Uminur Kuchukova of Russia could have retired years ago. Yet the 61-year-old teacher keeps working at a school in the Siberian village of Sibilyakovo. She continues to teach for one reason: the school’s one and only student, a nine-year-old boy.
When Kuchukova leaves next year, the school will close.
Sibilyakovo is like thousands of villages across Russia. Many people moved out of it after the closure of the local state-operated collective farm. Russian officials began closing collective farms after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Sibilyakovo is mainly home to Tatars, a Turkiс group that is one of many ethnic minorities in Russia. In the 1970s, the village had a population of 550 and a primary school with four classes. Each class had about 18 children.
Today the village’s population has shrunk to 39.
Uminur Kuchukova has taught at the school for 42 years. She has bought a home in the town of Tara, about 50 kilometers away. She plans to retire there with her husband at the end of the school year. By then, she hopes, her only student will be old enough to travel to a neighboring village for classes.
But the nearest school is a 30-minute boat ride across the Irtysh River followed by a 20-minute ride on a school bus.
Kuchukova does not think her student, Ravil Izhmukhametov, is ready yet for making such a trip every school day.
“I feel sorry for him,” she says. “His parents don’t want to leave (Sibilyakovo) yet and it’s scary to send a little boy like him over the Irtysh. There are such big waves.”
Izhmukhametov’s parents are farmers and have farm animals. However, they do not want their son to stay in the village when he grows up.
“Our eldest children live in the city and we’re happy about that,” said the boy’s father.
Nine-year-old Ravil says he has no interest in moving to the city, but that he knows one day he will have no choice.
A reporter asked him what he thought about being the only student at the school.
Ravil said, “I’ve got nothing to compare it to, but of course I’d like to have friends so I’m looking forward to going to the main school.”
Kuchukova is sad that the school where she worked for more than forty years will soon close its doors for good.
“Now it’ll stand there just like in the neighboring villages, not needed by anyone, while people in the city can’t find places for their children at kindergarten and are queuing up from the moment they’re born,” she said.
And even when she herself finally retires and goes to live in Tara, Kuchukova will not leave her past behind.
She said, “My parents are buried here, a part of me is here. We’ll spend every remembrance-day here when people come to remember those who have passed away...”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Reuters news agency reported this story. Ibrahim Onafeko adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
primary school – n. a school mainly designed for children between the ages of five and 11 years
scary – adj. causing fear
of course – phrase for sure; to be expected
kindergarten – n. a class that prepares children for first grade
queue up – v. to form a line; to line up
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