SCOBA Hierarch, Georgian Patriarch Visit IOCC Office

At the Tbilisi, Georgia, office of International Orthodox Christian Charities, (from left) His Eminence Gerasime, Bishop of Zugdidi and Tsaishi, Georgia, His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America, and His Holiness Patriarch-Catholicos Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church view photos of IOCC beneficiaries and programs, described by Program Manager Darejan Dzotsenidze. IOCC has been helping the people of Georgia through programs of “micro-credit” lending, child nutrition and infrastructure repair since 1994. Photo courtesy of the Orthodox Church in America

Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia (May 21, 2004) — The leader of Georgia’s Orthodox Church and a SCOBA hierarch recently praised the work that International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is doing to relieve the suffering of people in the Republic of Georgia.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, was in the Republic of Georgia in late April for a nine-day visit at the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch-Catholicos Ilia II, primate of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Both hierarchs highlighted IOCC’s humanitarian programs during a visit with recently-elected Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, leader of Georgia’s much-praised “Rose Revolution.”

Metropolitan Herman is a member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), the parent body of IOCC. “The work of IOCC in Georgia is a sign of … the close relationship between the Orthodox Churches in Georgia and North America,” he said. “Together, the Orthodox Churches can respond to Christ’s call to serve the poor in a powerful and unique way.”

The two hierarchs’ travels took them to IOCC’s office in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on April 23. “We ask for your prayers and blessing for the betterment of Georgia through the work that we are accomplishing here at IOCC,” said Pascalis “Lee” Papouras, head of office for IOCC-Georgia.

IOCC, the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, opened an office in Tbilisi at the invitation of Patriarch Ilia II in 1994. Since then, regional offices have been established in support of IOCC programs in southern Georgia (Akhaltsikhe) and western Georgia (Poti).

IOCC’s initial assistance in the Republic of Georgia was to displaced people who fled separatist fighting in the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the early 1990s.

Since 1999, IOCC has been offering “micro-credit” loans to farmers and other entrepreneurs to help them develop and expand their businesses. The more than 1,000 low-interest loans that have been disbursed to date have resulted in thriving small businesses that contribute to the overall economic stability of Georgia.

Since 2001, IOCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been providing school lunches, school supplies and lessons on nutrition, hygiene and the environment to thousands of underprivileged Georgian students. The program also helps schools improve their learning environment by making physical repairs to dilapidated buildings.

Patriarch Ilia II and Metropolitan Herman, both longtime supporters of IOCC, praised the programs and IOCC’s ongoing partnership with Lazarus, the humanitarian arm of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The IOCC-Lazarus partnership, active since 1994, is one example of how IOCC works to build the capacity of the Orthodox Church to be an active participant in relief and development.

Lazarus was IOCC’s implementing partner in three large-scale humanitarian operations in the late 1990s: emergency food distribution in southern and western Georgia; the soup kitchen program in Tbilisi; and the now-concluded blanket project.

From 1995 to 2000, nearly 40,000 blankets were distributed to vulnerable people in Georgia. Between 1998 and 2000, the production of the blankets provided income to some 360 individuals displaced by the Georgian civil war.