A hospital turned Waldorf school. The Markgräflerland project in Portugal

By Pedro Miguel et al., March 2021

It was a very special step for our “Olive Tree School” in Figueira on the Algarve: after careful consideration and planning, we decided to expand our school from classes 1 to 6 to classes 1 to 8.

To this end we rented an old, unused hospital and converted it. A building contractor carried out the initial work, walls were knocked down, the building was given a new shape. And now we had the great pleasure of welcoming pupils from the Markgräfler Waldorf School in Mühlheim, who had offered to help us in word and deed during their class 12 trip.

The walls were old and grey and made the place rather dark. We asked the pupils to paint the entire building according to what they felt was appropriate. It was very interesting to see how seriously these young men and women took their responsibility. At the beginning they asked us if we trusted them to decide what the new school building should look like and we told them that we fully trusted their abilities.

From that moment on, their eyes sparkled and their hands were focused on the work, full of motivation and drive. They worked from 8am to 3pm every day, always trying to make sure they did the best job possible. Some walls had to be repaired before painting – they wanted a perfect result. When asked by their teacher, Helmut Gruber, if they actually had time for this extra work, they replied that they would work until midnight if necessary – a very inspiring experience for all of us.

The pupils, working as a big team, organised and coordinated themselves in smaller groups, sang songs, danced, laughed..., they showed an incredible connection with each other and were always ready to include the teachers of our school.

On an equal footing with each other, they painted the whole school and even found the time and energy to lay the new wooden floors!  

All this work had a great impact on our school as it completely changed the building. More than that, beyond the physical change, the young people were able to infuse the old hospital building with a whole new atmosphere which now gives us the opportunity to teach in an environment that looks artistic and feels warm and beautiful! We thank our colleagues and the pupils from the Markgräflerland!

Teachers’ and pupils’ voices

“Rudolf Steiner developed a special colour concept that provides for a separate colour scheme for each class. While red tones have an encouraging effect, blue has a calming effect on the children. So we painted the class 6 green, class 7 blue and class 8 violet. Together with the principal, we also found suitable colours for the other rooms (common room, corridor, kitchen, laboratory, staff room and library). ... Thanks to many donations, we were able to pay for all the necessary paints, tools and the laminate for the floors and to offer the school the greatest possible support. Through the voluntary help of 27 pupils and three teachers, the project was successfully completed in a very short time.” (From the letter to the donors)

“Working on the new school building has been good in many ways; being physically active, noting the progress on the building site every day, as well as observing group processes in our class. However, it was especially nice to know that we were offering opportunities to children in the future and helping this small, wonderful Waldorf school to grow. During the work breaks, there were inspiring encounters with the local people that still resonate with me today. The songs learned in a choir workshop, for example, still trigger earworms and wanderlust.” (Luise, pupil)

“Our class trip to Portugal was anything but ordinary, because at its centre was not a beach holiday and sightseeing but hard work. After we had collected a sufficient budget for the work materials through various campaigns in Germany, we renovated two buildings of the Waldorf School in Figueira and Vila do Bispo in Portugal: we scraped old plaster from walls and ceilings, painted hundreds of square metres of wall in new colours and laid wooden floors in the future classrooms. On the very first day, however, we noticed that there was no one on the building site to assign work to us. So we took over the construction management ourselves without further ado. This was the only way we could really work effectively during this time and turn the chaotic construction site into a beautiful school building. (Yannick, pupil)

“We are all proud and fulfilled to have accomplished this great project and to have made the world beautiful in one small location.” (Helmut Gruber, class guardian)

“Under the energetic leadership of one of the pupils, there was a constant flow of productivity and good spirits, verve, humour and, above all, amazing efficiency!

The recuperation that followed the working week was more than deserved. After days of determined activity, two different, very rewarding sandy beaches allowed us to experience the elemental force of the elements. And after a bus ride of several hours, it was the beautiful and interesting city of Lisbon that was explored ... Thus, on this trip, craft, educational and social activities came together with international understanding and the broadening of tourist horizons in the most pleasing way”. (Matthias Thiemel, music teacher, ethics teacher, lecturer at the Witten Annen Waldorf Institute)

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