By Dea Suluashvili
Tako Bakradze was only 23 years old when she started working as a part-time teacher in N63 public school in Tbilisi, Georgia. Once the school principal realized her work ethics, dedication and special connection with the children, she informed her about a full-time job opportunity as an art teacher at №202 School for Visually Impaired Children and offered her to give a positive recommendation for an open vacancy. Tako took the offer without further hesitation and started a new chapter in her life.
It was a cold winter when she entered the school for the first time. Some children were having snowball fights, others were playing hide and seek. Once Tako entered the building, she felt that everyone was extremely joyful and could not even doubt that she was around people with disabilities. In the four walls of the school building, they were free and confident. Tako first realized that students had visual impairment once they left the school yard. The street is where all limitations start to emerge.
Tako had to work a lot on self-development since she could not find organizations or institutions that train teachers on how to teach art to visually impaired students or that increase awareness about inclusive education in Tbilisi. She took some online courses and watched YouTube videos to gain appropriate skills and qualifications, such as how to do tactile plays and sensory activities. She realized that all of her work paid off when she was explaining Rembrandt’s graphical self-portraits to the kids.
Prior to that Rembrandt’s class, she attended a training in Poland where she learned how to make a relief portrayal on a paper. Tako was able to put self-portraits on the paper and gave the ability to students to touch the painting and feel it with their fingers. It was a magical and very emotional moment. Before that day, Tako could only verbally explain the paintings to them. Now they could see the paintings by feeling them. This method took 15 minutes to be taught and one second to change the lives of dozens of students.
Tako managed to build friendships with her students very easily. Some of them suffered from other severe illnesses that caused their visual impairment. Therefore, Tako tries to develop unique strategies and individual approaches for every student to maximize their full potential and does not let the disability limit them. She became more patient and learned how to look at problems with humor and a positive mind.
Unfortunately, the school budget is extremely limited and it is very hard for Tako to get the essential materials for the art class. At therapy house “Dayhome of Social Therapy”, founded by Association for People in Need of Special Care (APNSC), she learned how to reuse the paper, so she collects used papers and recycles them by herself. Furthermore, some of the private schools in Georgia held occasional exhibitions of the artwork done by Tako’s students and using the money raised on events, her school buys the art supplies for her class. Sometimes, they help orphanages with that money. One time, they even bought the decoration for school theatre.
The resource scarcity remains the biggest issue in the school because of financial problems. Sometimes they resort to destroying their artwork to use those materials in other projects. Tako has dozens of amazing ideas on how to make her students’ lives more colorful and exciting, but the shortfall of resources limits her potential. With her own efforts, she is currently planning to open a ceramic studio to teach pottery to children. Touching clay would create new exciting feelings in children. She encouraged her grandmother to study in a ceramic studio and when she realized how vivid and excited her grandmother was coming back home after each session, she decided to teach pottery to the elder people as well. Tako also sees a business opportunity in that idea. She wants to help the elder people make some pocket money by selling the pottery they create in the studio.
Finally, Tako wants to encourage other professors to try working in inclusive educational centres. She believes that disabilities do not exist once you create a welcoming environment and provide them with all the essential resources. This journey is not easy, the teachers have to work a lot on themselves but in return, they will be rewarded with the immense love from the most kind-hearted people on the planet.