2023 August-September Analysis Featured

Celebrating 30 years of the Salvation Army in Georgia

Marking its 30th anniversary in Georgia this year, the Salvation Army has touched the lives of countless individuals in Georgia through its programs and initiatives. From summer camps and after-school programs to elderly social support, the organization has acted as a lifeline, contributing more than 39 million GEL worth of support to Georgia’s most vulnerable residents since it began operating in the country.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Salvation Army’s operations in Georgia. The international charitable organization, which was founded in 1865 and currently operates in more than 132 countries, first came to Georgia in 1993 at a time when the country was emerging from the collapse of the USSR and the devastating civil war that followed.

Divisional leaders Captain Revaz Bakhtadze and Major Sophia Bakhtadze who currently lead the Salvation Army in Georgia, say the Salvation Army’s entrance into the country came at a time when needs were great and prospects seemed grim. “The Salvation Army first entered Georgia at what was a dark time for many,” says Major Sophia. “In the early years, its work was largely based on meeting the basic needs of the population. This came in the form of providing hot meals, clothing, and medical assistance to those in need – including many who were internally displaced because of the war in Abkhazia.”

In the mid-1990s, the local mission began offering after-school care programs and an annual summer camp for children around the country. The organization’s summer camp has served an estimated 5,000-plus young people since its inception in 1995 and the after-school program a further 165,000.

These programs, says Captain Revaz, have given parents an opportunity to pursue work opportunities without worrying about their children – it also played a pivotal role in his own journey to join the mission. “Our after-school programs offer parents peace of mind to be able to work while their children are in a safe place,” he says. “With us, the children can have something to eat, work on their homework, and explore new hobbies and ideas through, for instance, English or computer lessons as well as art classes and a music or drama club.”

“I first heard of the Salvation Army when I myself attended the summer camp,” Captain Revazi continues. “Being a young person in the 1990s was difficult – it was a dark time for many. The Salvation Army really stressed that I could have a bright future if I focused on my education, and it gave me the opportunity to do that. As I got older, I felt called to be a part of the mission so that I could offer others that same feeling of hope.”

Care that evolves with the country

As the country began to rebuild and recover, the Salvation Army was able to expand and adapt its assistance to meet the needs of Georgians. In 2000, the mission launched its annual young leaders’ seminars, and in 2007, it began offering elderly social programs to bring together members of the elderly population for social gatherings, support, and excursions. It currently also offers a local laundry program in its Tbilisi’s Ponichala Corps and a shower program for the homeless, and it began its Angel Tree program three years ago – which runs during Christmas and New Years and collects gifts for children living in low-income families and orphanages.

While continuing to offer day care programs, the annual summer camp, and aid in meals and clothing for vulnerable populations, the Salvation Army now operates in four main cities and eight total corps locations across the country, all managed by local Georgians. “When the Salvation Army first began operating, it was primarily run by foreigners,” says Captain Revazi. “It’s remarkable to witness a new generation of Georgians stepping up to serve their fellow Georgians. We now have 17 officers, a dedicated staff, and over one hundred volunteers—all from Georgia—running our programs.”

Standing with Ukraine

And beyond developing to meet the evolving needs of Georgia’s most vulnerable population, the Salvation Army has been at the forefront of efforts to support Ukrainians in Georgia since the onset of Russia’s invasion. Since 2022, the mission has provided more than 1.5 million GEL in aid for Ukrainians in Georgia in the form of clothing, vouchers, blankets, baby formula, hot meals, and more.

While extensive assistance poured in at the onset of the conflict, the Salvation Army in Georgia remains focused on ensuring that Ukrainians continue to have their basic needs met as the war enters its second year. The mission distributes 2,700 food vouchers for families with children every month, and its Batumi corps serves hot meals to over 150 Ukrainians daily. Last year, the organization also hosted a 20-day summer camp for Ukrainian children and established a special after-school program for them.

“The extended summer camp last summer was an important step in trying to heal some of the psychological wounds inflicted on these children by the war,” says Major Sophia, noting that the camp offered children a safe place to relax and attend therapy sessions and excursions. “The after-school program is an important part of helping these Ukrainian families integrate into Georgia. Since many men are still fighting in Ukraine, our program gives mothers an opportunity to pursue employment without worrying about their children. It also allows the children to have a hot meal, work on their homework, and learn Georgian – which is crucial to helping them feel more settled and at home in Georgia.”

Partnering to make a wider impact

Beyond the Salvation Army’s impactful work over the last 30 years, Captain Revazi notes the organization’s mission continues to evolve. “Georgia as a country has come such a long way over the last 30 years,” he says. “We are so happy to see how much our Angel Tree program, for instance, is continuing to grow, which is evidence of the increasing interest by individuals and businesses to give back and make a positive impact in their own community.”

“With stronger economic development and a thriving business community that is increasingly recognizing the benefits of incorporating social responsibility into their practices, we’d love to see the Salvation Army partner more with local businesses,” he says. “In addition to the advantages for businesses, like the benefits for their brand and increased public trust, it is very rewarding to see Georgians lending a hand to other Georgians and helping to make our country a better place.”

In celebration of its 30th anniversary in Georgia, the Salvation Army will hold a charity gala on October 13, 2023. For more information on the charity gala or how to support the Salvation Army’s work in Georgia, please send an email to info@salvationarmy.ge or call +995 0322333786.