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+++ 04.05.2018 +++

“Ejui Nde Po, Jui Nde Po“ – Wash your hands, your hands

For more than a year, the two former Waldorf students Paula Kiefer and Elisabeth Rybak have been living with the indigenous community Ñamandu in the Argentinian Jungle. In our fall edition, the two reported about their experiences with building a kindergarten as part of their voluntary service with the Friends of Waldorf Education. Now there is more news on their interesting work. They report on how they tell fairy tales in a mixture of Spanish and the native language Mbya-Guaraní, making a great impression. “When I run across ten-year-old Piru at school, he always imitates my croaks from the ‘Frog Prince’ fairy tale”, Elisabeth Rybak reports. At the same time, the two young women are preparing their departure from the jungle and are doing everything to ensure that their work can continue and that the kindergarten can continue its work.

We invited to a parents’s evening to hear the chiefs’ and the parents’ opinion of our work. Of course we were nervous and anxious about the upcoming meeting. Unfortunately, we still do not speak and understand enough Mbya-Guaraní. Therefore, we are only listening to long and important-sounding mumbling. “Radishes” is almost the only word we consistently understand. They pronounce it with deep appreciation. „Mmh radishes!" At the end we receive the translation that everyone is satisfied.

For more than a year now, we, that is Paula Kiefer and Elisabeth Rybak, have been living in the indigenous community of the Ñamandu in the Argentinian jungle. Here, we founded a Waldorf kindergarten. But the chiefs are much more impressed by the garden we tend, although, up to now, we could only harvest lettuce and radishes. The children eat the radishes for a dare. The first time, they spat them out and washed their mouths thoroughly. But the “really cool kids” say the radish is not that spicy.

In the winter holidays, we worked on a piece of jungle to plant a vegetable garden, together with some children who volunteered and sometimes even with fathers who come with machetes and pickaxes. Later, we added a field of beans. We absolutely want to get the children to eat healthier at school. This is why we collected donations to be able to buy bananas from the neighboring community of Azul on a regular basis.

We regularly sleep in Azul on the weekends or during the holidays. The first time it gave us the creeps to spend the night in a hut without our protective mosquito net. A hut, that mostly consists of cracks. So that all the spiders and snakes have free admission. At night, when we sit at the fire the natives ask us to tell a story. At first, we just came up with some nonsense, but after some time we turned to recounting Grimm’s fairy tales in a mixture of Mbya and Spanish. When I see ten-year-old Piru, he laughingly imitates my croaking sound from the “Frog Prince”. We send five-year-old Mabel ahead to check that no chickens had laid an egg in our sleeping bags.

By now, I am not afraid anymore to sleep in a hut with a palm leaf roof, but I do still admire the simple conditions in which the indigenous people live. Every day, the little girls have to carry water up from the water hole, which they need for drinking and cooking. The somewhat older ones wash the entire laundry of the family in the creek, and at the age of seven it is them who have to take care of the younger siblings. The boys practice running through the thickets of the jungle, so that they will be fast enough when they go on a hunt.

When they take us along into the jungle, we always carry our machetes to cut free the paths that always grow over so quickly. The boys know how to run and not step on snakes and in fact bring home armadillos, coatis, and fish, which they have shot with their bow and arrow.

“Mom, can I go to Germany again tomorrow? We sing there and paint and we can eat meat!” This precious remark was apparently made by three-year-old Julius Caesar (in our nursery school we have three children named Julius Caesar). Every day he asks to walk the half hour to school from the banana comunidad with his uncles and cousins. For him, our preschool room is Germany, because it is here where we Germans live. For a year now we have had the privilege that our preschool “Grupo Kiringue'I” can also take place inside. At first we spent the entire morning outside on the porch of the school trying to create a rhythmical day, step by step. By now, the 18 children are so accustomed to the ever more complex rhythm, that it is them who start singing the transitional songs. Especially in the early days, it was our main concern to improve the hygienic conditions, and in fact there were no major abscesses this year. Washing their hands really has become part of a good life for the children and us. When the children join the morning circle, they proudly stretch their hands, which have a pleasant soap scent, at my face.

A couple of months ago we were finally able to offer a permanent position to Diego Escoba. For the village community, he is the musician and responsible for the upbringing of the children and adolescents. In some matters, we don’t share the same views. (I made the mistake to tell the children fairy tales where people get married at the end. Love stories for little children, so to speak!)

But now we are trying to live the morning together with the children. This is very exciting for all of us. The children learn the traditional songs, customs, and stories from Diego, and us volunteers lovingly treat them as individuals, teach them Spanish with finger plays, do clay modeling and a lot of painting. We do the puppetry in turns. In our preschool, we are trying to live a successful coexistence of old and new. For the indigenous people, these contrasts are the biggest danger and an opportunity at the same time. Our preschool, entirely financed by donations, is an experiment, in order to help the children grow up with fewer contradictions.

Our original intention was simply to spend a year far away from Germany and this is the reason we applied for a voluntary service with the Friends of Waldorf Education. By mere coincidence, we ended up in the Ñamandu School where they had no preschool teachers, and we started to establish a Waldorf preschool. We were able to extend our voluntary service to two years to get the preschool to the point where work can continue, even when we return to Germany. We convinced the chiefs. For next year, we have a successor from Germany, we will need a new one every year. Voluntary service is great – even if you have to stand up to the chiefs!

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