A Helping Hand Transforms Jewish Teen in Tbilisi

May 7, 2013


Liah, 16, is in 11th grade and already knows she wants to be a defense lawyer. She is eager to help people, because she knows firsthand a stranger’s assistance can mean the difference between life and death.

That’s because the critical help her family has relied on from JDC has been their only assured means of survival since she was a child.

Liah lives in Tbilisi, Georgia with her mother Manana, 43, and 68-year-old grandmother. They share a single rented room, and their leaky ceiling, cracked floors, and the peeling wallpaper reveal serious repair needs throughout the shabby structure.

They haven’t been able to pay rent for months despite rising fears of being evicted imminently.

In Georgia’s rapidly changing economy, where people over a certain age have a hard time keeping their jobs (let alone finding new ones), Manana has been unable to find work as an accountant since she was laid off several years ago. The family’s only income is the grandmother’s meager pension and a small monthly allowance for single-parent households from the government, totaling just over $100 a month. This doesn’t even cover their rent, let alone their utilities, food, or personal costs.

“We survive solely with the help of the Jewish people. JDC’s Hesed [social welfare center] fully supports us,” Manana says frankly.

Liah began to benefit from what today is the IFCJ-JDC Partnership for Children in the Former Soviet Union when she was nine. Operated through the local Hesed, today the Partnership provides her and her family the groceries they need to put food on the table each month. Hesed also provides Liah’s anti-anxiety medications, which they could otherwise not afford.

“One of the most important services for us is the winter relief. Temperatures here dip as low as -8 or -10. If the Hesed didn’t pay for our electricity, the heat and lights would simply be turned off,” Manana explains.

Through the SOS program, Hesed also bought Liah a bed to replace her old water-damaged one. She shares it with her grandmother during the winter months to keep warm.

“The Hesed helps with whatever we need,” says Liah’s grandmother. “They care and are very diligent. We are so, so grateful.”

Especially given the early trauma of losing her father when she was a child, Liah reaps enormous emotional benefit from this steadfast support and connection to a community.

Liah’s father died ten years ago of a heart attack after years of suffering from various health complications resulting from doing volunteer rescue work in Chernobyl. The family sold off everything they owned—including their apartment—to help pay for his care. With no conclusive treatment in sight for Liah’s father, the family had decided to emigrate to Israel—but his heart failed just days before their scheduled departure. They decided to stay in Tbilisi, where he was buried, at least until Liah finished her studies.

In addition to attending her regular English-language school, Liah comes to the Jewish community for various extracurricular activities: At the local JDC-supported Jewish Community Center she takes chemistry, computers, math, and drawing classes. She hopes these will help her pass and graduate so she will be able to pursue her big goal.

“My dream is for my granddaughter to have a chance at a better future,” Liah’s grandmother shares. At least for now, they are taking life one day at a time. Liah continues to study diligently with the hopes of realizing her professional goals; while the family remains ever more grateful for the assistance that helps them survive.

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