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March is Women’s History Month. This March we dedicate to women who inspire us. Women, we know from books and women, who live among us. Women, we care for and women, who empower us. 

Keti and Niniko Bojgua, sisters, founders of DemLab, about each other:


I am the younger sister and Keti is five years older than me. She has always been an inspiration to me, but at first, I was a bit resistant to that inspiration because she has been so different from me - smart, ambitious. But later, in the midst of that inspiration some outer factors came into play, factors telling me - look what Keti is like. We studied at the same school and our teachers used to talk about Keti's qualities. I used to be a bit of a tomboy, I loved football, playing truant, too lazy to study well. Therefore, I kept thinking that I should catch up with Keti. But, over time, when I got a little older and graduated from school, I really realized that she was part of me – as they call it my “soulmate” - someone you should meet to make you whole; I had the feeling that I found the one in my life whom I can trust and fully rely on, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, who has qualities that I don't have at all. And I realized that I didn’t have to develop all these qualities, but I have to have a person next to me who can wake me up and tell me, Niniko, stop, whenever I cross the lines. When I did realize that, Keti became the biggest support in my life, someone who will always be there for me, no matter what happens, I know that she will always be there to fill in the little gaps where there are ones.


Niniko was the same for me, but the other way around. I loved studying, reading, I would get high marks and was loved by all the teachers. But what Niniko was very good at - interpersonal relations, organizational skills, etc., were my weaknesses. Niniko could gather the children living in the same block of flats we did, plan amateur concerts and perform for the dwellers of all sixteen floors of the block. These skills, which later transformed into business ideas, were the ones I did not have. Therefore, Niniko was an inspiration to me in this respect. I was 21 and Niniko was 16, when I started to realize this, when the age difference was less noticeable. From that time on, I started learning from her. When we started working on our first project together, when we got our first grant for the project aiming at promoting awareness of the constitution in schools, I was a journalist and had no experience of dealing with either the administration of a grant or the management of a project. I remember being in a complete panic because I found it difficult to imagine how we were going to manage that project, and Niniko was reassuring me and telling me that everything would be all right. I see our relationship just as Niniko has described it - complementing each other, that's exactly how I feel.

Niniko, first of all, is an inspiration to me in terms of being able to live in the present and enjoying the process of doing things. I am and have always been a perfectionist. When we were working on that grant project, I would look forward to finalizing it, so that I could relax. I remember her telling me that if I didn’t change my attitude, I would find it very difficult to do the work, because what matters is to enjoy the whole process, including the moments when you have to face obstacles. This was one of the first things I learned from Niniko.

Niniko and Keti Bojgua - sisters and founders of DemLab - are sitting together, holding each other
Niniko and Keti. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA


We became close through telling each other about our own love stories and talking about relationships. And I remember an episode when we lived on the first floor and our father ran a grocery store on the ground floor just below our flat. One fine night, when we were discussing relationships with boys and stayed up all night, at six o'clock in the morning, we heard some noise from downstairs. It turned out that some people had sneaked into our father's shop and were about to rob it. After carefully listening to the noise with the rims of our glass against the floor, we woke up our father, and thus the store was saved from being robbed.

Because I live in the present, I am very impulsive. I tend to make decisions based on emotions and without a second thought and sometimes I can't predict things correctly. That's when Keti comes to my rescue. Sometimes, maybe not at once, but still I realize what is right. So, it's great when you have someone to balance your impulsiveness. If we're working on something that might be rather sensitive, I always tell my colleagues to consult with Keti.


However, what Niniko says about being able to make decisions and take risks without a second thought is what I find most inspiring about her. Niniko can anticipate results, she can see ahead. She can see what is not there, see the results before they arrive. This is very important for the development of any organization. Niniko’s love for taking risks and her intuition paid off every time, and I realized that I had to trust her intuition a lot. In general, I think that there are few people like her in Georgia, and these qualities of hers, along with her being inspiring, makes me feel safe, because I know that I can trust her.

