A world under fresh covers - Textbooks Donated to Conflict-Affected Georgian Schools
By Pamela Renner
For Georgian families affected by the recent war, buying books for their children may be a hardship, if not altogether impossible. Students without books are doubly disadvantaged in school. Those from cash-strapped refugee families have a tough time keeping up with peers academically. For this reason, UNICEF has joined forces with an international coalition of philanthropic partners to provide more than 30,000 new textbooks to the Georgian schools hit hardest by the August war, so that 5,000 economically vulnerable pupils will have immediate access to education. Learning for Georgian youth should not be a casualty of conflict.
The new books will reach internally displaced children in collective centers, as well as young people in war-torn regions of Gori, Kareli, Kaspi and Khasuri. There is an immediate need throughout these regional schools for better access to pedagogical knowledge and for contemporary textbooks.
Giovanna Barbaris, UNICEF Representative in Georgia, explained: “The provision of textbooks is a challenge for the Georgian education sector. Their cost is too high for many parents and this, in many cases, prevents children from enrolling in schooling. We continue our work to ensure that the lack of textbooks does not deprive children of their basic right to free education.”
On February 12, 2009, the new textbooks were presented in a donation ceremony at Khashuri School Number 3, attended by representatives of UNICEF and its philanthropic partners in this effort: World Vision, The International Rescue Committee, The Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, and The Alma Adamkus Charity and Support Fund of Lithuania. Working in partnership with the Ministry and Education and Science of Georgia, these organizations joined hands to purchase and distribute schoolbooks to war-torn regions of the Georgian nation.
“Textbooks cost money, and they change rapidly, so can’t be passed on to siblings,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Georgia, Kendra Gregson, speaking at the ceremony in Khashuri. The distribution effort takes the onus off individual families, and puts books in the public domain. It embraces students in 140 schools; the new books will become part of the local school libraries. Thousands of children – some living in Tbilisi’s shelters and collective centers – will have immediate access to new books, removing one set of financial barriers to academic progress.
Addressing an auditorium packed with Khashuri’s students, teachers, foreign dignitaries and a Georgian educational minister, UNICEF’s Gregson noted that the new books will help reinforce the use of libraries in many rural areas of Georgia.
“We thought it would help you exercise your basic right to an education,” Gregson told the young people of Khashuri, who sat listening with quiet appreciation in the audience.
The Latvian Mission representative, Raimonds Vingris, rose and quoted Aristotle: “The rules of education are difficult but the fruit of education is sweet.” Mecys Laurinkus, Ambassador of Lithuania, spoke of his nation’s solidarity: “After the tragic events in your country, our country has sympathy for you,” he said to Khashuri’s youth. “You are very smart and brave.”
On a long display table at the front of the auditorium, many volumes of new textbooks with glossy covers lay in pristine stacks. Mathematics texts, Russian grammars, literature surveys, volumes on Georgian geography, world history, and English language skills sat cheek-by-jowl: a passport to the world of learning and academic progress. Students and teachers peered at the books. They did not touch them -- not yet. That would come later.
Shorena Lomidze is a 27-year-old English teacher at Khashuri School. Before the ceremony began, she spoke with a reporter: “Come, meet my seventh-graders. They are learning English.” In their auditorium seats, Lomidze’s students glanced shyly at the educational ministers and international dignitaries at the front of the room. They turned warm smiles to the teacher in their midst.
Lomidze said quietly, “I have one student who lives in the conflict region. His family finds it impossible to buy books. It was difficult for him to overcome this problem.”
In the higher grades, she confessed, she’s had some discipline problems, exacerbated by her own youth and the chronic shortage of educational materials. “I try to be friendly to them, to draw them in,” she said of her less obedient pupils. Lomidze uses games like “Simple Simon” to motivate her classes and get all the students involved.
Her seventh graders gathered around their teacher in knots, eyes curious, eager to communicate with a visitor. When asked about their favorite books, the answers came in rapid-fire succession: “Robinson Crusoe,” “Harry Potter,” “Mark Twain,” “Fairy tales,” “Galaktion Tabidze’s poems.”
Tamuna Buachidze, 12, enjoys reading Ilya Chavchavadze, modern Georgia’s founding national poet and writer of conscience. With serious eyes, Tamuna listened to the newcomers and took in the span of their geographic origin.
Toomas Lukk, the Estonia Ambassador to Georgia, said to Tamuna and her classmates, “My message, being here, standing in front of you today, is that you have friends. Through geography, you will learn where these friends come from. Across the Black Sea, the Baltic Seas, there are many children just like you.”
Someday, Tamuna may meet them. Meanwhile, books are a connection with the vast world beyond Georgia’s borders. Tamuna is thirsty for knowledge, and enjoys studying natural science. She plans to learn more about environmental studies.
“When I’m grown, the twelve-year-old says, “I want to travel the world and invent something new.”
After the final speeches were done, a group of talented students from Khashuri shared their own gifts with all the gathered dignitaries. Selected students recited poems, sang traditional songs and galvanized the room with gracefully acrobatic Georgian dances. They wore traditional costumes, diaphanous veils and long satin skirts that billowed as they danced. Little girls with sparkling earrings spun in circular loops, while slender boys in dress coats leapt up in the air, landing soundlessly on their toes before leaping again.
Old Georgian tunes filled the air. As is typical in this nation, the international visitors were overwhelmed– moved and humbled – by the groundswell of spirit and song.
Tamta Ivanishvili contributed translations and reporting to this feature.