By Maka Kapanadze, Heifer Georgia Volunteer
Georgia is blessed with a wonderful location, a remarkable natural setting and hospitable people. The Black Sea borders the country on the west, providing the region with a relatively mild and humid climate throughout the year. Buknari is a seaside community in Kobuleti municipality, and during the Soviet period Buknari was considered a favorite resort spot for Russian tourists. Residents of Buknari lived a happy life. While the majority of their income came from tourism, they raised citrus and tea plants to earn additional money. As the Soviet Union collapsed, so did Buknari's lucrative tourist industry. In 2006, an import ban on Georgian agricultural products ultimately broke all financial links between Russia and Georgia. Without its main trading partner, the happy life of the people of Buknari ended. A high rate of inflation on Georgia's currency, the GEL, reflects Russias economic embargo. Prices on daily consumption products have increased dramatically. Faced with limited choices, Buknari residents either had to start farming livestock or starve.
Oleg Lamparadze grew up in a big, welcoming and friendly family, where mutual respect and understanding ruled. He now has a wife, Juliet, and two children, 11-year-old Sofio and 8-year-old Mikheil. They live in Buknari with Oleg's mother Eter, brother Vazha and sister Izo. They once ran their own small family farm and got by just fine; however, over the last seven years, it has become more difficult to survive. It was so hard that older family members often went to bed hungry because their crops produced just enough to feed the children. Oleg took on seasonal construction work that paid very little. Eter's small pension provided the only other source of income. They didn't make enough money to purchase much-needed medicine. "Someone may think that if you are not lazy, you will always survive in the village," Oleg said, "because compared to town, there are more options: different agricultural activities, fruit-growing, animal and poultry farming, small gardening. But believe me, we have not slept for nights. Our labor was very hard and unbearable, but it was difficult to fight with empty hands. When I say empty hands, I mean a lack of any resources that might be helpful for agricultural activities. I wanted to start animal farming, but had no sufficient money to buy a cow or even a goat. My family was like a squirrel in the cage. I felt that we needed a small push to move from a dead spot. God heard my prayers and I got the biggest push from Heifer International."
In the fall of 2009, Oleg's family was selected to join a Heifer project in their community.
They received a pregnant heifer and training for successful livestock keeping. "My family had some experience in livestock keeping, but after the trainings we received from Heifer, we significantly improved our knowledge on animal keeping, breeding and feeding," Juliet said. "We are happy to have a very competent project veterinarian, Nugzar Khimshiashvili, who is a famous veterinary doctor in the region. His trainings in animal health issues and proper feeding are positively reflected by our cows productivity. We yield more than 80 liters of milk per week, which is a maximum for the local breed cows. We have enough milk for family consumption and surplus for marketing. Mostly we make cheese and yogurt for sale. Our family budget has greatly improved. Recently, we started vegetable growing and using animal manure for soil fertilization to improve our harvest. Our kids also are actively involved in farming activities. Sofio looks after the cow and Mikheil takes care of the calf."
When we received a heifer, I was almost 8-years-old," Sofio said. When the cow entered our yard I was impatiently waiting for her beside the gate. She was walking so beautifully that I decided to call her Lamazo, which means Beauty." Sofio's mother used to saved her grandmother's pension to buy milk. Now, thanks to Heifer, Sofio and her brother Mikheil drink fresh milk every morning. Lamazo's milk keeps them strong and healthy. They have already passed on the gift of a heifer to the family of Sofio's best friend, and Lamazo has already given birth to another calf, which the family will keep. Oleg renovated their old shed into a more comfortable one for Lamazo and her calf.
We know that Heifer helps indigent people throughout the world and we are happy to be among those lucky families, said Oleg. We want to thank Heifer International's generous donors and those kind people in the USA and all over the world. Special thanks to Heifer Georgia's caring staff for their diligent and devoted attitude to us and our lives!
Despite poverty, Buknari people never lost their pride, and with Heifer's help, hope for the future has returned to them. Indeed, there are still many families in need in Georgia. Oleg's family is a good example of how Heifer transforms families' lives, giving them a light of hope for improvement and a better future.