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"I call her a gift of hope"
Buknari, Georgia--41° 45' 0" North, 41° 45' 0" East
Nugzar Sharvashidze has lived nearly half a century.
It has been decade after decade of oppression and chaos—rise and fall.
Buknari, his village sits on the Black Sea, just 40 miles from Turkey. When Georgia was a part of the Soviet Union, Buknari was a beautiful resort town, a place where the Russian elite would come for vacation. Tourism was the mainstay of the town and it was profitable, providing wealth enough for its residents.
But when the Soviet Union fell, so did Buknari's place as a resort. The vacationers left and the tourism industry collapsed. The people of this seaside town had to find another way to make a living, so they turned back to their traditional citrus crops.
Things worked well for a while, Georgia selling citrus and tea to the big Russian market to the north. But then there were clashes between the Georgian and Russian governments. Russia wanted to punish the country that was essentially a former colony. So Russia used an embargo against agricultural products.
Left without a market and without much tourism to speak of the people of Buknari were hit hard. They struggle just to keep the lights on.
Nugzar's family is a microcosm of the whole community.
His two elderly parents live with he and his wife, Maia, two children, and young nephew.
With no work the only money the family has is from the grandparent's pension—a meager retirement that pays only enough to cover the cost of medicine and utilities. Food, fuel, all the other necessities of life—those are a daily struggle.
There were long nights at the kitchen table. What could be done? Nugzar thought about a cow, but the prices kept rising. "Even if you are trying to save money," he said, "You again and again lack the required cash, since a price for a cow is constantly increasing."
Thinking back, his face full of despair, he said "no money, no job and no food—all around us seemed to be a nightmare."
Desperate and with few choices Nugzar and Maia decided that the only way to survive was for Maia to join the throngs of Eastern European women going abroad to work. She left to become a nanny for a wealthy family in Turkey, faithfully sending money home.
Things at home remained desperate, helped a little with the added income from Maia's work, Nugzar was still unable to contribute much to the families income with a job or farming.
Everything changed in September of 2009—that is when the family was chosen to participate in a Heifer project in the Georgian village. The family received a pregnant heifer from Heifer International, along with veterinary supplies and the feed to care for her until the spring grasses began to grow.
Nugzar has undergone extensive training through Heifer Georgia on everything from livestock care to financial literacy.
Speaking to Heifer and its donors, Nugzar said, "With your assistance, my life has radically changed. I became more optimistic and confident in my future. My family has a high-calorie diet of cheese, cottage cheese. Sometimes I sell a surplus of milk products at the market. Little by little I will improve and expand my farm."
Nugzar becomes emotional as he says, "This cow is a gift of God. I call her a gift of hope. She is so lovely. We feed and wash her, cherish, caress and talk to her."
With his cow from Heifer International Nugzar is beginning to build a better life, but everything isn't right yet, the family is still poor and still divided.
As Nugzar continued to say, "My dream is not to be able to buy beautiful clothes for the children from fancy shops, but to give them back their mother. It's very hard for a man to stand this situation…I greatly hope that soon I will be able to return my wife to her family. Thank you so much for giving me this hope!"
Hope is keeping him going and with his heifer he is beginning to see hope realized. Already she has given birth to a calf. In two years, that calf will be given to Nugzar's neighbors, a family with their own stories of struggle and their own hopes on the precipice of being realized.