Mesa Partners model translates well into Georgian, with a couple of tweaks

Joe Higgins, director of Mesa County Partners, tells stories from his trip to the Republic of Georgia last month.

Plenty of issues could arise when attempting to start a volunteer program halfway around the world, not the least of those being semantics, Joe Higgins, director of Partners of Mesa County learned.

Higgins returned recently from a trip to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where he was sent to help establish a Partners program. Government officials there, with Higgins’ help, are in the beginning stages of starting a Partners program in an effort to deter high juvenile-incarceration rates.

But simply starting a mentoring program like Partners required changing some terms that take on a different connotation in English than in Georgian.

For example, the program won’t be called Partners, because in Georgian, that word primarily describes a marital relationship.

Also, the word mentor was often used by Russians as their relationship to Georgians while under the former Soviet regime. To refrain from using a word that carries tense overtones, Georgian officials are terming their local Partners effort, “My Elder Friend,” which in Georgian reads, Chemi Uprosi Megobari.

“A big part of what we did was to figure out working with cultural issues,” Higgins said. “We were able to put together a really good outline.”

By the end of Higgins’ two-week stay, 15 elder friends were identified to work with youth. Although some Georgian government officials initially wanted the program to be mandated by the court system, Higgins protested, and his request stuck. Higgins said he may be asked in the future to return to help program coordinators incorporate a victim-restitution piece and a conservation program, two other elements that make up Mesa County’s program.

“We made it clear that we were not there to tell them what to do but to share their ideas and make it work for them,” Higgins explained.

“They were real enthusiastic about it, ” he said.

Higgins’ presence and the creation of the Georgian program prompted some television stations there to interview him.

“It’s funny to see yourself on TV dubbed over in Georgian,” he said.

Higgins took over nearly 40 boxes of donated Enstrom’s toffee, which he handed out as rewards to participants who worked long hours, role playing in mentoring situations.

The suitcase that had contained the toffee was filled with bottles of wine, one of the country’s prized, homegrown commodities, for the return to Grand Junction. Higgins also enjoyed touring the centuries-old churches in and around the capitol city.

Higgins was told before going on the trip that the people of Georgia were hospitable, “and we found that out,” he said.


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