A Waldorf School for the New Millennium
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 162-163, Note the Copyright!)
The land here is mainly desert and semi-desert with sufficient rain for sustained agriculture only in the North. Ethnically Namibia’s population has many components. The Herero and Nama, having been driven from the central high plateau by colonizing Germans, now live along the edges of the desert. The Ovambo, who account for half the population, inhabit the fertile northern parts. To this day white people, descendants of German settlers or of British, Portuguese or South African extraction, play an influential part in Namibia’s economic and political life.
A first attempt
Anthroposophical work began in the Windhoek area during the 1970s where it continues still. First attempts were made to open a Waldorf School. In 1976 a kindergarten was founded in Windhoek by people who were looking for a Steiner Waldorf set-up for their children. For 10 years Marianne Blecks and Barbara Gramm ran this German-speaking kindergarten which usually catered for about 25 children, but in 1986 it had to close because of a staffing bottleneck.
In February 1992 Klaus and Sabine Raschen founded the Kindergarten of the Christian Community, a Waldorf Kindergarten in a listed building put at their disposal by the heritage agency. From the start both black and white children attended, and the kindergarten became sought-after by Windhoek parents. Since 2000 the work has continued in a larger and nicer room. Also in 2000 a kindergarten was founded in the Katatura Township where it became possible to purchase a plot of land cheaply and put up a temporary corrugated iron hut which is to be replaced in due course by a proper building. This kindergarten in those dusty, desert-brown surroundings plays an important part in the lives of the township’s children.
Waldorf type kindergartens have also come into being on three farms. At Krumhoek Farm children from Windhoek have been attending additional lessons in eurythmy, water-colour painting and form drawing.
Two class teachers from Germany
For Namibia’s Waldorf Kindergartens, after all their years of preparatory work, a good star shone on the year 2000, for this was the year that saw the founding of the first Waldorf School in Windhoek, the country’s capital. It opened its doors to about 40 children from every sector of the population on 18 January 2000. They were taught in two double classes by two experienced Waldorf teachers from Germany, Peter Benkhofer and Birgit Peter. A further class was added in 2001. At least four languages are spoken in the school yard during break-times, a sign of huge cultural and social differences waiting to be bridged and a tremendous challenge for the teachers who are drawing on their great fund of experience in tackling it sensitively and creatively.
In addition to German, which is used for main lessons, the school endeavours to do justice to the country’s many other languages by teaching the most frequently used in block periods as well. This opens doors to new worlds for the children which they delight in passing through, getting to know one another to an extent as yet unknown in Namibia.
A boarding school
The school has hitherto rented some land in the centre of the city. Parents renovated the existing houses creating three classrooms, a school office, a eurythmy room, a small house for the caretaker and a unit that can house 15 boarders from distant farms who are cared for by a local teacher. Voluntary helpers work and play with them in the afternoons. The matter of premises will need clarification in the near future since there is no longer enough available space.
Namibia has been independent for 10 years. Prior to this there was no legal requirement for most children to attend school at all, and now the situation is dire. There is a lack of money, schools, trained teachers, experience or ideas about where to begin. The opening of all schools to all children poses huge challenges to teachers and requires a complete restructuring of curricula.
The Waldorf initiative had no problems getting the school registered and recognized. The powers that be welcome anyone with innovative ideas in education, especially when no financial demands are made (state funds would mean that the school would have to adhere to the state curriculum).
Existential problems in the country mean that most parents cannot pay any fees, so some parents, friends and godparenting schemes enable the school to make ends meet. In its aim to integrate all sectors of the community this is a school of a kind much needed in Namibia.
HEIDRUN VON KOENEN
Heidrun von Koenen
Teacher training in German, Afrikaans and Mathematics in Pretoria, RSA. From January 2000 school secretary at the Windoek Waldorf School.
Studied education and taught at a German school in Windhoek. Supporter of the Waldorf Kindergarten and School in Namibia.