictures of the new Center for People with Disabilities in Gori, Georgia. The Center was dedicated in July. For more than six years the people with disabilities in Gori, under the leadership of Tina, worked toward the goal of establishing a independent living center with programs that would provide services, equipment, and, perhaps most importantly, work for Gori citizens with disabilities. Following is the email I received on July 18, 2008:
Hello my friend. I ‘m very glad that I received your letter. I’m happy because your’re
very well. We’re very well too.we have a beautiful office and we usually work I used
your experience.Maiusa’s Lessons, I’m thank for you, I’m happy when I remember ourgood time. My third child married and We’re waiting for a baby.I miss you,Jenny Welly. I want that you’ll come to Georgia.I invite you.
Disable’s persons do an enamel on the rings,knit the carpets and they teach other arts,so that we work very well.
Now I kiss you and Wall.Give my regard to our friends.
I give you photos of my office.
Two weeks after dedicating and celebrating the new Center the city of Gori was bombed by the Russian Army in the beginning of the 2008 Georgian Russian war. We sent many emails during those first weeks and having no response we had to just wait to hear how the war effected the lives of our friends. We could only imagine that the new center might have been destroyed, or taken by the government for other purposes in this time of crisis. We knew that many of the people in Gori with disabilities lived in high rise apartment buildings that looked just like the ones that had been bombed that we saw on the news. Praying seemed to be all that we could do.
Just before Christmas, I sent an email hoping to hear something. Due to the weather in Portland, our plans to travel on Christmas were cancelled leaving me time to check my email. It was a wonderful Christmas Gift! An email from Tina. The Center survived the war and so did the people who had been involved in the quilt project. There were disruptions but they were back in operation at the Gori Center. In fact the Center had been useful in housing seven families who lost their homes in the bombing. The disabled individuals produced 2000 units of “linen” ( bedding) for the people in their city who lost so much last summer. The following is that email, my Christmas surprise of 2008:
I am happy to get you letter. I am glad to hear you are well. As for us, we had difficult time in August, because of the war situation. we had been refugees for 20 days in august and september. many people died around us, bombs were not far from us. we saw much bad unhappiness days during the war. we all are well now and our office is safe. I am going working and have good plans concerning to our organization. At pfresent i am working on the project "Day center for disabled children". We also had refugee families at the center(7 families). they live at the center for a month and then they moved to another place. Women at our center go on making rugs and quilts. We have also made linen for refugees(2000 units) and gave them to refugees. so if there will be chance we can made quilts, rugs, blankets and linen for sale.I am happy yoy are going to take part in the fastival in Eugene
Merry Christmas!!! Happy New Year!!! YoursTina