In general, they say that it is not a good idea to start a business together with your family member, as it is doomed to failure. But in our case, this was only an advantage. In a job environment, it is not always possible to openly express opinions and share emotions, and the synergy that should be created is lost. Because we are sisters and trust each other very much, no matter how much we disagree with each other, we can give and take criticism very openly and emotionally. And the result is always something good. 


In general, I can sometimes switch from one task to another, I like it. Keti has always been a complete opposite - she would always do what she wanted to to the end. She had been a journalist for many years, and I could never imagine her giving up her career and doing something entirely different. It was then when I felt inspired, because I realized that in addition to being smart and a role model, this person is also able to change her life dramatically and take such risks. Therefore, despite the fact that we always present ourselves as such, i.e., I am a risktaker and Keti is not, I am really not the one. Taking risks are more or less OK for me, because I am a person who has always lived this way and it is normal and natural for me. Keti found herself in a risky situation she had never been in before. Therefore, at some points, Ketie might be riskier than I am.

Maia Chachava, art critic about grandmother, Mariam (Maniko) Ugrelidze, professor & co-founder of scientific and clinical podiatry in Georgia:

A woman sitting at a table, wearing a black cloth
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

I remember my grandma Maniko being always very busy; she had no time for anything. But I also remember her “torturing” me - while teaching me French. She would cut interesting figures with scissors and make me glue and stick them on a sheet of paper, and meanwhile she would speak to me in French all the time.

Despite the fact that we lived in a very large apartment, my grandmother and I shared the bedroom. We used to talk about a lot of things and I could feel that she loved me very much. Because of this close relationship between us, I acquired a good knowledge of the basics of paediatrics. I would probably make a good doctor.

Maniko was treated with such respect by everyone that I could not but show respect and admiration towards her, despite the fact that I had no one closer than her. Since then, I have never seen any grandchild talking to their grandmother like that.

My grandmother studied medicine at the University of Lausanne and after graduating from the university she went to Odessa, where she took care of Petre Melikishvili. Later, she came to Tbilisi.

It should be noted that my grandmother's diploma, which has unfortunately gone lost, reads that she wanted to become a village doctor. Young people wanted to go to villages, because there was a shortage of doctors there, and they were patriots, they loved their homeland.

My grandmother became the first Georgian woman professor as soon as the university department was established.

Black and white photo of a woman
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

She was an excellent person and remembered for many of the good things she did, but especially for one particular episode that still remains a subject of interest; that was when my grandmother saved a lot of children from being sent into exile, all of them already in a carriage of the train that was about to leave. Back in the 1930s, too many people sent their children to orphanages. One day, a station master called my grandmother informing her about screams coming from a carriage full of children at the station. There were more than 100 children in the carriage. My grandmother went to the station to find children from exiled families being forced into the carriage and about to be sent to a vague destination - somewhere in Russia. The station master and my grandmother uncoupled the carriage, and when the train left, the carriage full of children stayed. My grandmother took these children and found foster families for all of them. Beso Okropiridze, an Infectiologist, helped my grandmother a lot by issuing a document certifying that the children had dysentery and should not be gathered in a single space. They actually put their lives at risk, but luckily, they survived. The station master was allegedly executed by shooting.

We did not use to talk about this episode in our family. One day, my mother and I went to the pharmacy, I was about 11 years old then. A woman approached my mother, and after talking to her for a while was about to fall on her knees, but my mother stopped her. When we came home, she told my other grandmother that she met a child from the train. And that was it; they did not say anything else about this. I learned about the “child from the train” from my mother only after I graduated from school.

