TBILISI, Georgia — When school starts on Sept. 15, the nearly 270 students of the Kveshi School in Tbilisi, Georgia will return to school this fall with a renewed sense of excitement. The beginning of the 2020 academic marks the return to their newly renovated school.
Up until October 2018, these K-12 students attended a much different Kveshi School, housed in decrepit conditions that sat only 100 kilometers from Russian occupied territory. Situated amidst an impoverished community, the schoolhouse lacked running water, reliable heat and air conditioning, a leaky roof, and a host of environmental concerns that served as nearly insurmountable obstacles for learning. Faced with these conditions, the Eastern European nation of Georgia teamed with the U.S. Embassy-Tbilisi Office of Defense Cooperation to help provide these students a learning environment more conducive to quality education. The solution was a full-scale school renovation project, valued at $880,000 and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Europe District.
The U.S. government partners with local government authorities and with Georgia's other international partners to invest in local communities and create opportunities for children. As part of those partnering efforts, the USACE leveraged the expertise of local tradesmen, laborers, and materials, to deliver an improved scholastic environmental which will last for decades to come.
Sponsored by the U.S. European Command, construction began October 4, 2018 and was delivered to the community December 3, 2019; but it was opened for just a few months before COVID-19 compelled the school to close its doors for the rest of the school year.
The new, three-story facility now includes new interiors, roofing, restrooms, running water and waste water systems, a heating system and electrical work, a perimeter fence and improved storm water management.
“This is not just a new school, it’s a completely different lifestyle” said Kveshi School Principal Lea Bibiluri through translator and USACE program coordinator Nana Kacheishvili. She credits the addition of a central heating and air conditioning system as one of the most impactful improvements to the school.
“Without a reliable heating system, we had to burn wood for heat…which would often blow smoke into the classroom and cause our children to have burning and itchy eyes.” She adds that running water and indoor bathrooms are also contributing to the overall health and hygiene of the student body.
Nearly 50 percent of the Kveshi School’s students come from low-income families whose homes often lack heat, running water and, in some cases, even soap. For them, attending the school isn’t just about education, but it also provides a respite from conditions at home.
Between reliable heat, running water, and a basketball court donated by the contractor, Bibiluir has seen healthier, more active and engaged students.
“The combination of all these elements greatly contributes to a safe and happy environment, which contributes to better education,” said Bibiluri.
While the conditions inside the school have changed, life outside of the schoolhouse remain the same. The Kveshi School is located near the South Ossetia Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), a region of the country that continues to face challenges brought on by the 2008 armed conflict between Russia and Georgia. Beyond the brick and mortar of the building itself, the renovation of this school represents one of the many ways that the U.S. government supports greater resilience in communities near the ABL with Russian-occupied territory.
“Thanks to the renovation of this school, the children of Kveshi will have improved opportunities for education, which will strengthen their community and help the people of this area overcome the special challenges they face by virtue of living near the administrative boundary line within the occupied Tskhinvali region” said then-Charge d’affairs Elizabeth Rood at the school’s ribbon cutting ceremony Jan.15.
The renovation of this school represents the latest in a series of USACE humanitarian projects in a region in need of aid. In addition to renovating the school in January, they also delivered the Mariam Makashvili Wounded Warrior Rehabilitation Center that provides Georgian soldiers with critical physical, occupational therapy, and psychological treatment needed to transition into becoming productive members of civilian society.