Knitting under palm trees
Haiti: Formerly known as the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti is now one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. With a population of nearly 10 million people, only half of the population above the age of 15 can read and write. But as poor as those people are, they know that education is the only way out of their misery. A small village school with a Waldorf pedagogical approach encourages local children on this path.
The "École du village" (village school) was founded in 2008 by the Frenchwoman Myriam Silien in the municipality of Torbeck near Les Cayes, in the south of Haiti. After coming to Haiti in 1996 to volunteer in an orphanage, the country has gradually become Myriam Silien's home. Today, she is married to a Haitian and has four children. When her oldest one approached school age, her Haitian friend Marie-Claude Alegrand proposed to start a school and kindergarten as there was high demand.
As a former Waldorf student, it was obvious to Myriam Silien that the teaching methods of Rudolf Steiner would become her guideline. "The longer I use this pedagogy, the more I realize that it is perfectly adapted to the local children's needs and that it has a therapeutic effect on Haitian children who are often traumatised."
Work began and now, about a decade later, the school is home to six classes, two kindergarten groups and a toddler group. Through a small gate one can enter a green oasis with palm trees, banana trees and three buildings. A gentle breeze blows from the seaside and the trees provide shade. At the back of the school grounds is a vegetable garden, in the centre is a five-sided wooden jungle-gym with swings. The kindergarten children play, the school children are in the classrooms. They all wear school uniforms, which is common in Haiti. What is unusual: they mainly do not learn from books. Education is not a question of memorising, but of developing a real understanding and of correctly applying what has been learned. There is another difference: there are no beatings from the teacher.
The children of the village school get a breakfast each morning and a meal prepared by the school cooks in the open kitchen at noon. A very small school fee of about twenty euros a year is raised for the purpose of covering these costs. All other costs, such as the salaries of the teachers and the pedagogical education, are funded by donations.
After the severe earthquake in January 2010, tragedy struck again in October 2016, which meant another setback for the school in its development. Hurricane Matthew swept over Haiti and left a path of devastation. Fortunately, the students and faculty escaped with their lives but the entire school roof was gone and the contents of the building washed away. Even the beautiful bio-dynamic garden, called affectionately the "Garden of Eden" was completely destroyed and with it practically the only source of food for both the students and the faculty. Despite the situation being so dire, the founder of the school was not discouraged and ready to rebuild, resume classes and feed the children. Thanks to the donors of the Friends of Waldorf Education immediate funds could be raised to cover the most pressing needs. In the long-term a storm and earthquake resistant new building is planned.
Myriam Silien wants the school to continue growing at an organic pace. For this she needs every support possible. "My dream is that this school leads up to high school graduation and that it remains a school open to all. We want to provide education free of charge, except for a small parental contribution for food."