A tragic situation leads to hope and new opportunities
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 set off more than a decade of doubt, fear, strife and insecurity in Georgia. The chaos that resulted after the organizational structures of society collapsed meant that many of the basic human needs that we simply take for granted – food, utilities, healthcare, education, social services – were at best sporadic and at worst, non-existent for periods of time.
It was a difficult time for everyone, but as is often the case, the most vulnerable of society – disabled children – seemed to suffer the most.
During the Soviet Union, it was an accepted practice that children with disabilities were abandoned at birth and placed into large scale isolated residential homes. Kaspi Orphanage was one such state institution. According to 1992 statistics, Kaspi Orphanage had approximately 100 children in residence with severe and profound intellectual and developmental disabilities. Children in these facilities were meant to be provided for in terms of food, clothing, shelter and minimal health care - but these were not institutions of love or hope for development.
During the chaos and civil war of the 1990s, the children at Kaspi were all but forgotten. Funding from the Government decreased so drastically that the institution could not find funds to regularly feed the children, nor could they pay for gas and electricity. Records show that during these years, many children died due to starvation, exposure to cold and lack of medical services and provisions.
In the late 1990s, the plight of these children began to be known. And it was a fateful trip to Kaspi by Jane Corboy and Nino Kadagidze-Zhvania in the late 1990s that was the beginning of the end for Kaspi Orphanage, and the beginning of First Step Georgia (First Step Georgia operated under the name First Step Foundation until 2010). Founded in 1998, the initial mission of the First Step Georgia was not far-reaching – it was literally to save the lives of the children who resided at Kaspi in terrible living conditions.
A call went out to friends and colleagues of Jane and Nino for funds and support for action. An informal triage process was implemented - hospitalize the sickest and most endangered children. Bring in food, clothes, blankets and re-connect the gas and electricity for those still living in the facility. Bring in doctors and specialists to assess the children who had were still living at the facility. Create personalized plans to help each child begin to cope with what they had been through. Begin to plan for what to do with these children going forward ... First Step Georgia had it's initial mission and was on its way.