Imagine having just a few minutes to gather belongings from your home. Armed men stand on your doorstep, making it clear that you can only take what you can carry — and your time is running out. What would you take?
Once you walk out that door, you are uncertain whether you will see your home, or even your town, ever again. Everything you cannot take with you — family heirlooms, photo albums and other keepsakes — will most likely be lost forever.
You keep glancing over your shoulder as you're loaded into a vehicle, then driven away from the only place you've ever lived. You will have to start over. But how?
That's the reality for thousands of people in war-torn Georgia. Mercy Corps is helping them survive their current displacement while preparing to help them recover and rebuild from their ordeal. The numbers are staggering — almost 160,000 people have been driven from their homes.
Yesterday, our team visited 21 elderly Georgians in the besieged city of Gori — which has, by estimates, seen 90 percent of its population flee to other parts of Georgia. They hailed from nine different villages in the disputed region of South Ossetia, and were evacuated to Gori by a group of Russian soldiers, carrying meager belongings that they'd collected immediately before their houses were set aflame.
These senior citizens are being housed temporarily in a bomb-damaged kindergarten building. They are hoping to be transported to Georgia's capital, Tblisi, where they can join the younger members of their families who fled the onslaught of conflict. Many of them, however, have lost contact with relatives and are uncertain what to do. They have been forced from homes where their families have lived for generations — even centuries.
They are scared and in urgent need of food, clothing and bedding.
You can help. Mercy Corps, which has been in Georgia since 2000, is delivering food and other critical supplies to families, children and the elderly in some of the country's most hard-hit areas, including Gori and badly damaged villages on its outskirts. But, with more displaced people arriving every day, the needs continue to grow.
Imagine how it feels to wonder if you can ever return home again. Georgia's displaced families have endured a lifetime of misery and uncertainty in just a few days. Please help us show them kindness and support when they need it most.
Mercy Corps has distributed food and other critical supplies to approximately 4,000 people in displacement camps and war-torn areas in and around Gori and Georgia's capital, Tblisi. The food packages include basic supplies like buckwheat, sugar, rice and baby food. We've also distributed hygiene kits in the same areas, and are currently expanding our work to deliver shelter and household items.
"Right now the critical need is relief," said Jim White, Mercy Corps' vice-president of program operations. "But as the fighting subsides and displaced people return home, we will focus on longer-term recovery — of housing, schools, and livelihoods — and then on reconciliation among people on all sides of this conflict."
Fighting started after months of heightened tensions in the semi-autonomous region of South Ossetia. The fighting escalated when Russia sent troops and tanks into the area. Although a cease-fire is currently in place, there are reports of continued violence and looting, and inter-ethnic tensions are running high.
Mercy Corps has worked in Georgia since 2000. Our programs support rural development by helping farm families increase production, gain access to financing and form farmer groups that help families connect to markets and information. Mercy Corps has also helped cultivate young leaders working to build an inclusive, multi-ethnic society in Georgia.
Mercy Corps was on the verge of launching a new program in South Ossetia aimed at increasing interaction between ethnic Ossetian and Georgian youth when the conflict began.