Rebuilding a Georgian City

August 15, 2012

Charlie Bush felt energized when he learned of his acceptance into the ECA Legislative Fellow Program. Charlie, a City Administrator, would be leaving the U.S. and traveling to the Republic of Georgia to exchange ideas on democracy and political participation. Prior to his acceptance, Charlie hosted a Legislative Fellow from Georgia in his hometown of Prosser, Washington who taught him much about the country’s culture and customs.

“I was excited when I heard I was going outside of North America,” said Charlie. “It was a great opportunity to go and experience a new culture and share my own experiences in city management with other professionals.”

In Georgia Charlie was hosted by Giorgi—the same Legislative Fellow his family hosted in Washington State. Together they traveled to the municipality of Vani (a region of Georgia) to present a series of case studies to heads of government.

“One of the real challenges for an emerging democracy like Georgia is getting the people to join in and speak up,” says Charlie. “So I shared with them things that happen in our community so they could get an understanding of how we work. I was sharing about the community of Prosser and how our democracy functions, how the federal government works, and where powers come from.”

“We were working on infrastructure, community development, and the way they plan their cities and use their space to get people involved.”

When Charlie had the opportunity to work with the people of Georgia outside of the political realm, he realized explaining the importance of volunteerism was difficult in a newly democratic country.

“The former communist government did everything for everyone, so the concept of doing something for someone else is just not there,” explains Charlie. “The older community doesn’t really understand this idea but the younger generation is starting to embrace it.”

Yet what the Georgian people lacked in a spirit of volunteerism, they more than gained with a commitment to family, customs, and hospitality.

“The Georgian people are incredibly authentic, generous and present,” says Charlie. “The pace of life is different and the people are different, too. They appreciate each other. They really care about you and they want to see you succeed. My host didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Georgian but we found ways to communicate. We made it work.”

Charlie plans to continue his relationship with the Georgian people even when he returns to the United States. Upon his return the city of Prosser passed a resolution that connects the two municipalities as sister cities through Sister City International.

“The experience was far more rich and rewarding and reflective than I could have ever expected,” says Charlie. “The Georgians are so hungry for democracy. When you go to a country where they want so badly to be like your country it just inspires you. I’m so glad the State Department let me go and represent the United States, because I see the world differently than before. It’s very easy to go about our lives in one small city, but it really opens your mind to see how big the world is.”