I would like to recall another episode, when Lavrentiy Beria's child fell ill and a consilium of physicians had to decide whether to administer a serum injection or not. The door opened, Beria came in and sat down next to the doctors. There was complete silence that was broken by my grandmother. She asked: “Excuse me, are we allowed to attend your meetings?” Beria replied that they certainly were not; and my grandmother told him, “Then you aren’t allowed either”. Beria went out, slamming the door behind him, after which the members of the consilium told my grandmother that they would be shot. My grandmother reassured them that they would not kill them as they needed them. After this incident, my grandmother was banned from all congresses and meetings, as she was considered a politically unreliable person. The door of our house used to be open to some great Soviet dissidents, intelligent people would gather there. No one in our family had ever been a member of the Communist Party. 

Masho Samadashvili, marketing & communications specialist about writer, Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili:

A black and white photo of Masho and Ana
Masho and Ana. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

Ana and I are actually cousins. Although, since my grandfather had five siblings and he was the youngest and I am also the youngest of his grandchildren, Ana is much older than me, and from the beginning I introduced her to everyone as my aunt. This is how we make everyone believe this harmless lie. We represent one generation in the family, despite the fact that we were born in completely different countries, Ana - in the Soviet Union and I - in free Georgia. It sometimes takes me a while to calculate the age difference between us, because I don't really often think about it. Once we even were in a funny situation when we were talking about something and she suddenly told me that this was the way things were at our age and we both burst out laughing, because we did not understand whose age she meant.

My first memories of Ana are associated with my early childhood. I was three years old back then. Ana frequently visited us as she and my mother were peers and good friends. At that time, Ana had very long, waist-length hair, and I remember myself braiding her hair for hours. Although I remember very little from the first several years of my life, this memory is very clear.

Later, we would get in touch with each-other as relatives, because Ana didn't spend much time in Tbilisi. When I turned 18, our paths crossed again and forever. Since then, it's been more than 13 years we haven't spent a single day without communicating with each other - wherever we are and whatever we're doing, whether we're happy or sad, we are in touch with each other to discuss anything, whether it's a public issue or a personal one.

a black and white photo of Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili, a famous Georgian writer
Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

Ana is a unique person for me in many ways. First of all, because on the one hand, she is very open-minded and understands the pains of my generation well, and, on the other hand, she knows about things I have never heard of. She has told me, for example, about developments that I did not witness or could never read about: be it events and developments in the city of Tbilisi, personal stories of different people, love stories, about Soviet Georgia, etc. She is a walking encyclopaedia and has answers to all my questions.

Ana is an inspiration to so many people, but to me mostly because she has a very clear opinion about everything. Nowadays, you will rarely find a person with such a set of values and so committed to their beliefs, views and understanding of events. Ana and I have sometimes talked about the notion of Tbilisian comprehension, attitudes and understanding characteristic to a citizen of the city of Tbilisi, which existed back in the 1990s and which has actually disappeared, and we think it is a great loss. When talking about some issues concerning human values, Ana often judges and finds solutions through that comprehension lens. It may sound funny at some occasions that something should be decided using a certain “understanding”, but in reality, it works, and I have to admit that what she says is mostly correct.

Ana never tries to impose her opinions or beliefs on other people, she never behaves in a way that would make anyone feel that she knows better. She always talks to you as her peer or equal. Of course, she is much more educated than me. In addition to her being inquisitive and having an excellent memory, as a writer, she looks at things and events from various perspectives and constantly updates her knowledge. However, she has never made me feel that she is smarter than me, which I think is a great human virtue.

The time we spent at her place is very precious to me. Her place is a shelter for everyone, not just for me, but for anyone that Ana has ever met. It has been a place where not just her friends, but also my friends and my friends' friends are welcome. Our conversations in the kitchen of this house are something that, if I could write as well as Ana does, would allow me to write a good novel about Tbilisi. Secrets confided there have never been disclosed. This is one of the most important things that bind us together - our secrets. There is a category of information that Ana tells me is “to be swept under the rug” which means we shouldn't tell anyone. I trust her in absolutely everything and she knows everything about me.

