Pepperdine students helping in the global community

Pepperdine graduate students traveled to a rural Georgian village to visit an orphanage whose children live meagerly.

By Steven Genson / Special to The Malibu Times

In a recent episode of the new game show, “Distraction,” contestants were asked to identify which country has Kabul as its capital. A contestant (after having a bottle broken over her head, hence the title of the show) answered “Georgia.” The host, Jimmy Carr, said, “Wrong,” and snidely added, “Georgia’s not even a country.”

Both were wrong. Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan and Georgia is a country.

This winter, six graduate students of Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy traveled more than 7,000 miles to Georgia to visit a parentless family of about 175 children. The trip-comprising policy research and charity work-was inspired and brought to life by public policy professor Angela Hawken, who accompanied the group to the capital, Tbilisi, and the Children’s Home in Telavi.

Hawken, with the help of a local relief organization, arranged the trip to the orphanage and collected the donations-medical supplies, warm clothes and toys. While these contributions offer temporary relief to the children’s hardships, fundamental needs such as nourishing food, clean water and heat are still scarce and in irregular supply.

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The Georgian state is still in transition following the nonviolent “Rose Revolution” at the end of 2003, which presaged similar events in the Ukraine. Sharing borders with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia (including war-ravaged Chechnya), geographically strategic Georgia is in a turbulent region, struggling for political and economic stability.

This spring semester, the public policy program widened its course offerings to include two that focused on the South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan): a course on comparative democracy taught by Professor Ted McAllister and Hawken’s course on international aid. Hawken has also succeeded in providing opportunities to a couple of the South Caucasus countries’ most promising young scholars who will study at the School of Public Policy this fall.

This summer, the school sent another eight students to the region, where they conducted policy research with various international organizations, engaged in social service and assisted with ongoing Pepperdine efforts to strengthen public-policymaking capacity in the region. In particular, two students focused on child-welfare issues, including reform of the Georgian state orphanage system. Orphans are an invisible population in Georgia, housed in orphanages far from the population centers. These state-run facilities are chronically underfunded, and corruption plagues management much like malnourishment and neglect plague the children.

“The current orphan policy in Georgia is awful,” Hawken said. “Our efforts to help clothe and feed these children are short-term. Our team from SPP hopes to play a role in shaping the policy process to bring about fundamental reforms to improve the long-term plight of these children.”

Karin Lane, one of the six students who went to Georgia last December, was not optimistic about the orphans’ unfortunate situation. “With no hope of our Western foster care scenario and no chance for adoption outside of the family members who placed them there, I question how they will enter society later,” Lane said.

“Looking back on the trip, what has really stayed with me, along with the visual impression of the facility, is how painfully limited the options are for these children in an institutionalized orphanage system,” Lane continued.

Mold infected most of the ceilings at the Telavi Children’s Home, with the stench of urine permeating the building. “As long as they are unable to attend a regular school and remain within those walls it is easy for them to fall off the map. They are unknown and, for many, forgettable as well,” Lane said.

More information on SPP’s efforts in the South Caucasus can be obtained by contacting professor Angela Hawken at angela.hawken@pepperdine.edu

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