(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 140-141, Note the Copyright!)
A report on the development of Waldorf Education and anthroposophical curative education in Vietnam calls for a review of the political events in this country. To speak of Waldorf Education at all is somewhat premature, yet the seeds sown some years ago are showing signs of beginning to bear fruit.
During the course of the twentieth century Vietnam suffered enormous changes of which the scars and wounds can still be felt. For almost a hundred years it was a French colony. When the French departed during the Second World War the Japanese arrived, and when they went away after their defeat at Hiroshima the French returned. The famous battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 when the Vietnamese resistance forces overthrew the French army provided an important moment of hope for freedom in many colonies. But this did not spell the end of Vietnam’s trials. The Americans arrived to the south of the seventeenth parallel, first as advisers, but then increasingly as an army. Northern Vietnam hoped that Communism would bring in a new, more just society since traditional society had slowly disintegrated during the colonial period, so that new social forms were needed. The long-drawn out and painful war between Socialist North Vietnam and South Vietnam supported by America is surely still remembered everywhere. Fighting on one side was the most powerful army in the world and on the other a people’s army most primitively equipped. That war was one of the most gruesome in the whole of the twentieth century. After 30 years it ended in 1975 with the North Vietnamese army as the victors. The country was united again, but entirely destroyed.
First sight of a destroyed country
Ha Vinh Tho, founder of the first anthroposophically inspired curative homes in Vietnam, came from a family that had been politically active in their country for generations. His grandfather had been Vice-Governor of Central Vietnam during the reign of the last emperor, and his father was an ambassador of South Vietnam during the war with America. His uncle worked closely with Ho Chi Minh and was also in the North Vietnamese government. Ha Vinh Tho is a eurythmist and eurythmy therapist who has worked within the Camphill movement for 20 years. When he was able to revisit his father’s country in 1982 what he found there was a land that had been utterly destroyed and was now dominated by politics. Poverty and the consequences of the war were everywhere, and it would have been illusory even to think about Waldorf Education. It was scarcely possible to hold a private conversation without an “official translator”, and visits to schools and homes were always “accompanied”. In 1989 Vietnam lost its one remaining ally, the Soviet Union, which meant that it had to begin opening up to the outside world. This opening-up, of which the most noticeable effects are in the economic sphere, has rushed ahead in recent years. The economic upturn is particularly obvious in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Ten years ago Hanoi was a poverty-stricken town with almost nothing in the shops and bicycles as the only means of transport. Now it is a dynamic shopping paradise heavily polluted by huge numbers of cars. However, one must not forget that Vietnam is still a Communist country and one of the poorest in the world. Anyone trying to work socially is immediately reminded of this. Any social projects are unthinkable without help from abroad.
A smile, a hint
The country’s first encounter with curative education came about as the result of a smile. A Catholic nun from Hue gave a beaming smile and begged for help for very poor, disadvantaged children. For the first five years Ha Vinh Tho and his wife Lisi visited existing homes run mostly by either Catholic or Buddhist nuns. Two Catholic nuns, heads of a large orphanage for severely disabled children, spent three years in Switzerland where they took the curative education training at the Camphill Perceval Seminar. The first new initiative was the start of three classes for disabled children within an existing primary school in Hue. The building was financed with the help of the Friends of Waldorf Education, and Tho and Lisi assumed responsibility for training the six teachers. They are now busy setting up a home for severely disabled children in collaboration with some Buddhist nuns. An early learning programme has been introduced and start has been made to care for disabled children within their families. The courses on anthroposophical curative education are due to be recognized by the Teacher Training College in Hue.
The Vietnamese education system is still under the control of the government and the Communist Party. The situation as regards curative education is less formal because the country itself has very little to offer in the field. Many foreign experts are now flooding into Vietnam where each tries to “sell” his own method. Much tact and respect is therefore needed to help the Vietnamese find their own way.
LISI HA VINH
The kindergarten movement
Thanh Cherry, born in Vietnam, is now a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher in Australia. After many years away she made a visit to her homeland in 1998. There she got to know the Dieu Giac Temple Orphanage and its founder and leader Nhu Tri. Together with her she planned the opening of a Waldorf Kindergarten for 12 of the orphanage children and 13 from the nearby deprived district.
Since then Thanh Cherry has been back to Vietnam at least once very year. She has met many individuals privately, in institutions or at government level who are concerned about early childhood education. Waldorf Education is unknown in South Vietnam. Some German expatriates in Hanoi, North Vietnam, have heard of it.
Thanh Cherry has been asked to run an annual 4-day seminar on Waldorf Education at the National Teacher Training Institute for Early Education in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). One hundred women have attended this seminar, among them principals, trainers and students from all over the city. They are most enthusiastic about the ideas, practices and artistic work in Waldorf Education. Since these courses have grown increasingly popular the Vietnamese Ministry for Education has declared its readiness to organize them itself in future and make them available to a larger public.
A Waldorf Kindergarten
Thanh Cherry and other interested individuals have meanwhile founded an association called Friends of Steiner which hopes to open a Waldorf Kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City. Two kindergarten teachers studied at the Waldorf Kindergarten Seminar in Melbourne, Australia, from 1999 to 2001. The kindergarten is due to open in September 2001.
The Vietnamese government provides no support at all for independent schools, which are anyway quite new to the country. Hitherto there have been only private kindergartens and semi-official colleges, but no independent primary or secondary schools. To think at all about ways of changing the education system is an entirely new experience for most Vietnamese people. In intellectual circles such an initiative might even be construed as being counter to the ideals of Confucius (551-479 BC) which have shaped Vietnamese society for over two thousand years. Vietnam is changing. Although the political situation is not likely to change much, the atmosphere in society at large is less tense. There is a new interest in education and spirituality, and Waldorf Education is exactly in line with this new interest.
Lisi Ha Vinh
Eurythmist; working with her husband since 1982 to build up curative education initiatives in Vietnam.
Waldorf Kindergarten teacher. Advised on founding kindergartens in Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.