A black and white photo of cousins: Masho and Ana
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

Ana never judges others, which is a rare trait. She has given me advice many times, but she has never judged me and she always gives me the freedom of choice. Our relationship is not simple as it is something in between friendship and a mother-daughter relationship (not a restrictive one).

My biggest fear is to find myself without Ana by my side one day. It stems from the age difference between us. I have often thought about it, though I don't want to, I try to stop thinking about it as soon as the thought crosses my mind. Despite the fact that I have many friends and I am actually surrounded by people who are very dear to me, Ana is still the one who has unique knowledge about everything I need and is always ready to stand by me and support me.

I think being inspired by a person means that you look at a person and want to become a better version of yourself, to improve yourself. The most important thing I learned from Ana is that one is able to give away incredible energy - be it the work you do – in Ana’s case it means writing, translating or teaching; helping friends or dedicating your life to your loved ones. Ana is also a highly empathetic person; she is able to understand the feelings of many different people from every walk of life. Sometimes her ability to look at things from the perspective of other people surprises me. Maybe the reason why she became a writer is that she can put herself in the shoes of so many different people.

Over the years, Ana has changed my perception of the world. It is as if she managed to turn my world upside down. She is a very romantic and sensitive person, which she quite often tends not to reveal. She thinks that friendship, love, bravery, chivalry, loyalty are the most important things – her life is based on the values encoded in the poem “The Knight in the Panther's Skin” by Shota Rustaveli and, in her life, she looks for the adventures described in the poem, that's what I learned from her. It's hard; her life is hard, and so is mine, because we look for something positive in everything which might not be as positive in reality. And in our country, with all these hardships around, it is often not easy to think about the values of the highest order. However, I think it is a real virtue to be able to see the good in people, so that’s why I have fully internalised this approach.

Ana has gathered different people around her. I spent my youth with experienced and intelligent people who were Ana's friends. Over time, they became my friends, and my friends became Ana's friends. These people represent different circles and different generations. There are some things we argue about, and there are things we agree on, but most importantly, we never cross the lines when we disagree. It happened only once when Ana and I had a serious argument, we were discussing and comparing two novels by modern Georgian writers and, as time has shown, she was right, but I, then very young and imbued with maximalism, tried to prove that I knew better, and then I remember that we got a little angry with each other. Other than that, we have never had a serious argument and I hope she feels the same.

A black and white close up of Masho Samadashvili
Masho Samadashvili. Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

It's not easy to talk about Ana in general, because all you want to say about her is something good. I have been working in the field of literature all my life, I have always been reading texts, and either praising authors or constructively criticising them, but I probably talk the least about Ana.

Ana is a very gentle person, even though she is very direct, saying exactly what she means. She will never tell you anything that might hurt your feelings. If she has to criticise you, she will warn you in advance, not to get offended. The most precious thing for me is the above mentioned attitude of hers and our trips. We go on trips as soon as we have a few days off. We spend time differently during our trips, because we have a lot of free time; we can spend entire days either in museums or shopping, but I enjoy both activities the same way. For me, Ana is like an open book that suddenly closes and you don't know what will happen next - she is really like that.

One should be lucky to have a person like Ana around. I try to introduce everyone around me to Ana, if it is possible, because spending time with her gives you so much - whether it's knowledge, experience or the ability to understand a sentence in many different ways. I am very lucky; I have never taken our relationship and friendship for granted. In this vast world, the fact that we found each other, first as relatives, and then as closest friends, is what I value most. And I hope she feels the same. 

I am really grateful that we were born in the same period and that we live in the same period. I was definitely born in her time, and I think that if I ever have a daughter, I will definitely name her Ana, because Ana has no children of her own, and I think that there should be one more Ana in our family.

