MAKARTA

DM

At the start of the school day, teacher Lia Tsiklauri takes the register. But the morning task is over in a flash - because there’s only one name to tick off.

Bacho Tsiklauri, nine, is the only pupil at the primary school in the remote mountain gorge village of Makarta, Georgia, 62 miles north of the capital Tbilisi.

He is one of only four children in the village, which is home to about 30 people. The older children, including his brother Dato, attend a high school in a nearby village two miles away. Reuters photographer David Mdzinarishvili travelled along 12 miles of dirt track through the Gudamakari gorge, which separates Makarta from the rest of Georgia, to meet Bacho.

The journey through the gorge took as long as it did to cover 50 miles on the main road. He found a village of abandoned houses left behind by those who have left Makarta for better opportunities in more developed areas of the country.

The young boy wakes early and prepares breakfast at about 7am before doing homework with the help of his mother Lela Machkhashvili, 39.

Dato has to leave earlier than his sibling to make the hour-long journey to high school. ‘I used the remaining time before the beginning of the school day to try to get acquainted with Bacho,’ said Mr Mdzinarishvili in a blogpost.

‘I asked how he spent his spare time, but he was just interested in my photography equipment: “What do you do after school?” I asked. ‘“Nothing special. Can your camera shoot pictures of the top of that mountain?” he replied.

‘“When you grow up, who do you want to be?” I continued. ‘“I don’t know. And your camera can shoot at night?”

‘I gave up. We discussed my camera and Bacho even took a few shots.’

Bacho knows it is time for lessons when he sees 47-year-old Ms Tsiklauri, who teaches Georgian and mathematics, walking past his house at about 10am each day. His father Gia does the school run with the aid of the family dog.

Ms Tsiklauri also studied at the primary school, where lessons take place in a room with four desks and a wood stove on the second floor of a private house.

Mr Mdzinarishvili, who went to meet Bacho, said: ‘At the beginning, I saw that the teacher and student didn’t feel comfortable with me being there: having a third person in the class, and one with a camera, was an unfamiliar situation.

‘Lia began the lesson by taking the register, but then she laughed and with this the tension disappeared. They soon forgot about my presence, and the class went as usual: checking homework, going over previous lessons, being called to the board, and learning new material.