Young children have no conception of international problems. They know no racism, no nationalism and are not exploitative. Education is challenged to allow the natural openness of the child towards its environment to become transformed into conscious commitment to the world and to others. Waldorf education places the development of the individual child at the focal point, convinced that the healthy individual is a prerequisite for a healthy society.
Many Waldorf schools and kindergartens are at work in social flashpoints of our time. They are at work where riots shake the racial ghettoes of the United States, where group fighting just short of civil war has shattered the townships of South Africa, where children have to grow up in the every-day dust and tension of refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, in the poverty of Brazilian favelas, in the horror of war in the Balkans and the Caucasus and in the social de-construction and reconstruction of Eastern Europe.
In the United States, fourteen state school districts have requested that Waldorf institutions be founded in the critical social centres of large cities, where race riots, drugs, crime and prostitution have drawn people into social disaster. Since 1991 the Urban Waldorf Program has been working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is the first attempt of a US school administration to confront ethnic and social problems by means of Waldorf education.
Long before the end of apartheid, children of different colour backgrounds were already being taught together in South African Waldorf institutions. Schools have been opened in the townships of Soweto and Alexandra and in other townships pre-school initiatives, kindergartens and teacher training centres are being established.
In Shati, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Waldorf education is being gently and carefully transformed to suit conditions in this troubled area. Apart from work with children and young people, an impressive number of Palestinian kindergarten teachers are being instructed in courses on education. The gradual training of the qualitative appreciation of materials, movement, speech and thought prepares teachers to work therapeutically with children whose early development has suffered from deep disturbance. Toys that are made in the camp have a good reputation far beyond the camp's confines and find a good market.
In South America, Waldorf educators are working in projects for street children in São Paulo, Santiago de Chile and Bogota. In Santiago de Chile, work is done with the unemployed and with child and adolescent drug addicts. Special care is taken of drug-addicted juvenile mothers. They are helped to develop mature personalities themselves, and they are instructed in child care and in educational questions. Meanwhile, groups of young mothers have been helped to live together, and a Waldorf kindergarten has been established.
The project of "Monte Azul" in a São Paulo favela has meanwhile found world-wide acclaim as help to self-help. Creches, workshops, cultural centres and also centres for the further training of factory workers have been opened and are functioning.
In the midst of all the confusion of civil war, Waldorf institutions are opening their doors in Croatia and Georgia. In the autumn of 1994, the first Waldorf school in the Caucasus area will be added to kindergartens already in existence. In Zagreb, the first Waldorf school began its work in September 1993.
More than ever, centres of social unrest and distress call upon individual people who have the free, personal initiative to carry them to new forms of life in the future. In our own time, there is a need for people who realise what changes will have to be made and who have the courage to take the responsibility for them into their own hands. This is particularly true where children are concerned. After all, they will soon be shaping the world we leave to them. Waldorf education wants to contribute whatever it can to the strength, the insight and the sense of responsibility they will be needing.