One thing I’ve noticed over the past two years, given that I have two host sisters in their teens, is that Georgians kids really, really love competitions. And international organizations are eager to feed that love, too. Not only are there a myriad of local and state competitions, but the British Council, the EU, and numerous others sponsor an endless flow of contests and shows which reward the winners richly. Many competitions are academic; some focus on specific issues, like a recent competition to show who best knew the Georgian Constitution, and others are just pure standardized test-taking and score-counting. The stakes are high in the 12th grade – the very top performers get free college tuition from the government. Then there are English essay and recitation contests, film contests, overseas opportunities, art … really, everything you can imagine.
I’m not sure how I feel about all this incessant competing, but my host sisters, Salome and Nutsa, are enthusiastic participants, so I’ve been pulled into the process more than once. The outcomes are often good, though not always, and when that happens, it can be very disappointing. I’ve been impressed by Salome’s perseverance – last year she made it through a pretty grueling process to the very end of the Giffoni Children’s Film Festival finals, but was not selected. This year she tried again, and this time she was selected as a juror and will be traveling to the south of Italy for ten days this summer. It takes nothing from her achievement to point out that a young Georgian living in an impoverished village somewhere out in the rural hinterlands would have no more chance of entering and/or winning this competition than the proverbial snowball in hell. For one, you have to speak fluent English. For another, you have to have internet access to find out about the competition, and to submit your application on-line. You have to have the self-confidence and self-esteem to even feel yourself worthy of applying. And, significantly, you have to be able to afford to travel to Tbilisi for interviews, for participation in Giffoni Georgia, and, should you be lucky enough to win, to pay airfare to Italy. All this is just so far outside the experience and resources of the majority of Georgian teenagers living outside of major cities, in small, impoverished villages, that it simply will never happen … or at least, it will never happen until things change, particularly the educational system, which heavily favors those who can afford private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, such as those that Salome and Nutsa are afforded by their loving, supportive parents.
I recently have read some interesting blog posts from ISET, the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University on the topic of secondary education in Georgia. For those who are interested, see here:
On a somewhat less serious note, I thought it would be fun to present a few small videos of one of these competitions. This is the British Council English competition held each year in Gori. Kids compete in a two-stage process, stage one being an essay, and stage 2 being a recitation. There’s entertainment, and prizes include cellphones and iPads. The level of fluency of competitors is really quite impressive. Below is a sampling of the entertainment, along with Salome’s recitation.
I particularly enjoyed watching the kids doing traditional dance. When I was coming into the building, I wasn’t sure where the contest was – there are two auditoriums. I was talking on my cellphone with someone from my Tbilisi office, in English, and I kind of wandered toward the bigger auditorium, only to notice that the entrance had been sealed off and construction was going on. I turned around to face about 12 kids, dressed in traditional dancing costumes, literally to a person staring at me in quite obvious dismay. No one spoke – they just stared. It was funny, because I knew exactly what was going on. They heard me speaking English, and they wanted to tell me to go upstairs, and they didn’t know how to say it in English. I know that look, because I personally wear it several times a week. It was particularly funny because actually, they could have said it in Georgian, and I would have understood them – my language skills are at about that level. Or they could have just pointed, “upstairs!” But they were frozen, absolutely unable to even move. I was relieved to see that they were able to step it up for their performance, haha.
There was also entertainment with young people belting out pop songs, mostly ballads, at excruciating volumes, with a lot of emoting and hair-tossing … I didn’t record those. 🙂
My other host sister, the younger Nutsa, is no less talented. A very gifted artist, she won an international art competition – the World In Your Hands Art Contest, run by the NGO Together for Girls. Her artwork was featured in Safe Magazine, and shown at the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2016. The instructions were:
We all know that girls can achieve great things and be powerful agents of change when they’re given the right tools, support, and opportunities. Unfortunately, poor health, violence, lack of education, gender inequality and discrimination, and violations of girls’ human rights often keep girls from reaching their potential. So what should we do?
How would you improve girls’ health? How would you reduce violence or gender inequality? How should we address the violation of girls’ rights? We want you to use your artistic talent to show us your solution.
Use your creativity and talent to create a piece of art that illustrates how you might overcome one of these barriers confronting adolescent girls:
Gender inequality and discrimination
Violation of girls’ human rights
Lack of access to education
Show us your solutions – take the world in your hands – and help us build a better, brighter world.
Nutsa’s result, one of the top five chosen, was this:
This water color painting was accompanied by the following essay (written with help from Salome):
When I heard about this competition, I started thinking about how to say and how to show my ideas about violations of human rights for girls. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest problems in the world. I live in the Republic of Georgia. Last year in my country, nine girls died because of violence. In my country people think that a girl’s “work” is to stay in the kitchen and have kids. Because of these incorrect opinions and stereotypes that some parents have, sometimes girls marry as young as 14 or 15. That’s it why I made a painting about violating girls’ human rights. When people see a violation of a girl’s rights, they always close their eyes and think that it isn’t their business. In my opinion if we will close our eyes again, and if we won’t do anything to protest violence against girls, this problem will come to us, too. There are governmental and non-governmental organizations working in my country to solve this problem. I want to join them and show you my thoughts about how to solve this problem. I think that if we will forget silly but strong stereotypes, if we will be brave, strong and educated about our rights, we will solve this problem and we will show the world that we can do all the things we want. Because we are brave, we are strong. We are courageous and educated girls.
All of this makes me very proud of these two girls.