Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


April 23, 2001

Teenagers learn skills to take to homeland

Alexandra Katsikis is an intern at the Carter Center.

Beset by ethnic and civil strife in their homeland, a group of 20 young people from both the Republic of Georgia and the region of Abkhazia came together at the Carter Center for three weeks in March to learn conflict resolution skills—and to teach others what they have learned.

Since gaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, the Georgian government has faced an armed separatist conflict with the region of Abkhazia, which is still recognized by the international community as part of Georgia but which has its own government and is in negotiations with Georgia for official recognition. Georgian families who fled Abkhazia during the civil war in the early 1990s crossed the Caucasus Mountains, settled in other parts of Georgia, and have been displaced since the end of the war.

In connection with a project funded by the U.S. Agency for the International Development (USAID), the Carter Center hosted the group of youth to teach them conflict resolution techniques, which they may in turn share in their home communities. Most of them had lost family members to the war and other armed conflicts.

The teenagers learned basic conflict resolution skills with an emphasis on how to train others. They participated in role-playing situations in which they adapted the American style of training to their own culture, said Susan Allen Nan, senior program associate of the center’s conflict resolution program.

“The program gave them realistic hope and concrete ways to approach problems in the future,” Nan said. “It was important that youth from opposite sides of the conflict learn these skills together in order to effectively support the resolution of the conflict in their communities.

“We hope they will go home and tell their friends that the people they thought were their enemies are actually real people, with real lives, real families, and interests similar to their own,” Nan continued.

Nana Kurashvili, a young woman from the city of Kutaisi, said, “It is important that the program is taking place at the Carter Center, which is a world-renowned [nongovernmental organization] that is prestigious and highly regarded in my country.” Kurashvili felt the program will help draw the attention of people in her community, and the skills she learned will be very helpful.

Lasha Zantaria, a law student from the Black Sea port of Sukhumi, said he has an obvious advantage over an “outside” negotiator because he knows his people’s needs. Many external groups try to help resolve conflicts, but most are far from gaining recognition from those directly involved and, thus, accomplish little, he said.

Zantaria said the program was challenging, but after the extensive training situations of conflict became easier to work through. Most importantly, Zantaria said he wants to recognize and help others to recognize the importance of open-mindedness in resolving conflicts.

“The most important thing in resolving conflicts is tolerance,” Zantaria said.

The most powerful aspect of this program is the fact that the youth will return to their communities to teach the skills they learned. In addition, they are going to lead Caucasus-wide peace dialogues with youth from other conflicts in the region.

“Yesterday we were students,” Kurashvili said. “Today we are teachers.”


Back to Emory Report April 23, 2001