“Once There was a Girl” - Fairy tales for real change

Date: Friday, September 28, 2018

The village of Utsera is located in the mountainous region of Racha in western Georgia. Utsera has only one functioning school, and it serves 22 children from five villages.

A pupil from Utsera summer school reading the collection of fairy tales “Once there was a girl”
A pupil from Utsera summer school reading the collection of fairy tales “Once there was a girl”; Photo: Lela Kotorashvili

Lela Kotorashvili, teacher of Georgian language and literature, moved to Utsera from Tbilisi in 2014 and taught at the local school for three years. She has always been a passionate promoter of literacy skills among students living in rural areas, and she regularly organized various activities to attract their interest. After returning to Tbilisi last year, Lela kept in touch with her students. She decided to organize a summer school in Utsera for local children as well as those visiting the village during summer holidays.

This is when Lela learned from Diana Anthimiadou, her friend and a writer, about a book of fairy tales titled “Once There was a Girl”, inspired by real female figures from Georgian history. The book challenges gender stereotypes and celebrates the courage, wit and bravery of women and girls.

“After talking to Diana, I was extremely impressed by the idea of the book, its stories and its wonderful illustrations,” Lela remarks. “I decided to organize the 2018 summer school around the inspiring stories in ‘Once There was a Girl’. These stories, depicting smart, brave and daring girls who in their real life were pilots, mountaineers, soldiers, calligraphists - instead of just ‘sleeping beauties’ - are the best way to break gender stereotypes.”

About 15 schoolchildren aged 9-15 attended the summer school. In addition to reading the stories and discussing the content, the students made sketches of the characters, wrote essays, staged a mini-performance and made a shadow theatre - all inspired by the book.

“Most of all I liked the story of Rusudan Zhordania, the first Georgian female pilot,” explains Mariam Samkharadze, a 15-year-old who will have to choose her profession soon. “Rusudan’s story encouraged me to decide that I will do what I wholeheartedly wish to do, despite what others think. I want to become a cardiac surgeon or a neurosurgeon. Everyone with whom I shared this dream told me that I would have to be focused standing for hours in the operating theatre and that a woman cannot make it. However, I want to follow my dreams, like Rusudan.”

In the media library of Utsera School, there is a gallery of book characters drawn by schoolchildren, and soon the characters of “Once There was a Girl” will be added to it. As for the teacher Lela Kotorashvili, she will continue using the collection of fairy tales as a resource to promote both literacy and gender equality among children, now in the capital Tbilisi.