One of my students, Giorgi (most common name for a male in Georgia) with the Georgian Flag painted on his face

One of my students, Giorgi (most common name for a male in Georgia) with the Georgian Flag painted on his face

How does one begin to describe the mystery that is Georgia? First off you clarify people’s confusion: ‘No, I will not be flying to Atlanta, Georgia. I will be flying to Tbilisi, Georgia. The former Soviet Republic nestled within the Caucasus Mountain Range.’

I work for an organization called Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG), which places teachers in schools across the country. I have been very fortunate to be placed in the town of Tsalenjikha. The municipal area borders the breakaway region of Abkhazia and so plays host to thousands of refugees who had to flee Abkhazia during the civil war that broke out with the collapse of the Soviet Union. At first glance the town looks like a movie scene for the production of an intense war drama.

Most of the buildings in the central part of the town are still rundown, and most of the townsfolk still drive Russian Lada cars. The town may look pretty damaged, but it is by glancing into the homes of the people that one can see the true nature of the town spirit.

The senior students in town to part in a Christmas 'flash mob'.

The senior students in town to part in a Christmas ‘flash mob’.

After being here for five months I have realized that the primary focus of development is not to fix the rundown infrastructure, but to develop the minds of the youth and to foster a sense of community. Large emphasis is being placed on cultural activities and the youngsters are eagerly taking part in cultural projects. Another objective instigated by the Georgian government is creating global awareness in Georgia. Most of the Georgians can speak Russian but it is seen as the language of the oppressor. The South Ossetian War of 2008 led to an even more tense relationship between Georgia and Russia, after which several diplomatic ties were severed. Georgia is currently looking towards the West to help further the democratization process in the country, and part of that process is the implementation of Western democratic ideals.

In July 2010, Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, started the Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) program. The project aims to improve English language proficiency of the Georgian children and assist in Georgia’s globalization endeavors. For years the Georgian people were cut off from Western media and although they have access to this media now their language skills prevent them from benefiting from it. The limits of one’s vocabulary are really the limits of one’s reality and as a teacher in Georgia I am able to improve the Georgians’ grasp of reality outside of the country.

Taia: Means of transport to a church on the top of a hill on St. George's day.

Taia: Means of transport to a church on the top of a hill on St. George’s day.

As SAWIPers we go to Washington, D.C. to learn about the United States’ democratic institutions and values. We are given the opportunity to share our experience with other South Africans from a vast array of spheres. I have learned a lot from my experience as a member of SAWIP and I am very excited to be able to put some of the leadership experience that SAWIP has offered me to use in Georgia. By serving the community that is hosting me I have been able to help with the production of an English play wherein the values of Georgian culture and the values of democracy are woven together. By having discussion groups on culture and identity I learn from the students, and they learn from me.

Three students at the school Christmas Pageant.

Three students at the school Christmas Pageant.

As South Africans we are fortunate to live in a multicultural society through which we are taught about tolerance and acceptance & cultural differences and cultural similarities. It is by using our country as a classroom that we are able to interact with the world with open eyes and open minds.