(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 158-159, Note the Copyright!)
To the south of the Equator between Africa’s two highest mountains, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, lies the land of Kenya divided by the Great Rift Valley which links eastern Africa with the Red Sea in the North and with Africa’s southern Cape in the South. The first Waldorf Kindergarten in eastern Africa opened in Kenya in 1989. Since Mary and Louis Leakey made their anthropological discoveries here, the region has been linked with the most ancient beginnings of human history, but on the other hand as far as cultural history goes it remains almost untouched. Tourists come here for its exotic wildlife.
Preserving traditional arts and crafts
How did a branch of the Waldorf movement come to take root in this little patch of Paradise on earth? Biologist, glass artist and entrepreneur Nani Croze, former pupil of a German Waldorf School, spent 20 years living in Kenya before she founded a Waldorf School Association here, having met two Waldorf teachers from Germany who were looking for a pioneering situation: Vojko Vrbancic and Irmgard Wutte. Nani Croze had been touched by the plight of the native population who had no opportunities to develop their cultural heritage and artistic and craft skills within the post-colonial education system.
She hoped that a Waldorf School would help preserve those skills so that they could be passed on to future generations. The foundation of the Mbagathi School in Nairobi arose out of much enthusiasm on the part of few individuals, and with the help of faithful friends abroad. No anthroposophical groundwork had been done and there were no Kenyan parents interested in such work. So the early years of the school were correspondingly difficult and crisis-ridden. Yet help always seemed to arrive when needed - often at the very last minute, so that the Waldorf movement of eastern Africa has been able to keep going for twelve years.
A school in the Masai grasslands
The Mbagathi Rudolf Steiner School, 25 km outside Nairobi, has a magical setting amid the grasslands of the Masai on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. It has been able to put up its own buildings for both school and dwellings. About 70 children aged between 3 and 14 attend the kindergarten and the four combined school classes. The state examinations taken after Class 8 are offered within the school. From the beginning, agriculture played an important part in the curriculum. Kenyan colleagues have meanwhile been studying Waldorf Education and now account for over half the college of teachers.
Teacher training is competently supported by the much appreciated part-time teacher training course offered in three 2-week periods a year by the Center for Creative Education in Cape Town, South Africa. Up to 40 participants from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda attend these courses for Waldorf Kindergarten and class teachers.
A second Waldorf initiative in the Karen district
At the request of parents a second kindergarten, the Kileleshwa Waldorf Kindergarten, opened near the centre of Nairobi in rented premises in 1992. Soon Miriam Bernecker, a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher from Germany, became the focal point for parents who formed the founding core of a second school, the Nairobi Waldorf School. This is situated in Karen, an easily reached district of Nairobi, named after the Danish woman Karen Blixen (1885-1961). The school opened in September 2000 with two combined classes and was followed in January 2001 by a Waldorf Kindergarten.
Although relations with the authorities are good, no financial support by the Kenyan state can be expected. Waldorf Schools have to finance themselves by means of parent contributions, godparent arrangements and fundraising activities.
Integration is the goal
For the pioneers who have been here long enough to look back on those early beginnings (in the little rented house halfway between today’s two schools) the following picture emerges: In the very early days in 1989/90 the group of parents and kindergarten children presented a reflection in miniature of the ethnic, cultural and social mix of Nairobi’s population. However, the various cultures and lifestyles of Kenya were not easily able to coexist under one roof. Today the schools cater for two very different groups which complement one another and strive for integration and balance.
Supra-regional Waldorf Association
The EATAE (East African Association for Art and Education) was founded in May 1999 with the aim of strengthening publicity work and adult education. Nine public seminars and conferences mainly on educational themes have so far been carried out. A total of 270 teachers, parents and trainers from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have taken up invitations. The EATAE is happy to have begun working with the German Society for Technical Collaboration in Nairobi and with the Kenyan Ministry for Education. Promising collaboration has also begun with Kenyan teachers from Nairobi’s slum districts. Since they are unhampered by state regulation they are more easily able to take up new educational ideas. The Nyeri Steiner School 200 km north of Nairobi is related to Waldorf Education and was founded as a private rural school by a Kenyan school inspector. He studied Waldorf Education at Emerson College in Britain but maintains no links with Kenya’s other Waldorf Schools and teachers.
The hope is that in future Waldorf Education in Kenya will grow from a little plant into a great tree which will one day bear fruit.
Moved to Kenya in 1990. Co-founder of the first Waldorf School in Nairobi. Founder of the East African Association for Art and Education (EATAE).