Maka Menteshashvili, 31 years old, village Tsereteli, the municipality of Marneuli
‘’I finished school here in Tsereteli. Unlike today, back then Azerbaijani children weren’t admitted to Georgian schools. Therefore, the first time I had contact with an ethnic minority was in the Takalo village, where I taught the Georgian language for 4 years at an Azerbaijani school. Then I graduated from Tbilisi State University with a bachelor’s degree, then, working at the same time, I studied for a master’s degree in Iliauni, passed a 60-point teacher training program and I’m a senior Georgian language teacher, and also a second language teacher in Azerbaijani schools.
It was very interesting working in Takalo’s Azerbaijani school. Many people there thought I knew the Azerbaijani language and they had such an attitude – I lived in Marneuli, so how could I not know the language?! At first, I stayed there during workdays, then municipal transport routes became more frequent, and, even though Takalo’s 25 kilometers away from my village, I commuted every day.
My students loved the Georgian lessons very much. Especially, they wanted to receive non-formal education. I was not a civic education teacher, but I also tried to be active in that regard. We involved the children in radio projects and they loved it very much. But we had a transportation problem – one child needed 8 GEL to go to and back from Marneuli and when there were two kids in the family, it was quite a big amount. But somehow, we managed it and there were 5-6 radio interns from Azerbaijani at all times.
We rallied on various issues. For example, we held a rally focused on early marriage because this issue was very important and we witnessed frequent cases of kidnapping. First, we conducted a seminar for children on this topic. Also, the Public Defender’s office issued brochures about the subject, which we subscribed to and distributed in Azerbaijani. The population there did not know, for example, that early marriage is punishable and requires court permission until 16 years. We made posters and marched in the streets. Our action turned out to be effective, but then I thought about how dangerous it was to do something like that in such a community. We’ve focused on other issues as well. But I’m bringing up this one since it’s really one of the most important topics here.
Nowadays they have more information and when they know that they will be punished if they kidnap someone, In order to ensure that a girl doesn’t get kidnapped before she becomes an adult, they get engaged in advance. The parents justify this by saying that they won’t be able to protect their daughters if they get kidnapped. during this time, the girl is enrolled in school as if like studying, but in fact, she stays at home to be safe. That means that their level of education suffers. About three years ago, before I left Takalo school, a 12th grader was kidnapped. That girl really wanted to study and would have a great future, she even studied in the after hours, so that I could teach her new things on the computer. I knew she wanted to study, she was very eager and I tried my best to help her. She was kidnapped and the police couldn’t find her for 2-3 days. Then, as it often happens, she stayed with the kidnapper and got married. This story received a lot of attention. I contacted everyone I could. It was really horrible. The girl who went to school and wanted to realize herself in life was kidnapped and forced to marry someone.
Young people don’t want to get married or have a wife and they all think that it doesn’t have to happen this way. When I offered to hold a seminar on this topic, every single one supported me. I’m sure this problem will be solved sometime in the future, but it needs generational changes. It would be great to tighten the laws, because, when we informed people about this during a rally, they were a little scared.
Now I work in a school in Tsereteli village and I live here too. During the pandemic, I created an initiative group ‘’Club of the Future’’ together with my pupils. We worked very actively and helped socially vulnerable families. In the evenings, we often have movie nights on different topics. Children like the informal environment and such activities.
Online lessons have two sides to them – it’s great to have an alternative education possible, but on the other hand, it’s bad when not everyone has access to the internet and a computer. Having a sufficient number of computers is also a problem when there are 2-3 children in the family. For the teacher, it’s difficult teaching when you hear outside sounds that disturb lessons, sometimes there are technical issues and the kid gets disconnected from the lesson. At this time, you have to be calm, try to explain the lesson, and keep the class in order. It’s really hard but still better than doing nothing.
There are many vocational schools in Marneuli and it’s very comfortable for the local people. Not everyone can afford to go to Tbilisi to study, and these people have an opportunity to get an education locally – boys, girls, even married people who have children and can’t leave their families for education.
I have many plans. At this point, I want to continue my education and get a Ph.D. degree. Also, I have a dream to see Sokhumi.’’
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri