South Africa: In the poor township of Masiphumelele people are living from occasional jobs – if they get one at all. Children are living on the streets, often sick and malnourished. Then, some mothers joined efforts and opened the Waldorf initiative “Siyakhula”. The non-profit organization Bhongolethu Foundation (formerly founded as “Work for Love”) was founded by Waldorf parents to help them. The occasion for founding the initiative in 2008 was the abuse and death of a three-year-old girl in the neighborhood. The idea to create a safe and sheltered place not only for their own children, made many parents decide to turn for help to Bhongolethu Foundation. The original building of the kindergarten was a corrugated iron shack on an illegal township property. In 2009, the initiative was able to move to a newly purchased and renovated property. Currently, around 40 children attend the small kindergarten.
Sitting on the banks of the muddy and littered creek, 4-year-old Luvo eats the partly rotten orange he just fished out of the dumping container next to the toilet blocks for the Wetlands settlement. He is hungry, his skin is itchy and he can’t find his buddies. His mother had him when she was only 15. Now at 19 she is back at school, hoping to complete grade 10. There is no money to send him to a Kindergarten. His grandmother is busy, washing clothes somewhere up the creek. Boring! Therefore Luvo has decided to run off with his friends.
His grandmother has 4 young children and Luvo to look after during the day. His grandfather, Sithembele, is a minister who preaches for example in one of the shacks after a death has occurred and he helps resolve conflicts. There are 5 adults in the house looking for work. They live off the meager income of occasional casual work and a child support grant (R 220/month/child, Euro 19).
To pay R 150 for a local Kindergarten or Educare in the informal township of Masiphumelele is not possible for this family. They do not want Luvo on the mud paths (there are no streets)! Only last month a little three year old girl went missing. She was found dead in the reads behind the shacks, abused and brutally murdered by drug-crazed youth.
Then, after another Cape winter storm had flooded the Wetlands shacks ankle deep - mixed with the water from the overflowing toilet block - a group of concerned mothers and grandmothers decided to start the Siyakhula (Xhosa for “We are growing”) kindergarten to keep the young children in a safe and clean place. A woman, Lucia, gave up her personal room for the kids and each teacher contributes R 100/month to feed the children.
When Work for Love, a non-profit organisation active in this community and established by parents of the Imhoff Waldorf School, responded to a plea for help last November, they found many of the 40 children malnourished and in need of medical care. Luvo went to the clinic with one of our volunteers where his scabies and itchy skin was treated and he now receives a nutritional porridge daily until he achieves age appropriate weight. The children at the Imhoff Waldorf School started a weekly vegetable and fruit collection to complement Siyakhula’s nutritious lunches.
Now the teachers receive salaries and the children receive two meals a day and have toys, blankets and mattresses. Luvo even visits the schoolrooms on weekends where he receives a warm meal from Asanda and is allowed some time to play.
During the past three years, Bongolethu Foundation (formerly Work for Love) and the Friends of Waldorf Education have also supported several women from Masiphumelele in attending Waldorf teacher training. Now, these women are assisting amongst others at the Imhoff Waldorf School, in order to deepen their skills and want to start working at the Siyakuhla-initiative after their training. Josephine, one of the trainees, already practices her new skills 2x per week at Siyakhula. Luvo loves “Aunt Josy” who brings along beautiful songs and stories, teaches the children how to make rainbow snakes and helps them discover that colors flow into each other creating new ones.
Through a charity run, which took place at the St. Christopher School in Germany as part of WOW-Day and with the help of the “weltwärts” program, the Imhoff school was able to help the small kindergarten, so that by December 2010, the school building was finally expanded and a new kitchen was established. It is plain to see that the newly created place provides much more composure and order. Financial challenges remain. One child costs 45 €, out of which the unemployed families contribute the appropriate kindergarten fee of approximately 15 €. Through a laundry service and a weekly flea market, however, the initiative tries compensate for the lack of school fees.
In May 2011 a massive fire destroyed the area around Masiphumele. Many of the teachers and parents together with 5000 other residents lost their homes and all their belongings. Fortunately the kindergarten was well embedded in its new environment and was able to help to needy families immediately.
Waldorf education certainly has a healing effect on the difficult life circumstances. The parents remember their own childhood, when one still sat around the fire at home and told each other stories. They say: “the school is like what our grandparents taught us and we like that.”