The World Cup-Summer 2006
Everything really began in the summer of 2006 at the football world cup. From ten thousand mouths rang out the German fight song, which the band “Die Höhner” created extra for the event, through Stuttgart’s Königsstraße. The city of Stuttgart was one of the venues for the games and the mayor arranged a UNESCO Peace Festival as a culture accompaniment programme, to which 2006 youths from the whole world were invited. The mayor of Baden-Württemberg’s state capital knew that from the Swabian metropole come not only meaningful industrial and economical products, like the cars from Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, the piston technology from Mahle or electronic products from Bosch, which delight the world, but also that from the Stuttgart’s Uhlandshöhe mountain a pedagogical method radiated, which is now in schools around the world in over 80 countries: the Waldorf school movement. Therefore the city also invited 300 Waldorf pupils from 60 nations to Stuttgart to the football world cup’s cultural accompaniment programme. The “Friends of Waldorf Education,” as supporting organisation of the international Waldorf pedagogy movement, was commissioned with the planning, organisation, and running of the festival. After the completion of the World Football Championship the Waldorf School of Überlingen invited the youths to a week of exchange on Lake Constance.
War in Lebanon
In the middle of the international peace pedagogical event, the Israeli-Lebanese war started. The infrastructure of Lebanon was heavily damaged by Israeli air attacks. Airports, bridges, and main traffic roads were in large part destroyed, the south of the country was temporarily occupied by Israeli troops. The 21 pupils of the Waldorf School in Beirut, the only group of handicapped youths at the Stuttgart UNESCO peace festival, were prevented from returning to their homeland.
The Lebanese youth group was housed in the Stuttgart Karl Schubert School and the city of Stuttgart spared neither effort nor cost in order to offer a non-stop programme for the unwilling visitors in order to make their time in Stuttgart more manageable. The German organisers were touched and happy that the Lebanese youths were in safety outside of the war region, and truly believed that the rest of the world would see the situation in exactly the same way.
But not at all! The Lebanese partners pushed more and more for a return home. The families of the youths pressed the perplexed German partners to work on a speedy return of the group. The youths reacted to the tense situation with increasingly stronger symptoms related to their individual disorders. The whole situation became increasingly more unstable. The conflict arose from differing cultural values and traditions: In Lebanon families come together during an existential threat situation, they gather together in order to possibly die together.
The Children Return Home
Ultimately the responsible persons of the city of Stuttgart and the Friends of Waldorf Education decided to give in to the request and to bring the group of disabled children back to Beirut, meaning into war. Equipped with a protection letter from UNESCO and after a detailed consultation and making arrangements with the Lebanese authorities and the Israeli military leadership, the youth could, after a two-day risky trip through Syria and the north of Lebanon, be returned unharmed to their overjoyed parents in Beirut. The German chaperones were afterwards received and honoured by the Lebanese national president. This safe return operation caught the attention of the media in Southern Germany and Lebanon alike.
But what was not reported in the media: the German aid workers experienced something in Lebanon, which they till that point had only known from television: war, right before their very eyes. In the refugee camps, they met the human victims, the collateral damage of political interests: traumatised children-distraught, ashen, apathetic, with lacklustre, empty gazes, their childhoods robbed from them. Every curative and special needs educator knows, how comparatively easy and long lasting it is, to help these children with the processing of their experiences in the beginning stages of their traumatisation – and how hard it is to organise long-term assistance at a later time, when symptoms caused by trauma and reaction formations are already chronic. One, who sees traumatised children from a pedagogical therapeutic perspective, knows what must be done.
The traumatised refugee children in the Waldorf School in Beirut became the impulse for emergency pedagogy: their suffering gave birth to pedagogical emergency aid on the basis of Waldorf Pedagogy.
Besides the Friends of Waldorf Education’s efforts in funding Waldorf oriented projects and their work in the field of international volunteer services, emergency pedagogy advanced to another major field of work for the Friends. Following the outbreak of a war or a natural disaster, the Friends worked with psychologically traumatized children in Lebanon (2006), China (2008 und 2013) Gaza (2009-2014) Indonesia (2009), Haiti (2010), Kyrgyzstan (2010), Japan (2011), Kenya (2012-2013), the Philippines (2013-2015), Kurdistan-Iraq (2013-2015), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014), and Nepal (2015). You can find a complete list of the Friends’ emergency pedagogic interventions under assignments.