A RIFA fellow helping graduate students in Georgia develop local projects
My name is Bilkis Bharucha and I am a graduate student in International Agricultural Development, specializing in agricultural economics at UC Davis. I am interested in education and extension services, which I was able to explore through my summer RIFA fellowship with D-Lab in Georgia. D-Lab is a UC Davis program that offers interdisciplinary, community-focused and project- based learning in energy and agricultural development. For this project, I joined the D-Lab director and two other UC Davis students for a two-week student training in Georgia. I remained in Georgia for an additional month to support the development of projects.
During my first week, I stayed in a village called Bediani, which means “Lucky Village” in Georgian. Bediani is a fairytale-like village nestled deep in the mountains, flanked by the Khrami and Kldeisistskali rivers and home to 60 families, a psychiatric hospital, and a 7th-century nunnery. I was hosted by the Bediani Children’s Center (BCC), a foster home/ orphanage that is working to introduce economic development opportunities in the village. The community regularly hosts international guests, including former UC Davis students who first visited the village in summer 2016 for a D-Lab satellite training program established to kick-start agricultural entrepreneurship projects involving fishing, beekeeping, and developing a large farm in a nearby village called Bareti. While staying in Bediani I was able to visit the Bareti farm site that is intended to provide employment opportunities and education and demonstration of organic and sustainable agriculture to local farmers and BCC members.
After Bediani, I headed to Tbilisi with the D-Lab team, where we taught local graduate students and community members about project management and building client relationships. The participants worked on three projects: the introduction of an electric taxi system in the capital of Georgia, a feasibility study for tea production on the Bareti farm, and a study of potential social enterprises for communities near a new national park. The training took place over two weeks (July 24- Aug. 4) with students from the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, Tbilisi State University, and Rustavi Vocational College.
Several participants were interested in continuing to work with their projects over the summer and to apply skills introduced in the training such as community mapping, market assessment, and policy analysis.
I spent the rest of my time in Bediani conducting a community needs assessment for the Bareti farm. Many of the families we visited were environmental refugees from within Georgia and they were very hospitable and open to sharing knowledge about their community with us. Some of the student participants have been very committed to this project, indicating a promising future for the Bareti farm and village. Above all, however, this two-month stay in Georgia has reminded me the importance of sitting back to enjoy the richness of a simple meal with the warmth and music of families, friends, and guests while making creative toasts to the future of the world and all of its inhabitants.
Profile written by Bilkis Bharucha.