Lali Grigolava was born and raised in Abkhazia's Gali region. She lost her home during the 1992-93 war and now lives as an IDP (internally displaced person) near the town of Kutaisi in western Georgia.
Lali's current home is only a couple of hours drive from the place where she grew up but it couldn't be more different. She left behind the family house in Abkhazia and now lives with her son in a cramped room in the former Soviet holiday resort of Tskhaltubo.
Learning to get by on the margins
Once a prestigious spa where generations of Soviet leaders came to relax, Tskhaltubo is now home to between 4,000 and 5,000 IDPs from the war in Abkhazia. They arrived with nothing in 1992 or 1993 and few of them thought that nearly 20 years later, they would still be here.
Life in Tskhaltubo is grim. People live jammed into tiny hotel rooms, in crumbling, leaking buildings. There's not much work and there's not much to do. It's a 30-minute bus drive to the nearest big town. Drink and drugs are a problem.
Faced with a situation like this, some people get depressed and give up. Others, like Lali, get organised.
Two years ago, with the support of Conciliation Resources, she set up her own organisation, called the Union of Women IDPs of Tshkhaltubo, and started campaigning for the rights of her fellow residents.
One of our goals is to ensure that displaced people have decent living conditions.
One of Lali's group's key achievements has been to lobby the local authorities to sort out Tskhaltubo's electricity supply problem. The resort had been plagued by power cuts, making life even more difficult for local residents. Now thanks to her efforts, the lights work. It's one less problem, but there are many more ahead.
Stronger working together
Lali's group are part of Synergy, a network of around 20 IDP organisations across Georgia who work together to raise awareness about the problems facing displaced people and to make their voices heard.
Activist Paata Zakareishvili has been involved in the Synergy network since it was set up more than a decade ago. He says that IDPs have been ignored for too long, but by joining forces and campaigning together, they have been able to make a difference not just at a local level, but also nationally by feeding into government thinking on displacement.
“When it comes to their own future,” Zakareishvili says, “IDPs want to be part of the decision making process.”
The Synergy network recently organised a survey of IDP attitudes that challenged some basic misconceptions about displaced people in Georgia. It shows very clearly that contrary to popular belief most IDPs do not support attempts to use force to resolve the conflict.
"That's important," says Manana Darjania, who leads the Synergy advocacy team, “because the peacebuilding process has to be based on the displaced community.”
Lali and other Synergy members talk about their work and the significance of the survey in a short film, called Taking joint action: The experience of Georgia’s displaced
Facing an uncertain future
Back in Tskhaltubo, Lali is now facing a new problem.
In the last couple of years the Georgian government has been considering plans to completely revamp the resort and make it into a major new tourist destination.
It’s a process that’s happening all over the country. Many of these places were home to IDPs from Abkhazia, and so now once again they are being uprooted and told to move on.
"When the government makes decisions about our future resettlement, nobody thinks about the fact that our children were born and raised here," says Lali.
This is [our children's] home, and if they have to leave they will go through the same pain our generation went through when leaving Abkhazia.