Waldorf Education in a Threatened Paradise
Brazil: In 2001 a group of teachers and parents founded the Waldorf initiative Escola Rural Dendê da Serra. Six kilometres north of Serra Grande, somewhere between the cities Ilhéus and Itacaré, the initiative inherited a small school building on a farm from the local city council. Since 2007, the school offers a kindergarten and the grades 1 through 8.
A colourfully dressed group of people is on its way through the village of Serra Grande. Standard bearers, warriors, court ladies as well as the first court lady, bearing with her a doll in defence of evil spirits, are surrounding a royal couple in a samba-resembling dance. Unmistakably, traditional characters, belonging to a Maracatu-procession, are being displayed. Such a procession, which by the way has African roots and was spread by Afro-Brazilian slaves, was chosen as a project by class 7, instead of the usual class play. That way, not only the students, but the whole village is able to enjoy the artistic performance.
The road that connects the cities of Ilhéus and Itacaré was built ten years ago, opening access to a still very preserved region at the North of Ilhéus. At that time, Serra Grande was a little isolated village on the way, and its population lived on extractive activities and family farming. Today, the region that includes Serra Grande and Itacaré is recognized by UNESCO as a Nature Protection Area, being very attractive for tourism because of its marvellous beaches and beautiful landscapes. There is still some Atlantic rain forest left with a unique biodiversity, and a great number of environmental organisations are struggling for their conservation. Unfortunately, this idyll is threatened by the development of new industrial areas. As a result the local population struggles to survive, since tourism is their main source of income.
Former professions such as hunting and woodcutting are now banned, and there is a lack of economic alternatives for a population with little schooling and a large proportion of illiterates. Unemployment, violence, alcoholism and drug abuse have increased in recent years due to the visible social and economic changes. Thus, the teachers are left with children suffering from severe learning difficulties.
In 2011, 24 of the older students were admitted to the new full-day care program of the Dendê da Serra Waldorf School. This program includes homework help, remedial education and additional courses like gardening, music and sports. Full meals, as well as a regular and versatile daily routine combined with the loving care for these students have already led to significant changes. These changes do not only materialize in a healthier appearance and better school performance, but can also be observed in the student’s behaviour. Students who were previously extremely aggressive and difficult, have become much more relaxed, balanced and confident, which has also been confirmed by their parents at home.
The Escola Rural Dendê da Serra does not receive any government support and most families are unable to pay the school fees. Therefore, the school has to rely almost entirely on donations. It is not an easy task to raise enough money for monthly expenses such as personnel, material and food costs, and without a large number of regular donors, and sponsors, the school would not be able to survive.