We Are Not Bad Guys
Their morning starts at 8:00 AM. It takes them an hour to wash up-or morning toilet, as they call the morning procedure. Then they enter classrooms and take lessons in human rights and the Georgian Constitution. After dinner they have to work in various educational circles. They can learn music, English language and various artworks. At 5:00PM they start to do homework. Finally it is supper time and entertainment… The last part of their daily routine is the most favorite for them. They can watch TV, play football, go on the computer and listen to music.
They are the children who are in the charge of the Commission for Juveniles and reside in the special school of the Ministry of Education and Science in Samtredia. They do not differ from the other children of their age too much.
“Everybody is my friend here. These guys can be real friends. I also try to be the true friend to them. I have spent two years here and have learned many things from my experience. Other children might think we are bad guys, but it is not true. As soon as we leave the place we will start to work and our life from the beginning. I can work on the land. Our director might help me to get some job. He is a very good man,” says twelve-year-old Ucha, who is getting ready to run out into the yard to play football. His friends are waiting for him on the new play ground.
The Special School for juveniles opened in 1966 in Samtredia. Before that, a boarding school for particularly difficult children functioned in this building. The special school is the only establishment in Georgia where boys from 11 to 14 are placed. The Commission for Juveniles has charged them for various crimes.
The commission sends a mediation letter to the Ministry of Education, the Minister sends a letter to the board of the school, and finally the child is accepted at school.
“We do love these children. As soon as they arrive, we read their data, and then put everything aside and a new life starts for them. It cannot be another way,” said Giorgi Meishvili, director of the school. Children from the school say that the new director changed many things since he arrived there. There is neither wire fence round the yard nor a special isolation cell, where punished children used to be placed, any more. The board of the school decided it was unfair to place children in isolation cells, as it was enough to punish them by depriving them from their possibilities to contact people.
“When we sent it to the scrap iron, only two doors weighed half a tone. I wonder why they needed to lock these little children with those doors,” Meishvili cannot help his surprise. He said that the children have never thought about escaping since he changed the regime at school. Before that, such acts occurred quite frequently.
“Why should we run away? We live in very good conditions here. We learn, entertain and work too. We have cows, calves and look after them. We also cultivate the land and the time flies as well,” said fourteen-year-old Giorgi Kobelashvili.
The school really has four cows and they produce diary products on the place. Subsequently, children always have kefir, milk, cheese and butter. The school also has 2 acres of land where children work together with adults.
A work shop has just renewed its activity at school which was destroyed during Mkhedrioni’s raid (armed formation during president Gamsakhurdia’s governance). The school obtained tools, hired a master who teaches boys the hand work, and the children get used to the work. There are 33 children and six financial groups there. Each of these groups includes 7 or 3 children. However, it hinders neither teachers nor children to conduct lessons properly. The Special School has the same educational program as public schools. Sometimes, 13-14 years old boys have to learn the ABC’s together with little children. Finally they get a certificate for compulsory education.
“Completely illiterate children come to our school; they cannot hold a pen, either. However, by the end of the year we have a good result. These guys are so eager to get an education that if I am late for their lesson; they complain that I have missed some minutes from their tutorial time. The children who live here dream about one thing only, to improve their life styles and are going to live honestly in the future. Freshmen at our school are a bit different from the older ones, but eventually they are getting used to the regime of our school,” said Bela Nikuradze, a teacher for the primary classes.
Teachers and their students have friendly relations. There are boys who share their secrets with the director of the school and some of the teachers. They are sure that these people will never give away their secrets. The director of the school does not consider that these children are criminals and treats them like his young friends. “I was a newcomer here, when I saw a teacher was beating a child with nettle. That person was immediately fired. Those who could not adopt our conditions of work left the job. There are only people here who love children and can be their friends,” said Meishvili.
The school has a private psychologist, Tamar Jojua, who individually works with children. She thinks that these children are victims of the hard social situations in our country. She does not appreciate the idea of judging these children. “You cannot bring a 12-13 year-old boy to the court and then send him to prison. Such a punishment will destroy his life totally. I think it is much easier to rehabilitate these children in similar institutions. He certainly must be punished for the crime he has committed, but not by placing him in an ordinary prison. I am sure these boys will never think of doing something wrong when they leave our school,” said Jojua.
Beneficiaries of the Samtredia Special School really do not think of committing crimes in the future. The several hours I spent with them persuaded me of that. They believe in God and their happy future. The children are sure that tomorrow will be much better than today…
Shorena Kakabadze, Kutaisi
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