Lili Pulariani, activist & communications specialist about grandmother, Nina Ghvinjilia:

A young woman sitting on a chair. There are old photos scattered around her
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

A woman who inspires me is my grandmother - Nina Ghvinjilia. Nina grew up in the village of Dimi in Baghdati and attended the Kutaisi Gymnasium, as did her sister - Nadia. Attending the Gymnasium in the early 1900s was considered very prestigious and only a few could afford it. A number of feminists, including Kato Mikeladze and Nino Tkeshelashvili, were educated in the Kutaisi Gymnasium. That is why my grandmother’s values have never surprised us. Unfortunately, because she had to get married at an early age, she dropped out of the Gymnasium, and those days when she planned to pursue her studies were gone once and forever.

My grandma is a role model for me, demonstrating how a woman can break the chain of trauma and set a good example of care and support to other women. Although she was not able to pursue her studies, that remained a subject of her concern throughout her life. She was considered an intelligent woman at home and outside the home, telling other women that the most important thing in life is for a woman to be able to do two things: to get an education and to have her own income. She thought that these two things were what women should concentrate on. Nina used to inspire and help other women, teaching them needlework. Her embroideries and other works that have survived to this day show how good she was at drawing and geometry.

Nina had four daughters and a son who was the youngest child of hers - my father. My grandfather was against devoting a lot of resources to the education of their daughters, but my grandmother, secretly from my grandfather, helped all four of her daughters to enrol at higher education institutions in Tbilisi. To avoid conflict, every time she went to visit her children, she would get up at six in the morning, take the train to the capital, and return home at midnight. Equality has never been an issue with our family, because it was an unquestionable fact. My aunts were the first women in the village to drive cars, who could express their own opinion on any issue, and whose voices would be heard. After leaving home, I found myself in a society, where everything I thought of as natural, was not - I was often silenced, “You're a girl and you can’t have your opinion”, “girls don't behave like that”. On such occasions I would protest, because my sisters and I grew up in a completely different environment.

Lili Pulariani - activist and communications specialist
Photo: Dina Oganova/UNFPA

We moved out of the house we live in now in Dimi fifteen years ago, after my mother emigrated to another country. She was the only breadwinner in the family. It's now been a year and a half since I moved back together with my sister and we have been renovating this 120-year-old wooden house. The land in Imereti used to be divided into plots called “soulis”. When people were interested in who the owner of a land plot was, they would ask “whose souli is this?”. The owners of those land plots were men and the estates were named after them - Aleksandresouli, Merabisouli and so on. The plots didn't belong to women, and therefore they had never been named after them. We decided to keep my grandmother's memory alive and named the estate “Ninasouli” – that is how it became the first estate named after a woman.

My sister, my mother and I were the ones who led these processes. Everything here is being created by women and this house will empower other women as well. An initiative group “Women of Dimi” was established in the village a year ago, and as part of our work, we have taken important steps for the development of the village; for example, we created an outdoor movie theatre; local women were able to learn and develop various entrepreneurial skills, and several of them were able to obtain grants and start or develop their own small businesses. I think that’s exactly what my grandmother used to teach women, that is, just because I failed to get something or achieve something as a woman, that doesn't mean I can't help other women. I can lay a stepping stone for other women so that they can at least do what I failed to do.

This house, “Ninasouli”, will be used as an agro-tourism object. Guests will be able to stay in this house while visiting the place and working together with the locals. On the other hand, it will be used as a place where locals, and not only women, can receive education, work, and sell their products. Locals often ask me, “Why only women?”.  All that we do is not only for women, however, we are mainly women, so that we can be perceived as managers, businesspersons and decision makers. A strong woman means a strong family, whereas even the children of an oppressed woman are oppressed.

I don't like it when grandmothers are remembered as the ones who could make the best Khachapuri (cheese pies). Our grandmothers, great grandmothers, etc., were engaged in activities beyond their kitchens - they worked, took care of people around them, were intelligent and had reasoning skills. I think my grandmother would have been a very distinguished woman if she had been able to get the education she wanted. I think her dreams are coming true now, a century later, with our help. I can’t think of any other life goals that might be more challenging, precious and valuable as the one we aspire to achieve right now.