Waldorf education in Ethiopia

By Angelika Wagner, November 2014

Ethiopia is a high country in northeast Africa with a long history. Known as Punt at the time of the pharaohs and Aksum in the Roman period, this mighty empire made Christianity the state religion even before Rome and Ethiopians still have a deep connection with it. But Ethiopia also possesses the oldest Muslim community outside Mecca and Medina and, furthermore, has had a small Jewish community for thousands of years. More than 200 ethnic groups of diverse religions live together in Ethiopia today.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Half the population is malnourished; even in years when there is a “good” harvest millions of Ethiopians remain dependent on food aid. Cause of the famine is drought and flooding – made worse by widespread deforestation and erosion – and population growth of about two million a year in the last ten years. Child labour is widespread.

Town of 6,600 saints

Hawzen, which dates from the Aksumite empire, is one of the oldest towns in Ethiopia. The Christian orthodox “town of 6,600 saints” lies at an elevation of more than 2,800 metres. In order to strike at the liberation movement of the time, the communist dictatorship committed a brutal crime in 1988. The town was bombed on market day – more than 2,500 people lost their lives.

The lack of kindergartens, school places as well as vocational schools presents the region with great challenges. In 2002 the “Finks Hawzien – Society for Integrated Development” self-help association was founded with more than 30 members from Hawzen, Wukro, Mekele und Addis Ababa.

Led by Atsbaha Gebre Selassie, a graduate farmer with some Demeter experience and a great interest in Waldorf education, and together with committed teachers, work was started to develop a three hectare piece of land provided free of charge by the community. It comprises four large fields of work: kindergarten, school, adult education and a future vocational school.

The Hiwotay Merebet kindergarten – a sheltered home

Five kindergarten teachers and four assistants look after about 120 children in three buildings. The urgently needed school is in Hawzen. It is located in the same grounds and was inaugurated after the summer holidays.

The teachers who have worked in the kindergarten continuously for many years have made it into a popular place for children and parents. The names of the teachers Zenabu (rain), Brehan (light), Freeuwni (grapes), Tigist (patience), Hiwot (life) are symbolic of their work. Life arises through rain and light and if we have the patience to let things grow and ripen we can finally harvest the grapes.

Much has changed in the families through the Waldorf kindergarten. The harmony which radiates from this place is particularly due to the zest for life of the teachers. Although the children should be taken to the kindergarten, some simply run away from home to walk the long road on their own.

Health education is another focus of the work. In 2006, the Aids infection rate lay at over six percent of the adult population. About three million people have been infected in Ethiopia. Some 1.2 million children were orphaned as a result in the same year.

Ongoing training and educational work creates an understanding of the development of the children.

Further projects in Debre Marcos und Addis Ababa

There are other educational projects alongside Hawzen in Debre Marcos and Addis Ababa. Meseret Moges and Frank Michel have together for many years looked after eleven orphaned children in Debre Marcos which lies some hours distant from Addis Ababa. The land which they have now been given means that it will be possible to expand the project. The children are to be given a future so investment is being made in training and vocational training; training for child care workers is in preparation. The construction of a kindergarten and a home for thirty children is at the planning stage.

Another Waldorf initiative is currently being established in Addis Ababa. A special kind of education project is being started through the initiative of a midwife who has connections with many families. It is to become a centre for health care, education, advice for parents, kindergarten and school. The parents came together for the initiative through their little children: Ethiopians, Germans and Swiss. The artistic and creative approach of Waldorf education and the image of the human being which underlies this kind of education made them curious.

The Ethiopian school system is very much focused on performance. These parents, in contrast, want their children to develop at the right pace without premature pressure and with the inclusion of their cultural background. The first step will be a meeting centre with a kindergarten. To this end a number of parents will sit in on kindergartens and crèches in Germany and Switzerland. They are very concerned to ensure that the educational content is the subject of reflection locally and deepened through guest lecturers.

About the author: Angelika Wagner is a Waldorf childcare worker, Waldorf teacher, handwork teacher and special needs teacher; she developed the in-service Waldorf childcare worker seminar and works as a lecturer and seminar director in Mannheim. She has been involved with the Waldorf initiative in Ethiopia since 2003.

Email: a.wagner@bildungswerk-ma.de

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