Three years ago, Elisabeth Rybak and Paula Kiefer began to build a kindergarten in the Argentine province of Misiones as part of their voluntary service through the Friends of Waldorf Education. Due to an extension of their service they were on site for a total of two years. In the meantime, they have put the project into the hands of other volunteers. In addition, they were able to find an educator to run their kindergarten in the Mbya Comunidad Ñamandu. At the same time, the kindergarten became a model for other initiatives in the surrounding area that work on the basis of Waldorf Education. The current volunteers and former volunteer Elisabeth Rybak give us a report on the latest developments.
Summer in Misiones, Argentina, can be incredibly hot in the jungle. So hot that Europeans almost can't bear it there. The volunteers who work in the kindergarten for a year usually flee during this time to the spacious plains of Patagonia. For the Mbya, however, the hot time - Ara Haku - is the annual festival season. In Europe, when we crawl into our dark, warm houses and celebrate Christmas silent and holy, we sweat a lot in Argentina. The Mbya explain this heat by the fact that heaven opens its doors and all the heavenly fire can come to earth. During these months the gods are closer and for their sake all religious festivals are celebrated in December and January.
In the community of Ñamandu we can now celebrate three years of Waldorf Kindergarten, in Ruiz de Montoya (village of the white settlers) already two years of a Waldorf playgroup and four months of Waldorf Kindergarten in the community of Yy Porã. Originating in a spontaneous question from the state school director in Ñamandu, this tiny little Waldorf movement was founded to look after the youngest children. Each of these three Waldorf kindergartens has its own difficulties and opportunities, but they all want the same thing: the best education for children. And you have helped to bring this about! For example, the "mother kindergarten" in Ñamandu is financed through European donations, the Waldorf playgroup of the white settlers is financed by parental contributions, and in Yy Porã the Argentinean state pays a salary to the kindergarten teacher Nestor who works as an indigenous Waldorf Kindergarten teacher at the request of the chief.
Nestor is 24 years old, has two children and lives in the indigenous village of Yhovy. He has been working as an assistant teacher in Yy Porã for two years now, but he had difficulties with the usual Argentine teaching methods. All the more grateful he was to enter into a conversation with us volunteers about the needs of the young children. He flourishes as an artist when he puts a table puppet show for the children or tells a story. He has already built bows and arrows to practice concentrated work with the school children and, together with Malin, he has built a high double swing - the highlight of the outdoor playtime! His new work in the pink painted Waldorf hut has already convinced him to the extent that, much to our amusement, he has painted his own hut pink on the inside too, because he was so impressed by the difference in brightness compared to the previously so dark wooden beams. The Mbya-Guaraní love to sleep in the light. If they can afford it, they sleep in a brightly lit hut. This habit seems very strange to Europeans, because we find a burning light disturbing and wasteful. But for the Mbya this is a strategic necessity. Every day, they have to stand their own faced with the awesome natural surroundings of the jungle. For this they carry the fire as humans. The cooking fire burns all day long and must not be extinguished. At night it is taken to the sleeping hut, which leads to a smoky sleeping situation, which in our view is also somewhat dangerous. But the fire serves them as a protection – protection against insects and wild animals and especially as protection against evil spirits. They cannot approach then and stay in the dark jungle. A light that burns all night long thus keeps intrusive ancestors away.
In contrast to this, Diego wishes for good spirits to come to the Waldorf Kindergarten in Ñamandu. That is why religious education is finding more and more room in the kindergarten. Diego and Mirian are continuously working on this, and this year Ayra supports them. She has already built a beautiful sandbox for the children outside, which is very much celebrated by the children.
They also celebrate the morning round dance. With great joy the children were jumping and chirping in the last few weeks, in the bird dance developed by Diego, which, with its funny sounds and exotic bird images, also made the adults laugh. Diego recognizes all jungle birds and can imitate the sounds they make. He knows exactly at which time of day which bird whistles and during which field working season it trills. A real bird wedding was held every morning!
The fieldwork is announced in spring by the chirping of a certain bird. Another bird then announces that harvesting is about to begin. Unfortunately, not all Mbya-Guaraní are seriously engaged in agriculture anymore. Therefore, we try to work with the school children in the garden beside the school and to promote awareness for the quality of healthy food.
The Mbya-Guaraní are not farmers. They do not plough the earth and never live long in one place. To grow crops in the rampant jungle, the gods have given them fire. They burn down small pieces of forest to plant corn, sweet potatoes, cassava, peanuts and beans in the fertile ashes. In winter, there is always a fire somewhere in Ñamandu. Slash-and-burn or "cleaning", as they call it, is part of everyday life during the cold season. As usual in the rainforest, this time is very humid and characterized by heavy downpours. For a few years now, however, the winters are too dry. So this spring we were able to experience the threatening effects that too dry a winter can have. For two days we struggled against a heavy forest fire right next to the school, aided by a broken pump, a few buckets and the entire village. It broke out because the forest was terribly dry and the fire that had escaped continued to flare up at night due to a hot wind. We were all helplessly exposed to the strength and heat of the fire, and after two days of struggle and a frightening night, we finally managed to convince the fire brigade of the urgency of a trip into the jungle, despite poor mobile phone reception.
Fire gives the Mbya independence from the jungle, even though fire is not simply to be trusted and should be handled skillfully. It is the cultural application of fire that determines the position of the people in the jungle. For us it remains a big question how the Mbya can maintain their independence, which they were able to defend in the past through fire, even in a modern and globalized world. It is our hope that with the use of Waldorf Education we can help to kindle an "inner" fire that will continue to enable independence in an unclear future in the "globalized jungle". In this sense the three kindergartens are a fiery push towards independence. And thanks to the great Waldorf kindergarten teachers Mirian, Nestor and Diego, the kindergartens are stronger and more sustainable every day. A show of independence in the jungle!
Malin Trepel, Ayra Lyssewski, Elisabeth Rybak