A school in a remote mountainous village in Samtskhe-Javakheti has injected new life into the near-deserted community. Lamara Panjakidze, teacher and mother to the school’s only two pupils, hopes that it will attract back some of the village's erstwhile residents.
The village of Toki is almost completely empty; the only hope to save the village, is a school.
Sopo, 2, is playing alone in the sand in front of her house. She throws some pebbles around waiting for her brothers, Giorgi and Durmishkan, to come back from school.
Giorgi and Durmishkhan are pupils at the village's public school. Durmishkhan is in the third year, Giorgi in the first; there are no other pupils in the school. Like the pupils, there are two teachers at the school. One of the teachers is Durmishkhan and Giorgi’s mother, Lamara Panjakidze. The second teacher is Nino Khmaladze. Khmaladze teaches Georgian and maths to the brothers, while their mother teaches all other subjects, except for English.
Toki is a mountainous village in Aspindza Municipality, in the southern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. It sits at an altitude of 1640 metres. Because of the harsh climate and difficult living conditions, the village has almost completely emptied. Right now there are no more than 12 families living there.
Toki becomes noisy and crowded only in the summer, when former residents come back for holidays.
It’s hard not to notice the signs of migration in the village. Durmishkan and Giorgi’s house is the only one with children’s clothes hanging in the yard to dry in the sun. The number of children is also small because the school only opened in September 2016. The local municipality allocated a small building, refurbished several rooms, and arranged classes there.
‘We would be forced to move’
‘It wouldn’t be possible to open a new separate school for just two pupils, and so we belong to Aspindza Public School and our pupils are registered as class ‘C’, Panjakidze says.
She says that in the beginning, they requested that a school bus be allocated for children in Toki to drive them to the nearest school, but this didn’t happen.
‘There is a lot of snow in winter and transport wouldn’t make it. That’s why classes opened in our village. I was hoping that children who left the village would come back to study here, but their parents didn’t wish to come back’, she says.
Before the school opened in Toki, Durmishkan lived with her grandmother in another village, Kotelia, and studied in school there. He would see his parents on weekends.
If there was no school in Toki the family would also leave the village.
‘We brought Giorgi to his first class this year. I wouldn’t be able to send them both to their grandmother. We would be forced to move there, the whole family’, Panjakidze says.
The school in Toki is at the edge of the village. It is easy to distinguish the refurbished two-room building with fresh green paint on the walls from the old half-ruined houses.
There are two new desks, a teacher’s desk, and a blackboard in the classroom. There is no furniture in the second room, but there is no need, because next year there will be no children in the first class.
There are wooden swings in the yard — the only entertainment for the brothers. Durmishkhan and Giorgi do not have any friends in the village, there are no other children.
Durmishkhan dreams of becoming a policeman, while Giorgi wants to be a doctor. Considering the conditions they have in the village, they study well; however they do not know English as there is no English teacher in the village.
‘We’ve found two teachers, but they cannot come up here. There is no transport and the road is blocked every winter because of snow’, Lamara says, fearing that when her children graduate the school will again shut down, depriving the village of the one bright thing. If the school will close, the rest of the families in Toki will probably resettle.
By Tinatin Zazadze, Aspindza