Embracing a Greener Tomorrow

UNDP and GEF Spark Environmental Passion in Georgia

July 31, 2023
Green Educational Weekend in Tbilisi. 2022
Photo: UNDP Georgia/Nino Zedginidze

In the heart of Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, something magical happened! Last November, kids and their parents visited one of the parks for an unforgettable experience. 

Imagine talking to butterflies like they were humans. That's what professional actors did, giving voices to insects to reveal our incredible connection with the planet. The kids were deeply moved by this unique encounter. They realized that small actions matter and promised to make the world greener and safer for everyone.

The enchanting educational weekend in Tbilisi was just one of the many success stories that emerged from the collaboration between UNDP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and local civil society organizations. 

An inspiring journey began in 2012 when the UNDP-led GEF Small Grants Programme was first introduced in Georgia offering resources and partnership opportunities to community organizations all over the country. Since then, the programme has supported up to 90 local initiatives with a total value exceeding US$2 million.

From restoring endangered ecosystems, supporting environmentally friendly businesses, and reducing rural poverty to promoting gender equality, these initiatives showcased the power of collective action. They demonstrated that when people join forces for a common cause, remarkable change can unfold.

Daycare Centre “Tebe” in Borjomi
Photo: UNDP Georgia/Vladimir Valishvili

With Us, Not For Us: People with Disabilities Help Grow Borjomi Forest

In the picturesque town of Borjomi, the daycare centre “Tebe” is serving over 30 people with disabilities, providing them with a nurturing space for social integration, rehabilitation, and employment. But it’s not all of it! Tebe plays a substantial role in restoring the famous Borjomi forest ravaged by the Georgia-Russia war in 2008 and then devastated by frequent forest fires and climate change.

"In Tebe, we witness the transformative power of nature and the human spirit, proving that disability is never a barrier when hearts and hands unite for a greener, more inclusive tomorrow."
Nana Lomadze, Head of "Together for Real Change", a civil society organization that has been managing the Tebe centre since its establishment.

With assistance from the Borjomi Municipality, the UNDP-led GEF Small Grants Programme and the German aid agency “Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund”, the centre built a small greenhouse and a nursery and set out to grow fir trees, pines, and birches that are replanted into the forest.   

This inclusive green enterprise quickly blossomed into a place of inspiration and growth. It empowers people with disabilities to engage in meaningful environmental work and offers them learning opportunities to learn about protecting forests and adapting to climate change.

The vision of Tebe extends beyond its immediate community. Focused on supporting the social integration of people with disabilities, the centre warmly welcomes schoolchildren and teachers from Borjomi public schools, engaging them in collaborative work at the greenhouse.

“In Tebe, we witness the transformative power of nature and the human spirit, proving that disability is never a barrier when hearts and hands unite for a greener, more inclusive tomorrow," says Nana Lomadze, Head of "Together for Real Change", a civil society organization that has been managing the Tebe centre since its establishment.

As the seeds in the nursery sprout into majestic trees, so does the spirit of Tebe. It continues to thrive as an inclusive and green cooperation space for all, nurturing dreams, and inspiring positive change.

Tourist trails at Tabatskuri Lake
Photo: UNDP Georgia/Vladimir Valishvili

Eco-Tourism Unveils Georgia's Hidden Treasures

Eagle’s Gorge, Tabatskuri Lake, Chachuna Managed Reserve, and Iron Cross Mount – these names evoke a sense of mystery and wonder, representing Georgia's hidden gems that have long been cherished by nature enthusiasts for their beauty, biodiversity, hiking opportunities, and birdwatching wonders.

For decades, these extraordinary destinations remained undiscovered to visitors, lacking proper tourism infrastructure and services. Meanwhile, local communities missed out on vast economic opportunities provided by these exceptional biodiversity hotspots.

Recognizing the untapped potential and the need for environmental preservation, UNDP and GEF, through their GEF Small Grants Programme, offered support to create the missing links between local organizations, communities, state agencies, and municipal authorities.

"We help local communities breathe new life into these stunning locations, transforming them into enchanting destinations that captivate and welcome tourists. This contributes to protecting unique ecosystems and promotes environmentally responsible local entrepreneurship.”
Anna Chernyshova, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Georgia

Meticulously developed eco-tourism infrastructure and services in all four destinations, including hiking and horse-riding trails, birdwatching sites, tourist shelters, maps, and guides, unlocked the natural beauty for visitors to explore. 

The UNDP-led GEF Small Grants Programme successfully connected local and national organizations, including Georgia’s Agency of Protected Areas, Georgia’s National Forestry Agency, the Vashlovani Protected Areas Friends Association, the Society for Nature Conservation “Sabuko,” the Georgian Ecotourism Association, and local municipalities, all committed to the vision of eco-tourism. 

Over the last five years, up to 20 small local business initiatives have been supported in the new tourism destinations, creating new economic opportunities for people and communities.

Young environmentalists are greening their schoolyard
Photo: UNDP Georgia/Nature Conservation Georgia

Growing Green Leaders: Youth-Driven Environmental Action in Georgia

"It's an exciting experience to visit the trees we've planted in our schoolyard. I believe that as these trees grow, they will grow alongside us, becoming an integral part of who we are," says Dato Mikava, a high school student from Rustavi Public School #9 and an enthusiastic participant in the transformative project "Cooperation for Green Rustavi." This youth initiative, led by the civil society organizations "Gavigudet" and "Eco Centre" with support from UNDP and GEF, is sowing the seeds of change and fostering a connection between an urban community and nature. 

In a world where environmental concerns have become a fundamental part of everyday life, the younger generation is growing up with a heightened awareness that business as usual is no longer an option. Climate change is impacting people's well-being and transforming economies, making climate awareness and environmental protection vital for sustainable development.

Recognizing the urgency of preparing the new generation to tackle these environmental challenges, education and activism have become crucial tools in empowering youth to engage in climate action and take charge of shaping their future. To this end, UNDP and GEF, through their GEF Small Grants Programme, have created a platform for young people in Georgia to step forward and make a difference.

Since 2012, UNDP and GEF have supported numerous local projects, with a significant focus on environmental education and youth-led initiatives. At up to 15 urban and rural locations across Georgia, public schools have actively participated in various environmental initiatives. Schoolchildren have engaged in activities such as greening their schoolyards, arranging public gardens in villages, participating in reforestation and clean-up actions, creating environmental murals in public spaces, supporting environmental organizations in protecting urban biodiversity, and organizing birdwatching weekends in protected areas.

Through these projects, young Georgians are not only driving a positive change but also cultivating a sense of responsibility for the environment. They are becoming environmental champions, equipped with the knowledge and passion to address climate issues and foster sustainable practices in their communities.

The UNDP and GEF's commitment to fostering environmental education and empowering youth initiatives in Georgia is a testament to the belief that the young generation can be a formidable force in the fight against climate change. As these initiatives continue to flourish, the collective efforts of these passionate young environmentalists hold the promise of a more sustainable world and pave the way for a greener and more resilient future for all.