Khinkali birthday dinner in Dusheti

Dusheti, a town 30 miles northeast of Tbilisi, is well known for its khinkali. Susanna joins other women in making khinkali for a birthday dinner; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Tamuna Gogatishvili invited us to Maia’s home in Dusheti, where friends and extended family members gathered to celebrate Mate’s 15th birthday; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Mate blows out the candles on his birthday cake–a raspberry layered white cake; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Maia must have spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking the meal and making the delicious birthday cake; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

After dinner, the young generation danced traditional Georgian dances and played the piano for everyone’s pleasure; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Public School 112

4th grade class at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Story and photos by Susanna Melo

Having been a public school teacher most of my life, I was excited about spending this morning at Public School 112. My friend Tamuna Gogatishvili teaches English at this first through twelfth grade school.

On many prior occasions, Tamuna and I exchanged notes on our classroom experiences as English teachers in two very different countries. Tamuna always struck me as being an extremely conscientious, caring and dedicated teacher who is concerned with instilling good values in her students in order to build a stronger Georgia.  Today my beliefs were confirmed. You could sense the respect of her peers and students. In fact, a teacher stopped me to tell me how much she appreciated her colleague.

After visiting the teachers’ lounge, we walked down a long hallway where students chatted lively before the next class began. Then we visited a fourth grade classroom. The regular teacher transmitted kindness, and one could tell she was proud of her students. The children sang in polyphonic voices for me, performed some short Georgian traditional dances, and when it came time for Tamuna to teach her English class, the students all introduced themselves to me in beautiful English! They told me their name, age, grade, what they liked doing; they told me something about their school, their families, pets, and so on with poise and ease. I noticed that Tamuna solely spoke English to them and I must say that I was very happy to observe that!  No wonder the 9 and 10-year old children were so good at speaking and understanding her!

Tamuna’s huge class of 11th graders also impressed me.  When they introduced themselves, they had something personal and interesting to say. Many told me they enjoyed reading; some students had dreams of traveling the world. Others informed me of future careers they would like to pursue or told me about their three-generational families. But better still were their thoughtful questions to me. They wanted to know what I thought of Georgian history, culture, food and people as well as what places I had already visited. They also wanted to assess what I thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the new generation of Georgians. What I found interesting was a question about my religion and the differences between being a Protestant and an Georgian Orthodox.  This student even wanted to know if churches in the USA have seats because here they don’t.

Keith and I have commented amongst ourselves and with others how much we enjoy the youth in this country. They seem natural, down to earth, happy and healthy—not yet affected by the negative side of pop culture. This observation also applies to the young people of Public School 112, whom I got to know just a little today.

Another treat was in store for me! The choir instructor brought a mixed group of middle and high school students into the teachers’ lounge to sing in the traditional Georgian polyphonic manner. Some young boys, in costume, acted out a skit. I could not understand the Georgian, but I picked up on their overall excitement!

To the students and teachers that I met at Public School 112, I want to express my gratitude for allowing me into your school and for giving me a glimpse into your lives.

Tamuna—you are an inspiration to others!

Tamuna Gogatishvili’s 4th grade English classat Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

4th grade class singing at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

4th grade dancing at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

11th grade class at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Skit at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo; 2012.

Performance at Public School 112; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Building camaraderie amongst youth from Georgia and other countries

International youth group visits Illia Chavchavadze’s home; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Story and photos by Susanna Melo

Tamuna Gogatishvili, IWA member, recently organized a day tour to Saguramo (near Mtskheta). The purpose of the tour was two-fold: 1) to integrate her Georgian students, who are studying English, with young people of different nationalities in order to build camaraderie and 2) to offer an educational experience by visiting one of Georgia’s well known sites: Ilia Chachavadze’s home, which is now a museum. Adults were also present during the outing. Four lovely Georgian mothers, along with Tamuna, worked until the wee hours of the morning to prepare a table full of tasty Georgian dishes for the hungry crowd!

The day began with beautiful weather (despite the forecast for rain). After a 40-minute bus ride, the fun began. In the lush vegetation surrounding the museum, IWA member Kirstin Muller conducted several ice-breaking exercises. Through multiple group dynamic activities, we quickly learned everyone’s name and from then on relating to each other became easier.

As part of the learning experience, the large group was divided into smaller units; each received a list of questions about Ilia Chavchavadze’s life. The answers could be obtained if you listened carefully during the guided tour of the museum, or if you were observant, or if you asked the right questions. At the end of the day, a selected group of participants judged which group had the best responses.

If you’re not already familiar with Ilia’s life, then here are a few important facts. He was born in 1837 and 50 years later was canonized as Saint Ilia the Righteous by the Georgian Orthodox Church due to his role as writer, poet, journalist and lawyer who spearheaded the revival of the Georgian national movement in the second half of the 19th century during the Russian rule of Georgia. Today he is recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern Georgia.

By late afternoon, a torrential rain fell upon us, but the group didn’t mind being crowded on the small porch of Ilia’s house, which offered us protection. By that time, the initial feeling of unease, when you don’t know members of group that come together for the first time, had been well washed away.

Tamuna’s tour was a success as her objectives were met: getting to know one another breaks down barriers and creates communion, and what better way of doing this than through an educational experience. I, at least, got to visit a new place in Georgia and learn about a prominent Georgian figure I knew nothing about. Thank you, Tamuna!

Kirstin Muller (left) and Tamuna Gogatishvili were group leaders; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.