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Young environmental activist from Svaneti wins EU-supported CENN competition


Five young applicants become winners of 2020 CENN Green Scholarship

Svan towers, flowers, mountains, picturesque landscapes – these are the imprints painted on reusable tote bags, which have been created by 17-year-old Mariam Narsavidze and her apprentices. Mariam has arranged production of eco-friendly bags in Svaneti to reduce the environmental damage from plastic bags. For about a year, she has also been teaching Anastasia and Nana Rezeshidze her craft.

“We have classes three times a week and we love them. They are free of charge, and we learn felting, embroidery and sewing,” says Anastasia Rezeshidze, Boys willingly join the girls to paint the bags together.

Mariam Narsavidze has won the CENN Green Scholarship for contributing to green entrepreneurship within the framework of the EU-funded EU4Youth– Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED) project, aimed at increasing the employability of young people and promoting their active participation in the society.

The scholarship has been awarded to five winners in four categories. The competition aimed at encouraging future leaders to more actively advocate for the environment and green entrepreneurship in their communities and to contribute to positive change through personal example. Mariam Narsavidze is one of the most remarkable young in the Pari community in terms of identifying and addressing entrepreneurship and environmental issues.

“I saw the announcement on CENN website and decided to participate, and my business project became a winner. At our enterprise we teach young people and children to do craftwork and take care of the environment. We also seek to reduce the use of plastic bags, so as to cause less damage to the environment,” said Mariam.

Mariam has been engaged in environmental activities ever since she was an eighth-grader. She is one of the leaders of the Green Space eco-club at Pari Public School. Her first experience with environmental competitions was Niko Ketskhoveli School Award, announced by CENN four years ago.

“When I was younger, twelfth-graders arranged different activities, and I joined them. The first was wastepaper collection. The one who collected more wastepaper would be awarded a book. I didn’t win that time, but we collected up to 1000 kg of wastepaper altogether and exchanged it for books for our school. The eco-club kids also arranged for a clean-up event and conducted an environmental awareness campaign. We distributed leaflets among the people in the village to inform them about the damage that can be caused by environmental pollution. We wrote the text of the leaflets all by ourselves. We discovered a critically endangered box-tree species Buxus colchica, so we sent a sample to the lab and got the verification from them. After that we provided this information to the locals and they stopped breaking the branches of this species,” Mariam said.

Eka Tsulukidze, a teacher at Pari Public School of Mestia Municipality, was the first one to come up with the social enterprise idea. The point was to employ young people who could not continue their studies due to poverty and had to stay in the village. The first grant was awarded in 2016 as part of a rural youth encouragement initiative.

“We have two focus areas in our work.  Women, myself included, do some sewing work, and we reinvest our income into the enterprise development. Another area is training: we have trained eleven local girls, who could not continue their post-school studies due to poverty. When one of the girls entered a vocational education school, we paid her tuition for a year. Currently we have five women employed,” said Eka Tsulukidze.

The social enterprise, originally located in a Pari Public School storeroom, currently occupies the first floor of the local kindergarten.

Mariam Narsavidze started learning handicraft in this enterprise a few years ago. Now she produces 15 different types of handicraft on her own, and her works have a call at craft fairs. She started to work with felt first, then engaged in embroidering and crafting souvenirs. A year ago, after Lado Apkhazava, an award-winning teacher from Guria donated money to the enterprise, they bought sewing machines and paints and made more than 50 bags.

There were only twenty-five students at Pari Public School this year, including just five in Mariam’s class, have recently graduated from school. Now Mariam is preparing for university entrance exams, but she continues teaching handicraft at the enterprise and conducting environmental trainings.