The Georgian Hills are Alive with the Sound of Migrant Music
For the last two years, Marina Raidt-Altunashvili has stepped into her office in the small town of Telavi (province of Kakheti), Georgia to the sound of music. From morning to the end of her day, Marina will funnel through the likes of Chopin, Mozart and contemporary pop stars to gently guide her clients through the process of making music.
As a licensed music therapist, Marina’s work is less focused on the skill of making music, but the therapeutic benefits of playing the music itself. Her clients are not aspiring musicians, but children with a range of special needs.
Using what is called the Nordoff-Robbins approach, the evidence-based practice focuses on the clinical use of music for personal growth and development. In this form of treatment, clients take an active role in creating music together with their therapists.
Her clients include children and adolescents on the autism spectrum, and those with conditions such as Down Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, speech difficulties and various behavioural disorders. Additionally, parents and caregivers benefit from consultations and information sessions.
The benefits to this approach are manifold. For some, it improves their motor skills, speech, and concentration, as well as enhancing their communication and social skills. Patients may experience reduced muscle tension and improved behavioural and emotional self-regulation and develop healthy coping skills to reduce stress, manage negative thoughts and pain and increase the feeling of joy.
Marina saw the power of this type of therapy firsthand while working as a music therapist in Germany. And after nearly two decades abroad, Marina decided to move back to her hometown, returning with the hope of making music therapy accessible for her community in Telavi.
With just under 20,000 residents, Marina’s practice is unusual for a community that is unfamiliar with therapy — much less so music therapy. The provision of high-quality services for persons with special needs does not have a long history in Georgia, especially outside the capital.
Before she established her practice in 2021, though Marina was confident in the potential and need of such initiative, she was concerned about the financial aspect. However, she was able to find help through the project “Sustainable Reintegration and Community Revitalization — Pilot Initiative in Communities of Return,” supported by the IOM Development Fund. As a result, the center is now furnished and equipped with all the necessary instruments to provide effective and comfortable services.
Marina’s practice is just one of the examples from the project, which has provided several grants to returning migrants. The aim is to contribute to both the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants and overall community revitalization. IOM Georgia, in collaboration with the local authorities, is piloting innovative interventions which support local livelihood opportunities for returning Georgian migrants that not only assist with their own reintegration, but also contribute to the revitalization of their home municipalities, making the environment more favorable for sustainable reintegration overall.
In the framework of the reintegration initiatives, a call for business ideas from target municipalities was publicly announced and applications were assessed by IOM in coordination with the local municipalities. Pre-selected candidates benefited from a business plan development workshop, as well as counseling and mentorship provided by a business consultant, hired under the project. Business plans were then assessed by a grant selection committee, comprising IOM Georgia representatives, local authorities of target municipalities and individuals from the non-governmental sector with experience in providing micro and small business support to various vulnerable groups, including returning migrants.
Other examples of initiatives supported by this project include the establishment of a furniture manufacturing workshop in Didvela (Baghdati municipality), a small dairy enterprise that produces cheese in Mukhiani (Tskaltubo municipality), and a bakery in Telavi.
“When assessing applications for the reintegration grant — one of the major components of the project — particular attention is paid to initiatives that would benefit not only the returnees, but also the communities of return more broadly,” says Sanja Celebic Lukovac, Chief of Mission, IOM Georgia.
This integrated approach to reintegration is critical to the project’s aims. The establishment of the therapy centre not only provided Marina with a venue to continue her work, utilize her skills, and support herself, it also responded to the needs of the community, making a difference in lives of children and families in need of specialized support services. For government partners, Marina’s work in Telavi showcases the development implications of return migration: the transfer of human capital acquired abroad in the form of academic qualification and practical experience for the benefit of the local community.
In Marina’s case, there is a deficit of high qualified professionals in the given field. Since May 2021, the centre has served over 80 patients, of which 80 per cent suffer from autistic spectrum disorders. It will also render its services not only to the Telavi town residents, but also to neighbouring municipalities who can now more easily access such services.
“The musical therapy helps patients through the development of their social skills. It hence significantly contributes to improving their quality of life and overall insertion in the society, and I am happy to see all that in practice,” said Marina.
 Nordoff-Robbins music therapy results from the pioneering teamwork over 17 years of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. The Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy was originally created as a therapeutic approach for children and adults with significant developmental disabilities. It is based on the belief that everyone possesses a sensitivity to music that can be utilized for personal growth and development. In this form of treatment, patients take an active role in creating music together with their therapists