Conference Call: Mestia, Svaneti


My wife and I were re­cently invited to participate in a Saturday educational event held in the auditorium of Mestia Museum. Teachers, pupils, education professionals and others came together to discuss the state of school learning in Georgia, both acknowledging its shortcomings and looking at real possibilities. We also went through the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the planet, and were spurred on by a number of guest speakers, including one Mr Lado Abkhazava of Lanchkhuti, Guria, who was recently awarded the title of Teacher of the Year in Georgia.

This man went through some of his numerous school and community projects, and demonstrated admirably, if humbly, why he deserves the title. Thousands of plants and tree seedlings were planted and cared for in his province by schoolchildren, various schools and other institutions competing for numbers in the “By My Own Hands” project. He has worked, using specific projects, to better integrate non-Georgian brides into Gurian society- women from Azerbajiani, Armenian, Russian, and other backgrounds who were simply not being invited to participate in their communities’ social life. He strives to lessen Muslim-Orthodox tensions and interracial hatred, starting at the school level.

Some of Lado’s other projects include “My own Pet,” in which pupils were encouraged to bring a pet of theirs to school and talk about it. There was “Democratic Revolution,” an experiment in school politics, complete with campaigning and voting, along with the necessity of then carrying out one’s campaign promises if elected. “Eat Vegetables and not Your Classmates” dealt with stressful school issues such as bullying. “Debates in the Village Yard” involved talking about and against violence in the community. “Lessons Outdoors” aimed to be just that, taking advantage of extra-classroom spaces to learn in whole new ways. He also tackled local garbage issues, and more, and more. Being a Gurian means that he is at the other end of the scale of speaking speed from Rachans, who are regarded as speaking the slowest, with Gurians the fastest, of the Georgian speakers. But he made himself quite understood on this, the occasion of his first visit to Svaneti. And his boundless energy and enthusiasm shone through, inspiring all of us just to think of the possibilities for action, change and growth in our own villages.

The Sustainable Development Goals look like a very worthwhile set of targets at which to aim to improve society around the world. One thing I did, however, feel like standing up and asking about was official, national support for the status, protection and growth of the Svan language, spoken by less than 1% of the population of this country. I get accused of being a separatist when I raise this question, and two Ministers of Science and Education with whom I have discussed it have soon thereafter lost their jobs… So maybe this conference was not the right time and place. But the question still burns for me: how to SUSTAIN this magnificent and very ancient language?

My wife’s school production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in English was also invited to be shown at the event, but was later postponed until Intellect Day, which is June 1, along with some other local schools’ dramas. We’ve already had the first public performance, at our own Etseri School, but this will be a bigger venue and audience. If such conferences continue, and have the desired effects, education’s future is looking brighter than we have thought for some time now.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1850 members, at

By Tony Hanmer

17 May 2018 21:38