It Takes A Village, My Experience as A PATA Blum Grant Awardee

Leanne Bolano, fourth year undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Management at UC Davis and PATA Blum Grant Awardee 2016.

August 26, 2016

For two weeks of my trip in Georgia, I will be leading and teaching a training to 20 participants in a town called Bediani for the Bediani Regional Education Center (BREC), a branch under the Bediani Children’s Center (BCC). Bediani, located in the Tsalka Municipality of Georgia, has a small but mighty population count of 160. Most of those inhabiting the area are children, many of whom were displaced following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and sought extra support and resources from BCC.

Now, over 20 years later, there is a desire in the village to receive the necessary education that would enable the community to implement a series of projects. These projects would allow the area to be self-sustained financially, covering a wide range of topics. Seeing as the land in Tsalka is very fertile and the surrounding environment would support agriculture quite well, the project ideas of the students all relate to better utilizing Bediani’s natural resources. They include commercial flower production, educational beekeeping, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that works as a weekly box system, and more. Thus each day, the students receive time with me to learn how to develop their ideas into a business plan and time with a guest lecturer to learn the basics of agriculture, natural resources management, and entrepreneurship.

 

View of my students in the newly renovated BREC training room on the first day of class.

View of my students in the newly renovated BREC training room on the first day of class.

As I have now completed the first week of this training, I am genuinely and totally impressed by these students. The first day of the training felt like a breeze, because there was no heavy material to teach. The activities were light, and consisted of a lot of icebreakers and crafty games. The response was very positive, and so I thought the rest of the training would be as easy. But alas, come Tuesday, both the students and I were having more trouble than anticipated. It became clear that the material was more arduous and complex than the students expected. On the flip side, I am challenged every day to improve and adjust my means of communication, given the language barrier. Although I may feel that I’ve explained something from the lesson perfectly in English, I am slowly learning that it is not guaranteed that it will translate the same way in Georgian. This makes casual conversation a struggle, but it is especially important to consider when teaching a new topic to a room full of expectant, yet confused villagers. But upon realizing this, the week took a turn for the better. I think both my students and I adjusted to each other’s’ perspectives, and gained a bit more patience. And now I see their drive, their creativity, their willingness and hunger for learning. It is so fulfilling to witness.

Me teaching the first lesson as my project client, Kakhaber Bakhtadze, translates.

Me teaching the first lesson as my project client, Kakhaber Bakhtadze, translates.

I see how passionate these people are about improving their quality of life in the village, and how excited they are to become equipped with the skills they need to use their natural resources in an efficient and sustainable way. I believe that my work here as a Blum Fellow is teaching me to consider the differences in cultural and educational values, and use those considerations to better interact and connect with different groups of people. I know these lessons will prove to be valuable as I move forth in my academic and professional career; but as of right now, I am just thrilled to wake up each day Bediani and see what new dreams and wishes my students have for their community.