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Israel: In Shfa’ram, an Arab town in northern Israel (Galilee), there is an Arabic Waldorf initiative since 2003, with today three kindergartens and a Waldorf school - the olive tree project, "Tamrat el Zeitoun". In the Kindergarten and in the school with a total of 155 children, Bedouins, Muslims, Christians and Druze meet - they play and learn together.
While the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians took on larger and more violent proportions, Mazan Ayoub decided to found an Arabic Waldorf School with the ambitious goal of connecting its future high school with that of the already existing Harduf Waldorf School. A common Waldorf for the Arabic pupils from Shfa`ram and the Jewish pupils from Shfa'ram was his vision.
He planned for the primary school pupils to be taught in Arabic, in order to allow the children to grow and develop within their own culture. There were however many questions, which had to be answered: How do you teach the children the difficult Arabic script? How do you deal with the major differences between spoken and written language? Should mathematics be taught in Arabic script? Art as an educational approach in a place, where so far art has only played a minor role? Trusting in the potential of Waldorf Education to connect very different people and against all obstacles the school has been founded.
Mazan Ayoub was born in Shfa`ram and studied at Emerson College. He could look back on 30 years of experience as a teacher and knew he could depend on the support of his colleagues in Harduf, who helped to develop the syllabus for the Arabic Waldorf School.
The young project had to grow under very difficult circumstances right from the start. The tense political situation and financial difficulties have accompanied Shfa`ram until this day. When money, which had been granted by the government, was not paid out, the challenge had an astonishing effect. The staff continued to work with much smaller salaries, the parents united to fight for their goals even more determinedly and –as if the distant goal were gently shimmering through the difficulties of daily life at school – the Hebrew speaking pupils showed an enormous desire to help.
As the parents request an authoritarian instance, a challenge for the teacher remains, which is to lead the school in a cooperative way despite Arab customs. The school breaks traditions especially as it does not separate religions or supports the image of women restricted to domestic tasks. Therefore the festivals of three religions are being celebrated together, and a majority of women teach and administrate at the school.
The Friends of Waldorf Education and other donors stand behind this project, which reveals its uniqueness in its name that is related to the olive tree. And the olive tree, deeply rooted in the culture of the region, bears branches which have long been associated with peace.