If Mariami Silagadze from Tbilisi worried what others thought about her disabilities due to cerebral palsy and slight limp, she may have never ended up in Vilnius. Whether hitchhiking to Berlin, or living and working in Lithuania, she says that she’s an example that it’s possible to overcome childhood physical disabilities and to be successful.
Mariami Silagadze
Mariami Silagadze

“Lithuanians are too concerned what others think about them. That drives what they do and they are missing a lot of opportunities,” says the 29-year-old. She is combining work with studies in the Social Work with the Youth programme at Mykolas Romeris University.

- How long have you been in Lithuania?

- I came in 2013 for a year to work in the Rietavas Open Youth Center. I was their first volunteer. I came there through the European Volunteer Service (EVS) after completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Law at Tbilisi State University. In Rietavas I was working with young people from 14-29 years old and it was quite an interesting experience. I organized festivals, tournaments, movie nights. I tried to show the youth that there is more to do than being in a park and smoking cigarettes.

- You also had a chance to travel throughout Europe, when you were in Rietavas?

- Yes, I was trying to do a lot during my time there and see as much as possible. I hitchhiked with a Georgian friend to Berlin. I visited 11 countries including Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Sweden, Norway and many others. I was focused on visiting other countries.

Grandfather recommended to volunteer in Lithuania: if you want to show respect, you learn the language

- How did you decide to come to Lithuania to volunteer and not go elsewhere?

- Growing up, I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather talked a lot about Lithuania because he had played basketball in his youth in your country. He had many good memories. He said if you want to show respect for people, you learn their language. When it came down to whether to go to Poland or Lithuania, I chose to go to Rietavas in Lithuania

- What did you do your year ended in Rietavas?

- I was in Kaunas and I brushed up on my Lithuanian language skills. I wanted to learn Lithuanian well.

- So was Kaunas very different from Rietavas?

- Yes, I had a cultural shock in Kaunas. People were very official there. But, in Kaunas, I really fell in love with Lithuania. You know, I never feel when I am in Lithuania that I am in a foreign country. I know the language. We have a similar past – our two countries. So much is similar.

- Where are you working now?

- In the SOS Children’s Village in Vilnius. It’s a foster care home and I am like a “mother” and a social worker and teacher to the youth there. The children are 14-16 years old. In the beginning, they were checking me out. Now they are used to me. I have a good job and I am happy there. If I had more free time, I would like to volunteer in the Dog Shelter in Vilnius. Now I have no free time.

Mariami Silagadze
Mariami Silagadze

Learned Lithuanian Reading Fairy Tales and Poems by Salomėja Nėris

- Was it difficult to learn Lithuanian?

- Yes, it was hard. I can not say it was easy. I read fairy tales in Lithuanian like Žemaičių pasakos or Mažasis Princas. I like languages. What helped me is I wanted to learn. When I was in Rietavas, my mentor would speak to me in Lithuanian, despite the fact that then I understood very little. I learned Lithuanian by listening and reading poetry – Salomėja Nėris. I like this poet. Also, I listened to music and this helped me to learn. I like listening to Alina Orlova and the groups Arbata and Atika.

- You also keep up with with the news listening to M-1 when you are home in Sakartvelo?

- Yes, when at home, I listen to M-1 for information on my computer. My family sometimes makes jokes about this because the music is loud.

Georgians are noisy and talkative on buses. Lithuanians are silent.

- What are the differences between Sakartvelo and Lithuania that you noticed?

- The mountains. Lithuania is flat. I am always looking around for mountains here, but none. Also, I miss my family. Here I am alone and more independent. There my parents and family controlled me more. Also, in the buses in Georgia people are noisy and the buses are full. In Lithuania, everyone is silent on the bus. That is a big difference.

- You mentioned you have a disability. But it doesn’t interfere much with your life?

- No, I am active. But, I was born premature. I was only 3 years old, when I started to walk. I have cerebral palsy. This was especially hard on my family. Maybe I get tired faster than others, but it’s not something that disturbs you. I don’t walk very fast, but I get where I am going. I want to take from life as much as possible.

- You plan to stay in Lithuania for a long time?

- I have a good job in Vilnius that I like and I can help those kids and I am also studying. I wish I could work in my country, but Lithuania was the first to offer me a job. Who knows what the future holds? For now, I am happy in Lithuania.

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