Zaza Karchkhadze: “I am from the community. It’s my life... And what we have done and what we will be able to do will impact me and my friends.”

2 June 2017

Zaza Karchkhadze is a founder and Chair of the Board of the PUD organization Rubicon (Kutaisi, Georgia), a member of the Board of the Georgian Network of People Who Use Drugs (GeNPUD). He has been involved in harm reduction programs since 2008 and has participated in advocacy campaigns conducted by the Georgian Harm Reduction Network and in activities aimed at civil society development.

- Zaza, when did you hear about harm reduction for the first time?

- It’s a separate story: I’ve been working in harm reduction since 2008. A doctor suggested visiting a needle exchange program (NEP – comment by EHRN). They were looking for outreach workers in my city Kutaisi. I went there and it so happened that they invited me to join them right away. That was how I began working in the program not as a client but as someone promoting harm reduction services. That was my first contact with harm reduction, so to say. And in 2010, when the first government-run substitution therapy site opened in Georgia, I became one of its first clients.

- This means next year will be your anniversary - 10 years since you encountered harm reduction?

- Looks like it (laughing).

- It’s probably not directly comparable but I can’t help but ask you about the community 10 years ago and now. Have there been any significant changes based on your personal experience?

- Definitely. While I was taking my first steps in harm reduction, such concept didn’t exist in my country, even as a definition. There definitely were people who were interested in promoting services and in defending the rights of people who use drugs. But nobody in their right mind would have gone public to make some kind of a statement. Even in the 2000s. We were the first to have started this movement in Georgia. We opened Rubicon, the first in the city self-help organization of people who use drugs. Then GeNPUD, the Georgian Network of PUD was created, and I was one of its founders. This is how the community movement gradually started. Currently it’s quite active and I’m very happy about that.

- As communities and civil society in general are developing, there is a growing understanding of the importance of working with partners at the national and regional levels. How does it happen in Georgia?

- It’s difficult to do it alone. That’s a fact. But support from international and regional organizations makes the decision makers in your country listen to you and consider your opinion.

As I began to understand what harm reduction is, the first organization that Rubicon started working with was the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. More precisely, we contacted several organizations and EHRN were the fastest to respond. And then we established close partnership with the Georgian Harm Reduction Network. People in the network already knew a lot and shared their knowledge. Partnerships are extremely important.

- How has your partnership with EHRN been developing?

- We’ve always had warm and friendly relations with the Network and since the launch of the project “Harm Reduction Works – Fund It!” we’ve been able to understand each other’s ideas and interests even better. Rubicon is a Subrecipient in this program, which means close collaboration [with EHRN] because we are implementing the program in Kutaisi and in our region. And that is already the national level.

- What are Rubicon’s objectives?

- A key objective of my organization has always been to build humane drug policies both in our country and in the whole region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Georgian Network of People Who Use Drugs was created with this idea in mind. This is the idea of fighting against repressive drug policies. This is our niche.

- People working in harm reduction are aware of the fact that some situations are quite complex. What motivates you to keep going?

- For me, the answer is really quite obvious: I am from the community. It’s my life. It is important for me that these processes be implemented, because what we have done and what we will be able to do will impact me and my friends. I always keep this in mind.

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