David Gavasheli and his wife, Nino Tsereteli, have been refugees of war two times. In 1993, David was a professor of design at a college in Tbilisi, a city in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. An ethnic and political civil war raged around the couple and their infant son, Luka. One night it came to their doorstep. “Five armed guys came to our house with machine guns, hit me on the forehead, and took everything,” David said. “I had no money to buy milk for my 10-month-old son.”
Escaping from Violence
The next year, David and his family fled from their homeland to Haifa, Israel, where they would live for a decade. David worked as a stained glass artist, while Nino taught art. Soon they welcomed their second son, Matthew. But again, they lived amidst escalating violence in the tumultuous Middle East. A bus was bombed near their home. Gunfire pierced the night. “I was really afraid for my children,” David said.
David and Nino once again sought a safe place to raise their sons. The Gavashelis tried for three years to immigrate to the United States and become permanent residents. The night before they learned they won the green card lottery, Nino saw a white dove flying outside their window. The family hoped the bird was a sign that they would one day find a peaceful home. A year later, the Gavasheli family was living in subsidized housing in Madison, New Jersey. David found work as a stained glass artist and interior designer, while Nino was a library assistant in Madison. Even with two salaries, however, the Gavashelis struggled financially. Their dream of owning a home seemed impossible.
A Safe Place to Raise Their Sons in Peace
In 2013, David and Nino partnered with Morris Habitat to build the safe and secure home they could barely imagine on a terrible night in Georgia twenty years earlier. Alongside hundreds of volunteers, the family of four framed walls, hung Sheetrock, installed roofing and painted. “We did it with our own hands,” David said. “My older son, he knows almost everything about how to build a house.”
One day during construction, Nino saw a white dove flying between the home’s open beams. The Gavashelis were in awe. It was as if the bird of peace they first saw in Israel had followed them to their new home. “It’s difficult to believe,” David said. “We see it as a sign for us. We had to put this sign on our house. It means hope and peacefulness for the future.” Just above the entrance to his Morris Habitat home in Madison, David Gavasheli created a stunning stained glass window of a white dove resting among branches. The bird is a symbol of hope, endurance and peace, and a daily reminder of their journey – spanning more than twenty years and three continents – to find a safe home for their family.
By 2016, the Gavashelis were settled in their home. Son Luka had graduated from college and embarked on a career as a graphic designer in New York City. Matthew attended Madison High School and shared the same artistic talent as his parents and brother. The mortgage on their Morris Habitat home is 25 percent less than their rental, enabling them to save each month and help Luka pay off his college loans. The home also includes a basement that David and Nino converted to a studio where they do their artwork.
But most importantly, each time they pass beneath the white dove that graces their front door, they are reminded of how their Morris Habitat home brought them peace. “When we came to the U.S., we came not just to find jobs, we came to become Americans,” David said. “Morris Habitat, and everyone who helped, they really changed the life of my family and of future generations of this family.”