Eka Tsulukidze, 39 years old, Village Pari, Svaneti

“I conducted my first lesson as a teacher when I was 18 years old.

I was studying at the Faculty of Philology, and suddenly a vacancy appeared in our village: I had to teach Georgian language lessons in one-on-one classes. This is where my story as a teacher began. At first, I didn’t take this profession seriously. I couldn’t see myself in this field. After some time, I fell so much in love with working with young people, that I can’t even imagine myself anywhere else.

My work in not limited only to teaching the subject. Being a teacher in the village is not easy. This place, where nothing happens, doubles the responsibility towards children. I soon realized that I had to start changing and reinforcing moral values in children. For that, I founded a small civic club with the vision to change young people’s attitudes towards many things. We first started with environmental topics. It was back in 2013 and no one cared about this issue at all. We started talking about the natural landfill problem and what’s important, other people followed us. I saw that involvement in this issue should have been done by uniting the entire population. That was the reason we set up a youth NGO and won a grant. After that, we started working on landfills, bought trash bins and an unprecedented thing happened: for the first time, we got the cooperation between civil and public sectors. We signed a memorandum with the local government and they allocated a landfill to our village. This car didn’t have a crane and the kids and I loaded garbage with our own hands. This is how the behavior of our villagers has changed in terms of environmental protection.

For young people in Svaneti, it’s difficult to find their purpose in life. Due to a faulty education system, many children are left without quality education. Due to the social background, you can’t force a child to go to school and study. As a result, young people are left without hope. Nowadays, there is a shortage of professional staff in rural schools. The school has to help young people realize themselves, it’s very important for the school to help them develop their life skills, such as learning how to learn, effective self-presentation skills so that they can focus on personal development on their own.

One of the major disadvantages of our schools is that schools today are mainly giving factual knowledge. The importance of non-formal education in the development process of a child’s personality is very important. There are children who don’t want to study but are great in other various activities. Sometimes you will notice such a talent in them that you’ll wonder why they aren’t active during the lesson. It actually depends on the teacher – how he will find the key to open up the child and how he’ll bring their skills to the surface. There are no children without talent. But there are teachers who don’t know how to communicate with a child. For me it’s not important if the child can recite homework in one breath, but for him to see interesting details behind the words and discover something new. Often, giving the child opportunities to think freely is the greatest motivation. I’ve often been told that it is awkward for them to come to class unprepared.

I remember we studied Vazha-Pshavela’s poems. I offered one of the students, who could easily memorize poems, to build a model of a Khevsurian house with stones. He did the task very well. Moreover, he found out that he was interested in handcrafting and had a talent for it too. I advised him to go the professional route and as it happened, he really did, and now he’s an extraordinary artist. He is practically the only one in the region that makes Svanetian wooden items and musical instruments. If I hadn’t pushed him at the right time, he might not even have discovered this ability in himself.

There were years when we had to dream about books in school. Children didn’t have modern literature, high-quality prints, there weren’t any literacy-promoting activities. In the village, there was practically no place for literature. I organized donations and formed a literature club. The interest wasn’t big, so I decided to use the synthesis of learning and work – we painted the walls with the children, arranged the interior place, and gradually they began to feel the belonging to the club. I see day by day, how with the help of non-formal education, children change their thinking, and the ways their civic and social responsibilities are developing.

I’m glad that I was able to change their attitudes and values. With these values, these children think not only of themselves but also of the well-being of the community in which they live.

I think that the role of the teacher is also to give the children the right direction in their future employment. Professional studies are not very popular in our people, mostly because parents have a negative attitude to it. Because of that, I started an awareness campaign. I started a social enterprise, where young people are able to master their skills. At this point, my future plan is to set up an innovation center where young people can take programming and robotics courses. I have set a quota – out of 70 students, there will be 35 girls, including young people with disabilities.

In 2017, I became a finalist for the National Teacher Award; this gave me great motivation. Also, it was an opportunity for me to evaluate and re-evaluate my past path. This recognition convinced me that I was on the right path and that I was not only a teacher of Georgian literature to young people but also the one who thinks like them.

I’m constantly evolving. I try to find out the modern best practices and share them with teachers who don’t have access to them. Obviously, all of this is not easy for me. I have 4 children. When I come home from work, I have to do house chores and, in fact, I’m still working when I need to be resting. Our salary is so low, that many teachers work only on absolute enthusiasm. I still think that the teacher needs to understand the responsibilities that they owe to generations.’’

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili