Tbilisi, Georgia: Saturday, April 6, 2002: Following my speech many of the students stood and applauded. Others sat and clapped almost as if they were stunned having never heard anything like that before. Many students came up quickly to me to shake my hand and tell me how they were challenged by the new concept of the “compassionate capitalist.”
Once the students emptied out the lecture hall, we made a quick dash for the office of the president (called rector) of Georgia Technological University. He had invited us to his office to talk about our plans to work with the University. He appreciated our willingness to help the University and pledged to help out with influence and contacts wherever needed and where possible.
Dr. Raul Kuprava, chairman of the department of biomedical technology engineering, had become a good friend in the very short time we had been in Tbilisi. He was like a family member of the rest of the clan and had joined us at several different meals. Irina, one of the twin sisters, was a professor of computers in Dr. Kuprava’s department. We were all anxious to see their department and talk about a plan that seemed to be forming by the hour since we had arrived in Tbilisi.
Dr. Kuprava’s department at Georgia Technological University was the only place in Eastern Europe where students were trained to install, repair, and maintain pieces of medical equipment. That service was non-existent in most developing countries. The only pieces of medical equipment on which the students had to work were old obsolete pieces of Russian-made junk.
When Dr. Archil had verbalized at dinner two nights before that they wanted to start an official NGO organization of Project C.U.R.E. in Georgia, our minds all began to work in high gear. I suggested that perhaps Project C.U.R.E. could send a partial container load of pieces of medical equipment directly from our warehouse to Tbilisi. Instead of our Denver biomed volunteers spending time on checking out the equipment we could ship the equipment to Dr. Kuprava’s students to check out. It would save the Denver people some time and would give the University students a great opportunity to become familiar with pieces of American equipment.
Once the students had checked out the pieces of equipment, Project C.U.R.E./Georgia could place the equipment in targeted medical facilities throughout Georgia. They would then be able to maintain or repair the equipment at the different institutions in the country.
When the question came up as to how they would fund Project C.U.R.E. /Georgia, it was suggested that the pieces of medical equipment could be placed in the hospitals and clinics on a very minimal lease basis. Payment would be determined by either a certain period of time or a certain amount per procedural use. Each time the hospital or clinic charged a patient for a procedure on the machine a portion of that fee would flow to the organization and even some could go to the students for an ongoing maintenance agreement. It was such a unique situation to see an organization actually training students to be biomed techs in the old Soviet Union. We had lots to talk about.
Across the University campus there was a medical clinic that served the University students, local community, and a neighborhood of refugees. Dr. Manana Nasidze, who was Dr. Nicholas’ wife, worked regularly at the clinic as an optometrist. Project C.U.R.E. had been requested to do a complete needs assessment at the University clinic. In a nutshell … they needed everything.
We had one last assignment on our list of appointments for Saturday, which was to finish another needs assessment study at the Border Guard Hospital in Tbilisi. It was already 6:30 p.m.
While the Russian Army occupied Georgia until 1991 they maintained a separate military hospital in Tbilisi. When they pulled out and went back to Moscow they totally stripped the hospital facility and even used their rifles to shoot out the windows thinking that it would keep the Georgians from being able to use the facility after they were gone.
However, a sharp young Georgian doctor, Dr. Guarm Amiridze, received permission to try to refurbish the facility and make it into a hospital to serve the Border Guard, their families, “high mountain tribe’s people,” and poor refugees living within Tbilisi. He had already done a marvelous job considering that he had absolutely nothing with which to work. As we toured the hospital he explained the Border Guard was not part of the regular Georgian military and did not have any medical benefits. He wanted to help change that, and I promised him that Project C.U.R.E. wanted to help him see his dream come true.
That night we went to Dr. Marina and Dr. Nicholas’ house for Katchapuri and dinner. The whole family was together again. We talked and ate again until 11:30 p.m. What could the possibilities be of Project C.U.R.E. in the country of Georgia? It was raining and miserably cold as we made our way back to our flat and once again climbed the dark stairwell to the fifth floor.
Sunday, April 7
Dr. Nicholas and Dr. Marina wanted to take me to the open antique market that morning in Tbilisi. It was so rainy and cold we decided to only stay for a very short time. I opted to stay at the flat and write until about 1 p.m. when a radio show host came to the flat to do an interview with Jim Marlin and me. Word had gotten out that international Rotary had teamed up with the local Rotary group of Tbilisi to bring Project C.U.R.E. to Georgia to aid the medical delivery system. The reporter represented Main Radio of Georgia and was the same station where Georgia and all the surrounding countries heard “Voice of America” programs. She told us after the interview that the program would be aired the next day between 12 and 1 p.m.
Monday, April 8
We were at the ministry of finance offices discussing Project C.U.R.E.’s desire to ship into Georgia without any taxes, duties, or fees assessed to the donated medical goods. Jamze Machavariani, the woman in charge, really loved Project C.U.R.E. Her brother was a Georgian doctor, and before her stint at the ministry of finance, she had headed up the NGO called the Children’s Foundation of Georgia. She was happy to cooperate with us and was so very appreciative that we would come to the department first in an effort to establish a working relationship. She assured me that there would be no problem getting our medical goods in as well as being approved for NGO status in Georgia.
Dr. Archil had brought his portable radio with him and the lady was very impressed with hearing the interview while in her office. It was a good meeting.
Next on our Monday agenda was to meet with the ministry of health and get their approval and blessing. Dr. Gudashavri was very astute and knowledgeable. She liked very much what she heard and welcomed our efforts in Georgia. She agreed that the ministry of health would be available to work with us in any way.
Jim and I invited the whole extended family to dinner Monday night at a lovely restaurant along the river in the old city of Tbilisi. On our way to dinner we made one last stop at an orphanage where 100 deaf, orphaned children were housed. It was quite an emotional encounter. The children put on a quick performance for us. Colorado Rotary had given money last year to put a new roof on the orphanage.
The trip to Tbilisi had been another whirlwind trip, but so much had been accomplished in such a short time. We had been able, with God’s help and direction, to bring together the ministry of health, the ministry of finance, the Georgian customs department, international Rotary, Project C.U.R.E., seven or eight medical institutions, two universities, and one of Georgia’s most educated and cultured families … all for the express purpose of extending love, concern, and tangible items of health care to needy people of the old Soviet Union.
I was almost ashamed of myself for having had feelings of reluctance to go back to the old historic country of Georgia. They were so needy and so appreciative of Project C.U.R.E.’s willingness to aid and help. I really believed that we could make a difference in the old Republic of Georgia.