English Teacher from Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) Dismissed from Program

Nicole Bedford, a national of the Bahamas and a participant of the Teach and Learn with Georgia (TLG) program describes the story of her employment termination in her blog. Human Rights Center contacted her through Skype and learned her story in detail.

[Nino Tsagareishvili. 19:31 05-04-2011

Nicole had problems with the TLG program from the very beginning- before even arriving to Georgia. According to Nicole, this past September and with only two days remaining before her departure to Georgia, TLG had still not provided her with plane tickets. Nicole was worried about this situation. Accordingly, she posted her concerns on her Facebook status which read: “Whatever happened to professionalism, common courtesy, promptness and consideration?” We cannot quote the status exactly as she was made to remove it only a few hours after posting it.

About an hour after posting this status, Nicole was contacted by Larisa Schirba from Footprints Recruiting (one of TLG’s partner recruiting organizations based in Vancouver, British Columbia) who told her that TLG was going to review her application and that she should apologize to TLG and be careful because of cultural differences. Nicole did so. She sent an e-mail to David Chigolashvili from TLG and apologized for the status posted on her Facebook page.

Nicole’s apology relieved the situation and she was given the opportunity to continue participation in the program. However, Nicole’s problems persisted while living in Georgia. When Nicole voiced her concerns about racist and derogatory comments made to her by a few 10th grade students (Nicole called them “rude” and “disgusting”), she was again asked to remove her comments from her Facebook status.

According to Nicole, a TLG official called and asked her to remove this status as it could upset the parents of these children. Nicole was again forced to obey TLG’s request and removed the status. After being censored a second time Nicole decided she had become tired of being monitored and so she grouped all the TLG staff members and then blocked them from seeing her Facebook wall.

On December 24th, Nicole left Georgia for Christmas vacation. On January 21st she flew from Nassau to London to connect at Heathrow for her flight back to Tbilisi. Before dropping off her luggage she checked her email and found the following e-mail from TLG:

“Dear Nicole,
This letter is in reference to your Employment Agreement that was signed between you and the Legal Entity of Public Law – National Center for Teacher Professional Development. We would like to inform you that your Employment Agreement with TLG is terminated according to the Article 8, Paragraph 8.3.3: “Employee’s behavior is inappropriate for the “Teach and Learn with Georgia” Program throughout the entire Agreement term”.

Our decision was conditioned due to your numerous derogatory and offensive comments made on Facebook about TLG. It is not reasonable for the project to keep the volunteer who offends the TLG and embarrasses it publicly. We consider that you cannot meet our goals with such attitude and our Employment relationships shall be terminated urgently. We cannot entrust the future of our school children to the teacher who is offending their country and people.

It is not your first time expressing the offensive attitude towards the project. In the beginning of the programme TLG gave you a chance and time in order to abide with the local traditions and lifestyle and that was the reason why your contract was not terminated right after the first precedent of the offence expressed from you towards TLG.

Please be informed that your Employment Agreement is terminated from 21th of January 2011 and your flight to Georgia is also cancelled. You are requested to hand in any property of TLG entrusted to you for performing your tasks and discuss any dues owed to you by TLG. Please let TLG know if you left luggage with your former host family in order for us to arrange sending it to you mailing address to our earliest convenience.”

Nicole responded to the letter asking TLG to clarify what they meant when they said she made “derogatory and offensive” comments towards the project. However, she never received an answer.

According to Nicole, she had only made observations on the functional capabilities of TLG, but never expressed herself in a derogatory or offensive manner.

In addition, Nicole states that her Facebook was only viewable to her friends and family that were on her list. Outsiders were not able to access her information as she made her privacy settings air tight and her Facebook wall was blocked for all TLG staff members and students. Thus she wanted her internet privacy.

Nicole considers her dismissal unethical and unlawful and believes her freedom of speech was violated.

Human Rights Center contacted the legal advisor of the TLG program Tamar Mamporia and asked her to comment on this issue.

Tamar Mamporia stated: “We cannot give you information on this issue. Our organization cleared up things with Nicole. Nicole is a problematic person and that is why she left the project. We do not dismiss anyone unjustly. Our last alternative is dismissal. It was her fault to leave the program. I cannot tell you anything more. As for the freedom of expression, it exists unless it infringes the rights of others. We never violated her rights.”

On our question, how exactly Nicole “infringed rights of others,” Tamar Mamporia stated: “I will restrain from talking about the details. I cannot tell you more.”

See Nicole Bedford’s blog: http://infinitedreamernicole.blogspot.com/