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Teachable Moment: Georgian Uses Classroom Cred To Help Poor Schools

Lado Apkhazava: "I try to create for my students the kind of environment they deserve."
Lado Apkhazava: "I try to create for my students the kind of environment they deserve."

Lado Apkhazava is a schoolteacher in the village of Chibati, near the Black Sea, in one of the poorest parts of Georgia.

His underdeveloped Guria region is economically depressed, and the parents of many of Apkhazava's students have been forced to look for work abroad.

He says many of his pupils live in meager conditions and come to school hungry.

So when Apkhazava was nominated for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize for 2019 and made the list of 10 finalists, the 43-year-old announced that if he won the accompanying $1 million prize he'd donate it to the area's schools and its students.

Apkhazava -- who was named Georgia's schoolteacher of the year in 2017 -- was disappointed when he didn't win the award, which went to Kenyan science teacher Peter Tabichi.

Yet Apkhazava was still mobbed by his proud students upon his return on March 27 from the world's best teacher award ceremony in Dubai.

Lado Apkhazava lives by the slogan "the future is in education."
Lado Apkhazava lives by the slogan "the future is in education."

But Apkhazava's quest to help the schools and students in his region didn't end there.

The story of Apkhazava's emergence as an elite, world-class teacher has inspired a businesswoman in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to start a campaign to raise money for the local schoolteacher's cause.

Ana Mikadze-Chikvaidze started the Facebook campaign Let's Raise A Million For Lado Apkhazava, asking people to donate one lari (about one-third of a dollar) to the teacher so he could use the funds to help schools in Guria.

"Lado managed to introduce Georgia to the world [through his nomination as a superior teacher]," Mikadze-Chikvaidze said. "I realized that this young man deserves love and support from our society."

Apkhazava was overwhelmed by Mikadze-Chikvaidze's gesture. "This will be a bigger responsibility for me than to win a million dollars," he said. "When society becomes united and demands that the teacher profession be appreciated and recognized, this is the greatest responsibility. Our country is ready to help the teacher. This should be a signal for the government, too."

Apkhazava had previously worked with private companies to help improve conditions for students in Guria -- where none of the schools has a cafeteria -- and also secured funds to bring computers and foreign-language books to schools in Guria.

He has also built and maintains -- along with his students -- a greenhouse that the school uses to grow fruit and vegetables, an idea he wants to bring to other schools in Guria.

"I try to create for my students the kind of environment they deserve," Apkhazava says. "When you let a child solve even the smallest of problems, they begin to think that they are caring for their homeland and their country."

Georgia, an economically lagging former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people, is also plagued by divisive territorial issues with neighboring Russia, which has troops in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But Apkhazava, who says he lives by the slogan "the future is in education," sees hope for his country, and he sees the education system in Georgia "slowly gathering strength."

"I see many steps forward being made, which sparks hope in me for the future."

Written by Pete Baumgartner, based on reporting by Nino Tarkhnishvili and Lela Kunchulia of RFE/RL's Georgian Service and RFE/RL Havel Fellow reporter Tornike Mandaria
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    Nino Tarkhnishvili

    Nino Tarkhnishvili has worked in the Tbilisi bureau of RFE/RL's Georgian Service since 2009. Her work focuses on health, human rights, education, minorities, and other social issues.